It was a tradition in our house growing up that the birthday person would get to choose where to have his or her birthday dinner. We lived in LA, a city full of dining adventure opportunity, but our dinner location choices were never that creative. My siblings and I went back and forth between Ed Debevics, a 50s-style diner complete with waitresses in poodle skirts, jukeboxes, and malts, and Benihana. Benihana was a classier choice, and had food people over fifteen wanted to eat. At Benihana, a Japanese restaurant, dinner is cooked on a grill at your table. At your table! The chef would make a volcano out of onions, set the grill on fire, and flip shrimp into his tall chef hat or onto your plate. It was a show and a meal all in one. The highlight was the green tea ice cream that arrived inside a ceramic Buddha.
For the past year C and I have walked past Tippenyaki on Castle Avenue in Rathmines and said to each other: “When are we going there?” We live right around the corner. Tippenyaki is the Japanese name for what Benihana is: cooking on a hot grill. It gets great reviews, good word of mouth notices, and even smells good as you walked past. C and I love Japanese food. I love Benihana. What has stopped us?
For one, the prices made us feel like we had to be picky when it came to choosing an occasion to visit it. It’s not a casual night out. It’s not crazy expensive either (mains are in the 18-25 euro range), but just that bit more where you feel like you need a reason to go. Like a birthday. Also ,it tends to be packed.
But not on a Monday night in January at 6.30! We did have a good celebratory reason to head out, and we had the whole place to ourselves. Prawn crackers were produced for us to munch on as we perused the large menu. I knew we would go for the Tippenyaki grill options over sushi. If there is grill in front of you, you want someone to cook on it for you, right? We ordered gyoza to start (standard. Tasty.) and decided to split one duck grill meal and one veggie meal.
Our chef came out in a tall chefs hat with all the vegetables chopped in perfect sizes. There was a bowl of rice, two raw eggs, a pile of vegetables and a plate of duck. The tofu to go with the veggie dish was prepared in the kitchen. Boring!
Our chef gave us a great show as he sliced, diced and grilled our dinner. There was no onion volcano, but he did set the grill on fire and did some amazing work with a pre-cracked raw egg. He made small talk, tried to flip cooked egg into our mouths (fail on all fronts. I blame ourselves) and made us feel as though his making us dinner was the best thing he’d done in 2016 so far. We talked about New York, the Philippines, Toronto and Dublin weather.
We ceased our chatter when it was time to dig into the meal properly. Our chef wiped down the grill while we shoveled the food into our gobs. The food was very tasty, but the experience made it worth the price tag. Would it be as much fun if we had to share the grill and the chef? I don’t know. Maybe not. I’m willing to go again and find out. I also hear the sushi is excellent.