Benihana is one of my favorite places to eat, not so much for the tricks of the chef but I really enjoy the food and atmosphere. Depending on the time of day, its peaceful, very quiet, dimly lit unlike Friday’s which usually has loud music, loud people, TV’s many things at once, which is cool too when you are looking for a live good time where you can scream at the top of your lungs and it’s ok. Benihana is more of a relaxed yet family oriented restaurant.
The restaurant encourages a sort of community and cohesiveness. With the exception of the bar area and sushi bar, the dining area consists of multiple tables with the seats centered around the griddle, where the chefs cook. Most times, you have to sit in the next available seat, you can’t request to sit at a separate table until all of them are full. More than likely, you’ll sit with strangers. Because of this, I was unable to take many pictures. The other people I shared the table with found it a bit uncomfortable and didn’t want to be included. All parties, families and friends sit together and take in the Teppanyaki grill experience. We all sit in amazement as we watch the chef perform, not cook, but perform our orders. Everyone watches in awe and ins hock as the chef juggles his knives, the chicken, the shrimp or cooks the rice and forms it in the shape of a heart while he chops and arranges the onions in the shape of a train and scoots then along the griddle as smoke comes out the top of the onion (like a train) and he mutters “chooo chooo”. The kids at the table go wild.
There is some skepticism and disagreements as to how and when teppanyaki grills had been incorporated into Japanese cooking, however, the Misano restaurant is noted for introducing this to Western culture beginning in 1945. The United States was the first country outside of Japan to embrace the new teppanyaki style. Japanese wrestler Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki opened the first Benihana teppanyaki restaurant in 1954 in New York City which received rave reviews. People were captivated by the performances of the chefs and the great tasting food.
Although there are many teppanyaki style restaurants, Sakura, Kobe’s, Teppanyaki Grill and others, there a very few Benihanas and they are located in areas that are known for their wealth. For instance, there are only two within the Washington Metropolitan area, in Bethesda, MD and Dulles, VA (the one I went to this time). These are upper middle to upper class areas. It makes me wonder if this restaurant in particular is reserved for people of a certain demographic. Celebrities often make references to the restaurant (they also have photos of celebrities who have visited hanging up) and the prices are a bit on the high end. The entrees range from $16.95 to $45.25, not including your drink. Sorry. Although it is pricey, the food is very tasty.
Now whether or not the food is authentic Japanese food or Japanese American food, I cannot say. But the menu does consists of traditional Japanese dishes such as sushi, teriyaki dishes, and the infamous Sake. As for the other food, I don’t know if its because its cooked on the teppan grill or if it is actually traditional Japanese food. Of course if you ask someone who works there (All of the staff that I saw and normally see who are of Asian descent) if it is authentic Japanese cuisine they will tell you, “yes.” But whatever the case may be, I recommend it.