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When one thinks of Benihana, the image that comes to mind is a chef expertly chopping up vegetables, meat, or seafood, and cooking up a storm in front of an excited audience who is hungry not just for the food but for a bit of entertainment.

Teppanyaki is the style of cooking at this famous restaurant. The restaurant was started in 1964 in New York by Hiroaki Aoki, also a wrestler who qualified but did not attend the 1960 Summer Olympics. The name of the first restaurant, Benihana of Tokyo, was named after the “red safflower” which was the name of the coffee shop owned by his parents in Tokyo.

Aoki’s idea was for the meal to be theatrically prepared by trained staff at a communal table. Teppan meaning “steel grill”, and yaki meaning “grilled” or “broiled”. Guest would place their order at the table, and be able to watch with amazement as the food items were sliced and diced and flipped into the air.

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I, like most other patrons of this restaurant, started enjoying the food here at these Teppanyaki tables. Then one day, a friend mentioned that she has been taking her son to Benihana for the Sushi Boat special.

“What is that?” I asked. She explained that for lunch only, the restaurant serves a combination of Chicken, or Beef Julienne, or Salmon, with half of a California roll, Shrimp and vegetable tempura, sashimi, soup, salad, edamame, steamed rice and fruit, served inside a huge bamboo “boat”, and all that for around ten dollars.

I was not sold right away, but one day, tired of the long wait for the teppanyaki side, we decided to just eat at the sushi side of the restaurant, since we were told that we would be able to order anything from the hibachi menu. It was actually nice to be away from the crowd and the noise and fumes. We proceeded to order the sushi boat with Beef Julienne, and an order of the Hibachi Scallops.

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I was surprised by the large size of  the boat, and how lovely the overall presentation of the food was. The beef was surprisingly good quality, tender and flavorful, and was enhanced by the slight sweetness of the teriyaki sauce.  The batter on the tempura was light and not greasy. Sashimi came with slices of tuna and white fish, though not the top of grades, they were nevertheless, enjoyable with the rest of the offerings. I especially like the tangy dressing on the very fresh and generous portion size of the salad.

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My Hibachi Scallops was every bit as good as it would be, even though it was not cooked on the teppanaki side. The scallops tasted fresh, mildly sweet, and not chewy. The hibachi vegetable rice was savory and satisfying.

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I had tried various sushi and rolls on other occasions, and I was pleasantly surprised by how strikingly fresh tasting they all were.  My favorite, the uni (sea urchin) was consistently creamy and smooth, with a nutty sweet taste, even better than some of the best sushi restaurants in town. The Caterpillar Roll, a huge roll made with eel, cucumber, avocado was exquisite. The eel was firm, yet delicate and moist, with a generous amount of sensuous, buttery avocado slices wrapped all around the roll.

One can receive a $30 Birthday Gift Certificate during the month of the birthday after joining “The Chef’s Table” at the Benihana website, which I think is one of the best deal in town.

Benihana: 21327 Hawthrone Blvd. Torrance, CA 90503  Phone: 310-316

http://www.benihana.com/

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