Teppanyaki cooking or “hibachi” has always held a special place in my heart. Entertaining as a performance art and not to mention, always delicious, the Japanese style of food preparation is a speedy resolution to the inquiry of dinner and a show. For those of you not in the know, teppanyaki is a type of tabletop cooking done right in front of patrons on a hibachi grill, usually with some artistic flair in terms of knife acrobatics and food preparation. Although the concept has been massively reproduced thanks to the efforts of chain restaurants like Benihana, hibachi still manages to charm me, no matter how many times I see an onion volcano.
It was with a small sense of hope that I went with several companions to eat at Kyushu Japanese Restaurant (Hibachi and Sushi Bar), Ithaca’s very own contribution to the teppanyaki phenomenon. A Japanese restaurant that didn’t belong to the Plum Tree, Miyake and Cafe Pacific triangle of power? Yeah we were definitely there. Plus it took City Bucks and was accessible by bus (a necessity that has, for years, kept me apart from my one true love: The Boatyard Grill). Having fulfilled two out of the three requirements that my friends and I use to gauge the must-visit quality of a dining establishment (the third being: absolutely free of charge), we decided it was time to pay Kyushu a visit.
Situated in the same plaza as Applebee’s, Hollywood Video and a bank, Kyushu was difficult to miss. It’s decidedly hey-we’re-not-Plum-Tree interior was painfully Plum Tree-esque and invoked in me, memories of eating at Plum Tree as a willingly brainwashed freshmen. Boy, who would have thought selling my soul for 20-dollar noodles would taste so good because my wallet sure didn’t. Anyhow, what I meant to say is that Kyushu is a Japanese restaurant, which requires a 15-dollar minimum charge per person to sit at the hibachi table. And don’t try to be smart and order three people’s share of hibachi when you’re in a party of six and attempt to fulfill the minimum charge with over 50 dollars worth of sushi. Not that my friends and I did this, of course.
Traditional fares like age tofu (fried soft tofu) or dynamite (broiled scallop, mushroom, crabmeat and mayonnaise) proved pleasing openers. After everyone was served a round of house salad with house dressing (read: ginger dressing) and clear soup with mushrooms and scallions (rather than miso soup), that is to say, we shared three portions of each among six people due to our creative ordering, it was time for the main event: 50 dollars worth of sushi. Just kidding, you know I mean the hibachi!
After introducing himself (I couldn’t hear because of the fan as well as the obnoxious excitement of my dinner companions) and verifying our orders, our hibachi chef skillfully wielded his cooking utensils and lit half the grill on fire with a surprising flick of his wrist. The show had begun. It’s hard for me to describe to you, gentle readers, exactly what happened during that ten minute period because I was too busy consuming the freshly prepared portions of vegetables, rice, scallops and shrimp that the chef kept piling on our plates. Think of it as a ballet of grilling, a melange of acrobatics, dicing and cooking. Seemingly mundane dishes like fried rice were spiced up with complicated acts of dexterity involving the juggling of ingredients while two special sauces (mustard and ginger) offered additional varying taste possibilities for dishes that were already satisfying on their own.
With an extremely well-packed menu, Kyushu also offers an entire page of rolls, sushi entrees and other entrees including various teriyaki, tempura and udon. With portions more plentiful than that of a more familiar fruit-fixated counterpart, Kyushu also offers a whole lot of ginger with your sushi, a trait that almost made me burst into tears of joy. Not entirely differentiable from similar restaurants in the area, Kyushu nevertheless differentiates itself from competitors by offering teppanyaki on the menu. If you do decide to venture out into the fabulous land of hibachi, however, remember to watch out for the Friday night crowd. Friday nights at Kyushu are like Wednesday nights at the library: filled with fiendish people all motivated by the same objective. Whether it be eating or studying, you’ll definitely be forced into at least a 20-minute wait in general and a 20-year wait if its hibachi table seating you’re after. However, you can make reservations and hope that you aren’t forced to share your table with a large crowd of barely-attired rowdy partiers who themselves brought three bottles of Greygoose. Because again, not that this happened to me and my friends of course.
Archived article by Tracy Zhang
Arts and Entertainment Editor