Northern Blvd., Albany, 465-5511. Serving daily noon-10:30.
AE, MC, V.
Food: * * * ˝
When it hit New York in 1964 in the form of the first Benihana
restaurant, the teppanyaki style of Japanese cuisine
was presented as ancient enough to be shrouded in the mists
of antiquity. A fast-heating grilltop, called a teppan,
acts like a flat wok, quickly searing whatever meat or vegetable
hits its surface.
Founded by former boxer Rocky Aoki, the Benihana franchise
eventually spread across this country, into Europe and even
back into Japan. When and where did it begin? According to
Omaha’s Kobe Steakhouse, the “art of Teppanyaki cooking has
been performed since the 1900s.” Benihana declares it to have
a 200 year history: “Traditionally, these meals were prepared
on a small grill by families, however it has developed into
a highly refined and beautiful form of expression, characterized
by an intricate combination of presentation and knife skills.”
A restaurant called Misano in Tokyo’s West Shinjuku section
claims to have originated teppanyaki in 1945.
Whatever its origin—and it seems to be aimed squarely at Western
tourists, here or abroad—it features what’s usually termed
a hibachi table with the cooktop in its center, at which a
chef-performer demonstrates that knife artistry with a few
other surprises, even as your meal gets a quick sauté before
For many years it was the mainstay of but one area restaurant;
in the last few years several more have joined it, proving
once again that the Capital Region remains uniquely enthusiastic
about taking up fads that have long since faded from the rest
of the country.
Ta-Ke Restaurant occupies a building that hosted several short-lived
eateries in earlier years, although with a big medical center
nearby you’d expect an easy road to success. Perhaps Ta-Ke
(the name refers to bamboo) has found its niche.
Having a good sushi bar certainly helps. Although we chose
a hibachi table—we had a need that night for such entertainment—an
order of tuna-filled tekka maki ($10) certainly imparted
the flavor that makes the combo of raw fish and vinegared
rice so satisfying, even if the pieces were ragged enough
to suggest that the roll had been sliced in haste.
I chose not to explore the handful of Korean dishes at the
back of the menu, including the popular bulgogi, a
spicy beef dish. I have a recent enough memory of a stunning
meal at a Korean restaurant in Manhattan that I didn’t want
to compare what surely would be a humbler option.
The reality of daily life had intruded. I had a cranky child
with me who needed cheering, and the teppanyaki acrobatics
would buy me some peace.
Here’s how it works: You’re seated at a large wooden table
with a griddle in its center and an exhaust hood above. As
the griddle heats, you narrow your choice: chicken ($14),
thin-cut sirloin (sukiyaki, $15), salmon, shrimp, scallops
or regular sirloin ($16), filet mignon ($18), sirloin and
shrimp ($20), lobster, lobster and sirloin, or a scallops-lobster-shrimp
mix ($22). I chose teriyaki-seasoned sirloin ($17), while
my daughter asked for scallops.
After a simple, delicious serving of miso soup and a slightly
tired salad with a lively dollop of ginger-based dressing,
our tableside chef wheeled his wares to the teppan.
The routine that typically follows varies little from restaurant
to restaurant, and begins with the tools: fork, knife and
spatula, drummed and clanged together, tossed and flipped.
Next, an array of shrimp is trimmed while quickly sizzling,
tails tossed into unexpected places.
Usually there’s a volcano of flame created in a small mountain
of onion rings. Sometimes I’ve been asked if it’s all right
to do this in front of the kid (who gets a big kick out of
it), but this time it was simply left out of the show.
It can be argued that food service always has been a form
of theater, which underscores the need for this kind of show
to stay fresh. Our chef seemed to be just going through the
motions. Skilled motions, of course, but without the slightly
wild edge of exuberance I’ve enjoyed at other such meals.
The plate, when finished, is piled high with vegetables and
noodles in addition to the meat of your choice, and the cooking
style keeps the veggies crisp and the meats very tasty. Seeing
that it’s a complete dinner for the price, it’s a good value.
You’ll get the soup and salad with some of the other non-hibachi
dinners, too (the illustrated menu is certainly a help for
those unfamiliar with the fare). A tempura dinner ($14) proved
to be an elegantly presented array of deep-fried shrimp in
a batter so light that it looked like delicate filigree coating
the several large shrimp and accompanying vegetables.
Service was very attentive, even as the room continued to
fill during the visit. We left with enough unfinished portions
to make up another meal.
Dinner for three, with tax and tip and a glass of beer, was
Purnomo, maitre d and sommelier of Yonos
Restaurant (Armory Center, 64 Colvin Ave., Albany),
recently was inducted into the gastronomic organization
La Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs as the youngest
member in the history of the United States Bailliage.
Also featured in the 2003 Chalk Hill Winery Sommelier
Guide, Purnomo is one of only five sommeliers from New
York state. The wine list he offers at Yonos now
covers 14 countries, with more than 500 bottle selections
and 23 wines by the glass, making it the largest list
in the Capital Region and a Wine Spectator Award of
Excellence winner. Call 436-7747 for more info, or check
out www.yonos.com. . . . .Ferrandis French Restaurant
(322 Route 67, Amsterdam) presents its fourth annual
Fête Des Rois, the traditional Festival of Kings,
Jan. 24-27, with a $27 prix fixe four-course meal that
includes as entrée choices Fricassée de
Volaille a lAncienne (chicken and vegetables in
a Veloute sauce), Petit Filet Mignon du Chef (sautéed
with shallots, mushrooms and ham) and Sole Amandine.
Following a French tradition that dates back to 1311,
a special cakethe Galette des Roisconceals
one bean that confers the crown upon the lucky recipient.
Each party at the restaurant will get to participate
in this tradition. For more info and reservations, call
842-6977, or visit www.ferrandis.net. . . . Remember
to pass your scraps to Metroland (firstname.lastname@example.org).
fax info to 922-7090)
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
restaurant reviews are based on one unannounced visit; your
experience may differ. Food Rating Key: * * * * * An exciting,
fulfilling experience; the food and service are everything they
set out to be. Brillat-Savarin would be proud. * * * * Way up
there with really good food, definitely worth your dining dollar.
Julia Child would be proud. * * * Average, with hints of excitement.
Your mother would be pleased. * * A dining-out bogey; food probably
isnt the first priority. Colonel Sanders would be disappointed.
* K-rations posing as comestibles. Your dog would be disgusted.