The hibachi experience is different each time, thanks not just to the food, but also to those with whom you’re sharing a table. Small groups tend to be seated together around one large hibachi table in order to fill most or all of the seats before the hibachi cook arrives to start the meal, which is part entertainment, part eating. Although it’s called hibachi in the U.S., the Japanese term is teppanyaki cooking.
Seeing this through the eyes of a child is always fun, and such was the case on a recent Friday night at Nagoya Cafe when Victoria and her extended family were seated with us. Little Victoria’s eyes widened when the cook lit the cooking surface in front of her, causing a large flame to shoot up. She giggled as he juggled eggs on a turner, broke them into the fried rice and tried to toss a sample of the finished product into her mouth from a few feet away.
Over on our side of the table, we started things off with one of our favorite appetizers, fried calamari (squid) ($5.95). These were large, onion ring-sized portions as opposed to the smaller ringlets to which we are accustomed. However, they were quite good, very lightly battered and fried just until tender. The accompanying sweet and sour chile sauce was delightful, with a little fiery kick at the end of each bite. The white serving plate was garnished with slivered carrots, parsley and rings of purple onion.
We ordered the chicken hibachi ($13) and the filet mignon and scallops hibachi ($26). Both came with the house soup, salad, fried rice, vegetables and lo mein noodles.
The house soup featured a clear, brown broth containing thin bits of mushroom and green onion. We found this much more flavorful than the bland miso soup (soy-based with tofu) which we had on a lunch visit. The small salad consisted of lettuce, purple onion and cucumber in a light, sweet dressing.
The fried rice, cooked in front of us as mentioned earlier, was fluffy, full of bits of egg and splashed with soy sauce. We also enjoyed the hibachi vegetables — broccoli, carrots, onions and mushrooms, cooked to a barely-crunchy stage in butter and soy sauce. The chicken breast, chopped into bite-size pieces and doused with soy sauce and other seasonings, was excellent. The chicken was done but still juicy, and packed with a smoky flavor.
A guest found the filet mignon tender and cooked to a perfect medium rare. It also was cut into bite-size pieces. The accompanying four scallops, cut in half, were nicely cooked, but could have used a little more seasoning.
At lunch, we tried the chicken tempura bento box ($8.50) and the shrimp hibachi luncheon ($10.50). Both were served with miso soup and a garden salad. The bento box also offered sticks of tempura-battered and fried chicken secured together with a tempura-coated onion ring. Quite good, the dish also held two tiny, mildly-flavored, melt-in-your mouth gyosa (pan fried dumplings), fluffy, steamed rice and a California (sushi) roll. The hibachi luncheon contained generous portions of fried rice and sautéed vegetables comprising zucchini, carrots, onions, broccoli and cauliflower. The shrimp were excellent and delectable, a nice size, and basted in a savory, sesame-accented sauce.
The lunch menu items were filling, but not heavy.