Benihana – Flair and Fail, All in One Meal
Well, my birthday month has officially drawn to an end. You know when you can drag out your birthday for a solid few weeks getting people to buy you dinners and what not? Yup. That’s all over for me now and I must say it ended on a bit of a sour note. Let me explain.
So being the frugal person that I am, I like to do a bit of research each year around my birthday to try and get good deals and free food for my birthday. If you don’t already do this, I highly recommend it. Discounts, coupons, free food galore, those are the things that I do live for. So while on this hunt I came across a $30 coupon towards a meal at Benihana. This got me totally amped because the official Benihana in Chicago on Michigan Avenue was opening just a few weeks before my birthday. Perfect, right? I could just swing by after work and grab some sweet discounted food. That’s what I was thinking!
When I first walked in I got a very trendy vibe from the restaurant, which should be expected considering they just opened three weeks previous to my visit. Typical to most newly opened restaurants it seemed as if there were more workers than customers there yet. It was early on a Monday night so I’m sure it wasn’t one of their busy nights and management was still figuring out the right formula in terms of workers to patrons ratio. Once seated I personally felt like the seating was too cramped. I’m all about the group atmosphere and shared seating, but my chair was literally touching both chairs on the either side of me giving me very little room. I brushed that off and ordered from the menu. Our waitress was very nice and attentive, but also the way the seating was arranged she kept reaching over the grill to hand us our waters and other things and it was awkward and hard to reach her most of the time. This was strange that she kept doing this instead of coming around the back of our table to deliver our hot soups and salads. For a large portion of the time we were eating there wasn’t even a chef cooking behind us, but I assume they’re trained to serve everything from the front so they don’t bump into other chef’s with their backs turned? I honestly have no idea here.
We settled on our entrée choices of soup, salad and the sushi eel roll. The soup was good and the salad was tasty with its ginger dressing and I will admit that the eel roll was very good. The freshness of the roll was superb and it was a great snack to have while waiting for the main course. Our group table was four separate parties of two making it a full table of eight. Once most of us had finished our appetizers the chef came out to prepare and “wow” us with his teppanyaki skills. After confirming our orders, he began his show by first pouring sauces for each of us preparing the shrimp fried rice and grilling vegetables for the rest of us. Our chef was a little shaky from the start, which made me a little nervous because a lot of things usually are thrown into the air during these shows and I didn’t want to get hit by anything. He seemed young and pretty new at this so I gave him a chance. But I kid you not I clutched on to my boyfriend once the onion volcano part came around. For those of you unfamiliar, the onion volcano is where they take a sliced onion and stack it on top of itself, fill it with oil and set it on fire. Leading up to this moment he dropped pieces of the onion to the side and you could tell he was struggling to stack the onion slices on each other, which made the whole thing very difficult to watch. Luckily we were all safe from any major burns. However, when doing a trick to catch the salt shaker in his chef hat he accidentally head butted it, making the shaker land in the sauce dish of the girl next to me and splashing sauce everywhere. Yikes! I have never before and hope to never again see this.
Another thing that bothered me during my experience at Benihana’s was when we were ordering the waitress did ask if I wanted shrimp fried rice not realizing that was my only option to have fried rice at all. I declined assuming I’d just be served regular vegetable fried rice with my meal, but what I got was a side of grilled vegetables (more specifically cucumber and onions) with a bowl of white rice. I was completely confused. This was my first trip to an official Benihana’s, but I’ve had teppanyaki before and I could’ve sworn you always got a bowl of fried rice where you choose shrimp or no shrimp. My fried rice got lost in translation and there I sat with a bowl full of white rice and grilled onions and cucumbers. Plus, the fact that the fried rice has an upcharge at all seems silly when the meal itself is already pretty pricey.
The meat itself was decent. I ordered the teriyaki steak, so it was pretty flavorful, but the portion of the meat was pretty small and my rice was cold by the time my steak was cooked. That’s another thing, it seemed like it took a really long time for our chef to cook all of the orders. I get that’s why they try and give you small portions here and there, but I was still so very hungry and by the time I got my food I wanted to leave. I wasn’t imagining it either because after checking the time we’d been there a little over an hour by this point. Once I was able to finish my main course (my boyfriend had already finished his food by the time I got my steak), I was hoping to get some ice cream to finish the meal. For some reason my meal and the meal my boyfriend ordered didn’t include ice cream, but everyone around us got ice cream included with their meal. Again, I thought this was strange and maybe it was because it was my first time here and I didn’t fully understand the menu, but I felt like our waitress should’ve explained these things to us when we were ordering. I felt a little cheated. Especially since I had given our server my birthday coupon I thought the least I could get was a scoop of ice cream with my meal. That was not the case. So while everyone around us ate ice cream we got the check and left.
Overall the atmosphere at Benihana’s is very nice. The restaurant is still very new so I get they’re still figuring things out. It was a Monday night so I’m almost positive our chef was still in training and that would explain a lot about why he was struggling so much. The food itself was good, but the portions were small and overpriced. I think that our chef needs to figure out a better way to cook up the orders in a way that doesn’t make people feel like they’re waiting forever to eat. I’m very lucky that I had a $30 gift certificate because our experience would not have been worth the full price. On top of the chef not being the greatest teppanyaki chef, it felt a little awkward because he knew two of the guests at the table making it a weird situation where he was only talking to them and the rest of us were just weirdly listening in on their conversation, not being included or involved in anyway. I’m sure not everyone’s experience will be this way. From what I could tell the other chefs near our table were doing a great job. It’s just the luck of the draw I suppose, but it was just very disappointing because I was so excited to try my first Benihanas after only having generic teppanyaki or “off-brand” teppanyaki my whole life. The whole point of going to eat at a teppanyaki grill is not just about the food, it’s about the experience. This experience doesn’t exactly make me want to try the real thing again anytime soon. I’ll wait for Benihana’s to get their bearings first.