Saturday, November 21, 2009

Shiki Hibachi & Sushi Japanese Restaurant

After a delicious late afternoon lunch earlier in the day, my husband and I were looking to add a foodie feather in our caps with an equally scrumptious meal for dinner. Contrary to popular misbelief, the Stamford area has many great restaurants just waiting to be explored. Just call me the Culinary Magellan (except I don't intend to meet my demise while battling other equally enthusiastic connoisseurs of all that is tasty) because I'm always on a mission for an epicurean delight.

It was Saturday night, the weather was a bit mild for mid-November in Stamford, and I had this wild urge to be entertained—dinner and a show, of sorts. So after procrastinating simply because I was too lazy to put my shoes on, we finally made our way out the back door and into the garage, stuffed ourselves into the Xterra (our tummies were still bloated from lunch, yet we were hungry...go figure!) and drove the 1.5 miles to Shiki Hibachi & Sushi Japanese Restaurant (the key word here for me being "hibachi").

Having left Atlanta behind, Maarten and I also left behind one of our favorite restaurants in "Smynings" (Smyrna/Vinings, for all of the Atlanta locals). Orient Express was just a flat out fun place if you took in the hibachi experience and the chef was entertaining, engaging, and didn't toss too many clumps of rice down your cleavage (speaking from experience here, folks). In retrospect, perhaps Shiki wasn't the best choice for our night out, given that our memories of Orient Express were still very fresh in our minds and any restaurant that dared identify themselves by "Hibachi" would probably be unjustly judged against Orient Express. However, standing on its own, Shiki was still a good experience.

When we arrived, there was a huge throng of youngsters in the lobby waiting for their turn at the hibachi grill. Shiki had a total of four hibachi stations, each accommodating two chefs, back-to-back in dueling stance with well-sharpened Ginzu knives. Initially we were told our wait would be twenty minutes. I looked back at Maarten and doubted he would want to wait and would, instead, high-tail it to the nearest KFC drive-thru but, to my surprise, he was fine with waiting. I figured since I could hear his stomach growling a tune from four feet away, he would be in somewhat of a hurry to take a seat and eat.

Two minutes passed, not the original twenty minute wait time, and the hostess led us into the hibachi dining area. I was hoping upon hope that she wasn't leading us to where I thought she was. She was. Straight to a table full of kids. Now, mind you, I have nothing against kids—I have an 8-year old stepson that I adore—but to be surrounded by screaming, shouting, wailing and food fights while I’m trying to have dinner is a bit of a distraction that I can do without. I was afraid to even sit down for fear of having my hair bombarded with rice, shrimp and noodle shrapnel.

When the manager walked past, Maarten reached out and practically choked the poor man with his own tie. Upon hearing or dilemma, the manager accommodated us and allowed us to sit at a more adult table. Our new table consisted of a couple along with their young daughter who looked to be about five years old; a family of three including a young boy about eleven, and lastly me and Maarten. Unfortunately, the second half of the table was empty. A rolling band of Hell's Angels high on meth could walk through the door at any moment and sit on the other side of our table. If only it were that simple.

No, it was far worse than a marauding band of bikers hell-bent on destruction and mayhem. It was teenagers. {Insert maniacal laughter here} Not just any teenagers, mind you, but one of the teens in the group had Turret's Syndrome. I kid you not, the young man would repeatedly yell out things like "F***" and other such unmentionable words. Initially we thought he was just attempting to be a wise ass, but with the sheer volume of kids under the age of ten, we reasoned that even he couldn't be that idiotic to curse with reckless abandon like that. His friends seemed to be totally oblivious to his outbursts and, soon, too, so were we.

I started dinner with a Pomegranate Martini. Being the, shall we say, enthusiastic eater that I am, I ordered a hibachi combination of chicken and scallop, while Maarten had chicken and salmon. All hibachi dinners are served with a salad, onion soup, vegetables, two pieces of shrimp, noodles and steamed rice. Since the onion soup was made with a beef stock, I substituted miso soup in its place. We also placed an order for edamame to munch on.

I inhaled my martini while waiting for all of the fixins' to arrive. The miso soup and salad were out fairly quickly, followed by the edamame. Miso soup is something that I think might be difficult to screw up. Luckily Shiki's soup was on the positive side. It was a little salty, but honestly, the salt content just added to the flavor. The seaweed could have been cut up a little better; I felt like I was sipping the soup straight from the ocean there for a sec. The salad was nothing particularly stellar to write home about, and although good, the edamame was about the same as edamame everywhere else I've had it, so no surprises there.

Soon, the entertainment appeared—it was the hibachi chef. He was a scrawny guy that looked like perhaps he should have been sampling some of the food he was cooking. I was sure that, if given the opportunity, I could take him in hand-to-hand combat. He tried half-heartedly to put on a show, but somewhere between frying the rice and cooking the salmon his showmanship fizzled out to a mere sputter. I've seen better hibachi performances at roadside dives in the middle of the dry, arid desert. Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but I probably could have put on a better show with a couple of dull butter knives, a spatula and one very large onion. The chef who stood directly behind our chef was much more exciting and kept me entertained for the better part of the evening.

The food that finally came off the grill was neither great nor bad; it just was. It was like seeing your Aunt Idah at Thanksgiving—you weren’t really excited, but you probably wouldn’t go hide under the table in fear for your life either. The rice was good; the noodles were good; the chicken was good; the salmon was good; the scallops were good. Everything was good, but that basically means middle-of-the-road. I guess I expect too much from a hibachi experience—more bells and whistles; something more entertaining; more interactive. Well, speaking of interactive, I did catch a flying ball of rice as it sailed through mid-air and landed down my windpipe. I almost got a standing ovation for that trick.

If I'm judging strictly by the food, Shiki was rather ordinary (or maybe just a touch above because, as I look back on it, those noodles were kickin!). But so many people want to encounter a true hibachi experience with a gregarious, over the top chef that keeps one laughing and entertained. Maybe I expect too much. At least the chef managed to keep the little girl at our table wide-eyed with fascination (or perhaps that was fear; it was hard to tell).
Shiki Hibachi & Sushi Japanese Restaurant - this restaurant does not have a web page; however, an online menu is available. Shiki is open 7 days a week.

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