Jan. 4, 2012 11:13

The hibachi experience is one best shared

12

Take my advice: If you’re going to Kabuto, the Japanese hibachi grill and sushi joint on the curve of Stanley Road in Greensboro, bring a bunch of people with you.

Not that it’s not a great place for a date — it is. There are small tables in the lounge and a full-on sushi bar, perfect locales for intimate dinners or casual cocktails. But for my money, you’ve got to do it hibachi style to get the full effect.

So bring a crowd maybe 10 deep, enough to fill one of the griddle-topped tables, a private audience for which the hibachi chef can perform. And if you can, make sure at least a couple of them are kids.

Everyone loves a hibachi chef. The dazzling knife work. The flying shrimp. The onion volcano. Watching one of these masters at work is enough to make anyone feel like a kid, but the effect they have on actual children is incredible.

I remember my first time going to one of these places. It was back in the 1980s, when the hibachi trend in the US was just taking hold. I had eaten plenty of Chinese food up to that point — this was in New York, after all — and I had even tried sushi, though at 11 years old I wasn’t really all that into the concept of eating raw fish. But I had never seen anything like this: a wild man with a big knife cooking our dinner right in front of us.

Back then hibachi joints were fairly routine in their fare: steak, shrimp, maybe some scallops or chicken, all served with fried rice assembled right before your eyes and maybe some fried bananas for dessert.

Kabuto has all of these things, but they’re tucked into a menu that has something for everybody: filet mignon, ribeye, tuna, salmon, red snapper and even lobster on the hibachi menu. The sushi menu features a full slate of traditional rolls, a long list of special house creations and, for the purist, a tasteful selection of nigiri — individual, a la carte items of pure, sliced raw fish with rice.

But on our last visit, a multi-family outing with six children in tow, we wanted the kind of experience for which Kabuto has become known. We wanted hibachi.

We took our own big table, though if you have a smaller party the hostess will place you in a larger group. The orders came quickly. Once you decide upon surf, turf or both, it’s a simple matter to narrow it down. The kids got a little restless just then, but within minutes the hibachi man came out — tall hat, karate gi, the whole deal. Once he started prepping shrimp on the tabletop the kids were mesmerized as the adults sipped their sake. Oohs and ahs ensued as the shrimp flew through the air, onto our plates and, of course, into the chef’s hat. That one blew the kids away… until, that is, the onion volcano erupted.

I’m sure it’s a simple matter to make one: just a few onion slices stacked in a pile, squirt a little alcohol inside, light it up and then presto! Our chef even sprinkled a few black pepper flakes on it that singed and sparkled like fireworks. But I advise you not to try it at home.

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