Trivia question – how many restaurant chains do you know anywhere across the world that have had the distinction of being featured in a business case study published by Harvard Business School? Well, if you are scratching your head already (:-)), I can tell you of at least one that I have personally assimilated and learnt from, in my first year MBA Operations Management course at the “Harvard of Canada” – the Richard Ivey School of Business.
The Harvard Operations Management Business Case "Sake, Sizzle, Sayonara" first published in 1972, and now a Harvard Business School classic, featured the innovative restaurant operations management practices of Benihana of Tokyo (now simply called Benihana) that has established and proliferated what was then a unique genre of Japanese cuisine across the USA, as well as in other countries in South and Central American, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
The very first Benihana (literally meaning "red flower" inspired by the red safflower found in Japan) in the US was a modest "hole-in-the wall" with only four tables that opened on the Westside of New York City in 1964. Founded by Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki, a former wrestler on the Japanese Olympic wrestling team born to an ex Samurai wrestler Yonosuke, and his wife Katsu, turned Japanese restaurateurs, Rocky was so fascinated by the US on his first trip in 1960, that he was inspired to introduce America to the nuances of fine Japanese cuisine that was barely known here.
Rocky’s aspiration of presenting Japanese cuisine with drama, flair and pizzazz to an American audience resulted in his offering of an innovative genre of Japanese cuisine called “Teppan-yaki” (tableside cooking on a steel grill, that has since, been “Americanized” to what is known as “Hibachi” today). Teppan-yaki in essence, delivered the art of fine Japanese cooking packaged and presented with a theatrical flair usually associated with magicians, coupled with the leger-de-main of a circus acrobat. Probably the most succint description of the experience would be “a ring side view of David Copperfield meets Barnum Barley meets Emeril Lagasse in a Japanese setting”!
What brings me back for more:
Over the years, "Teppan-yaki" has evolved to what is best known as "Hibachi" (a Japanese steakhouse by another name, for most mainstream Americans) today , pioneered by Benihana, with over 92 branches across the USA. Going to a Benihana on a special occasion with a clan or friends is usually recommended, although I must say, I personally enjoy the thrill of a shared culinary experience over animated conversation, with a flock of total strangers that I shall perhaps never see again in my life!
Besides the Hibachi, Benihana also boasts of an excellent Sushi and Sashimi bar second to none, and has also evolved their signature line of drinks such as the Mango Sake which is a personal favorite, served in addition to their repertoire of fine spirits and wines.
But most of all, it is the thrill of seeing my seven year old daughter mesmerized, her eyes lit up with the joy and pleasure of watching the chef adroitly juggle his knives, while ensuring that the prawns tossed up in the air make a perfect landing on his cap every time, that is a big draw for me! The piece-de -resistance is of course the pyramid of onions that is set aflame like a volcano that invites many a “ooh” and “aah” from the audience that is suitably scintillated and ready to dive into the delights that are concocted and served up right in front of their eyes.
Benihana serves great Sushi and Sashimi like every other Japanese restaurant but it is the Hibachi adventure more than anything else that draws me and most Benihana fans to this inimitable establishment.
Being the seafood lover that I am, I usually select the Hibachi seafood routine (“Seafood Diablo”), the Hibachi Seafood Combo, or the Shrimp Tempura Yaki-Udon that delivers shrimps, lobster tail, scallops with assorted vegetables served with Japanese Udon Noodles or fried/steamed rice in a special homemade spicy sauce, conjured up to perfection right in front of your eyes! The Salmon Tsutsumi-Yaki (a special) is de-rigueur for health freaks!
Also highly recommended for the “original Teppan-Yakki” experience are the Hibachi Chicken, Benihana Chicken Picante, the Benihana Yakisoba Dinner, as well as the Hibachi Steak, the Chateaubrand or the Benihana Cordon Bleu for meat and steak lovers. A special combo of beef and chicken served up as Rocky’s Choice (to celebrate their founder) is an experience they stake their reputation on.
Great sides to complement the Hibachi are the Beef Sashimi (their version of the Kobe Beef from Japan), shrimp, scallop or calamari tempura as well as a special onion soup for starters, that is simply delicious.
While the menu is somewhat "less-than-opulent" on the choice of desserts, the fresh ice-creams (especially the Green Tea Ice Cream) and sorbet/sherbets are a great way to bring a really pleasurable and fulfilling gastronomical experience to its logical culmination.
The Benihana experience is truly the denouement of Rocky Aoki's saga of innovation, resilience and passion in the face of adversity, that personally inspires me. Benihana, despite having been shamelessly emulated, is now a celebrity magnet across the world and is hardly for the faint-at-heart! If you seek adventure, drama and celebrate diversity (like me:-)), welcome to Benihana for a culinary experience that quite literally and figuratively, is quintessential – it will tickle all of your five senses to the fullest!
This adventure in Dallas begins at:
- Benihana, 7775 Banner Drive, Dallas, Texas 75251.Tel # (972) 387-4404. Click here for the Google Map and Directions.
- Benihana Grill, 3848 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas, Texas 75219. Tel # (214) 559-3450. Click here for the Google Map and Directions.
- Benihana, 5400 Whitehall Street, Las Colinas, Texas 75038. Tel # (972) 550-0060. Click here for the Google Map and Directions.
Comments: Anonymous said...
Loved your history and anecdotes on Benihana, some of which was news even for a Japanese person like myself! You are well and truly the connoisseur of fine cuisines from around the world and have an inimitable style of acquainting us with these delicious nuggests of yours - keep up the good work!
Looking forward to your adventure at one of the Brazilian Churrascarias that Dallas is so well known for, for my next trip..........Arigato and Sayonara!!!:-)
Y. Morimoto, Tokyo, Japan June 11, 2007 10:27 PM