Down-Low Diner: Benihana Monterey
Where can you go to get a delicious meal while being entertained at the same time? Benihana’s in Monterey not only serves up authentic Japanese Hibachi cuisine but the skilled chefs actually prepare everything right before your eyes! Needing a little amusement, and a warm meal, I was easily able to convince a friend of mine to join me at Benihana’s for dinner.
When I made reservation the friendly receptionist noted that they validate for parking at the Heritage Harbor parking garage. This was extremely helpful since Benihana’s is located near Old Fisherman’s Wharf and parking can sometimes be a challenge.
After a quick walk down Scott Street we arrived to the restaurant on Monterey’s waterfront. Before we walked into the main dining area we peeked inside the adjoining lounge and bar area. The kick-back and comfortable room was perfect for a lunch date or for catching a game on one of their many flat screen TV’s. I was surprised to see they had a full bar and an extensive cocktail menu; the Cucumber Collins and Tokyo Tea sounded A-MAZ-ING. I will definitely be back to try one, or more, of their liquid delights!
As you look across the dining room various sized groups were paired up and seated around teppanyaki tables scattered throughout the romantically lit room. The hibachi grill sits front and center and the audience, aka the diners, are seated along its edges.
Once we sat down we chatted amongst the other guests at our table and gazed at the excitement going on at nearby table. The chef across from us was cooking up all sorts of dishes that made our mouth water and made choosing an entrée difficult. Not only were there tons of choices from the hibachi menu but the sushi menu looked too good to pass up. I decided to try the Rainbow Roll which had the perfect blend of fresh tuna, crab and shrimp paired with succulent avocado and cucumber.
Now back to the original teppanyaki, or hibachi, menu, which is what Benihana is known for. There were options for even the pickiest of eaters including filet mignon, steak, lobster, salmon, scallops, chicken and tofu. I chose to stick to the basics and ordered the spicy hibachi chicken while my dining companion ordered a combo of hibachi steak and chicken.
While we waited for our dinner, and show, we were treated to two Benihana staples, onion soup and salad. To help paint the scene, close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine you are sitting down in front of the warm hibachi grill. In front of you, paper-thin slices of mushroom float in savory onion broth. Ginger salads are on the way. Through the windows, a peaceful view of the Monterey wharf brings a calm cerebral feeling to a room full of laughter and conversation. This is just the beginning of the dining experience; the most tantalizing treats were still to come.
Finally it was show time. Our decorated chef arrived with his trusty cart full of tricks and ingredients. Chef Jorge introduced himself and immediately got to work. He heated the grill and began to prepare the chicken fried rice. A block of steamed white rice sizzled on the grill as additional ingredients were mixed in, Jorge even got crafty and spelt out “I heart you” in rice!
Pieces of shrimp and slabs of steak and chicken roasted on the grill. Jorge continuously added his special oils and seasonings which created an aroma that immediately made my mouth water. Luckily we were able to sample the shrimp appetizer which was drizzled in a buttery concoction.
Soon onion, zucchini and mushrooms were added to the grill. Jorge staked slices of onion on top of each other to create a volcano with smoke and all! Our chef Jorge was a veteran, and it showed. Anyone can do tricks with a stack of onion rings at this point, but it takes added skill to keep a knife and spatula tapping out fun rhythms throughout the show, which Jorge did with added pizzazz.
I was sad to see him, and his showmanship, go but I had a meal to eat. The spicy chicken was definitely the way to go. The fiery and zesty sauce was exactly what I was looking for; it had just the right amount of red pepper to compliment the tender vegetables and moist chicken.
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more we were offered green tea and a variety of ice creams and sherbets to choose from. The rainbow sherbet was refreshing and was a great way to end this well-rounded and entertaining meal!