This place is very expensive," says Don Draper as the sizzle of cooking meat and clang of spatulas soundtracks the scene in Mad Men. He's with Bethany, who, while sitting alongside the grill at Benihana complains that her "hair smells like [she's] been frying chicken." That scene was set 35 years ago, when the now-famous chain made teppanyaki famous in North America.
The scene in Halifax today has the Sushi Nami and Hamachi chains making moves to re-establish teppanyaki---which involves chefs grilling up your meal in a showy display of knife and utensil juggling---as popular cuisine. Walking through the dusky esplanade in Dartmouth Crossing that leads to Sushi Nami Royale, my friends and I are skeptical, not really excited about what seems like a gimmicky trend.
The U-shaped grill is at the front of the restaurant, a bold punctuation on the sleek black and white decor inside the airy space. High, arched ceilings make room for the towering vent hoods. A smiling server greets us and leads us to the grill area. We slide into seats directly overlooking a grill top. Though there are a few tables with sushi diners, there is nobody else on board for teppanyaki.
"This is expensive," says Rachelle, as we look at the menu. I guess some things never change. We choose the Nami Dinner for two ($75), to split between the three of us.
The first course of the meal is standard Japanese restaurant fare delivered by our server---two miso soups, a honey avocado salad and a seaweed salad. While we eat, the chef, elegant in his spotless white coat and hat, moseys up to the grill like a gunslinger, knife holstered by his side.
The grill slick with oil, he begins twirling pepper mills and spatulas, joking amidst smiling small talk, a wink personified.
We start with vegetables---a mix of onion, zucchini and peppers that he quickly grills and slices, flips and dices. A huge pat of butter is added to the oil, with a squirt of teriyaki sauce. He serves the tender veggies and gets started on two lamb rolls. The thinly pounded lamb browns seductively in a bath of butter as the wispy slices of asparagus begin to char.
While we nibble on the beautifully seasoned rolls, our chef grills up the tiger shrimp, salmon, chicken and steak. The plump shrimp immediately start to turn pink, a thick pat of butter adding more sizzle. The result is succulent. A ginger sauce adds a nice hum of flavour.
The salmon soon lightens up; it's tender, flaky and moist by the time we each get our portion. The chicken, which was deftly diced and seasoned, is plated at the same time.
Steak is the showpiece, given a final blast of heat in the form of a tall, arching flame. A pile of garlic has been added to the grill with a blob of butter. Darkly sweet, the garlic is good enough to eat on its own, even better with the steak, a perfect medium-rare.
The show ends with ginger fried rice. Egg and rice fry up on the grill, tossed with ginger, green onion, a splash of soya sauce and, of course, more butter. Chef piles it together in the shape of a heart---perhaps to symbolize ours, which we suspect are in jeopardy after eating what was probably a cup of butter---sliding his spatula underneath to give it the illusion of a heartbeat.
We wrap up our meals with two heaping bowls of red bean and green tea ice cream, each drizzled with chocolate sauce and icing sugar, still feeling we've paid mostly for novelty. But the charm and skill of the chef also made it feel like a worthwhile novelty, even if my hair smells like I've been frying chicken.