Restaurant of the Week: Benihana

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Benihana, 3760 E. Inland Empire Blvd. (at Haven), Ontario

Benihana, the Japanese chain with an Ontario location, may be the Inland Valley’s best “experience” restaurant. If you go for the teppanyaki, where you sit around the grill, the chef puts on a show involving fast action with the utensils, some sleight of hand and a few jokes. He’ll flip a few shrimp tails or egg shells into his hat or shirt pocket and maybe do some juggling.

I shot a short video of the chef’s final flourishes.

I’ve eaten there a few times over the years, including once on Christmas Day with my visiting parents, and returned recently with a friend to celebrate publication of my book. (Many more times I’ve been to the sushi bar.) It was as much fun as I remembered.

I went for the Land ‘n Sea ($34), steak and scallops, and my friend had the teriyaki chicken ($19), both of which come with a small salad, soup, rice, grilled vegetables, hot tea and ice cream. The menu can be seen here.

I didn’t go with the intention of writing a blog post, so I didn’t take many pictures. But it’s difficult to photograph your entree anyway because everything arrives in stages. The chef gives you the vegetables and a few pieces of grilled shrimp, and then, if you have a combo entree like I did, one part of them and then the other part, as he’s cooking everything at once.

(As regular readers know, we frown on chains here at the David Allen Blog, but we’re not militant about it. If a chain has only one or two local outlets, that makes it fair game. There’s only one local Benihana and I belatedly decided I might as well post about it.)

It’s not the greatest food or anything, but it’s fine, and the show is pretty good. Who can tire of watching an onion stacked in layers like a volcano shoot steam skyward? This time, though, the wait for the entree seemed long, and the chef encouraged us all (the tables seat eight) to get to work on our vegetables even though the bowls were still arrayed around the grill waiting for him to finish. I practiced a long reach to snag my mushrooms and onions. In a way, then, dinner was not entirely satisfying. Still, it’s an enjoyable special occasion restaurant.

And it’s large! There are more than 20 grills, and most of them were in use on our weeknight visit.

Did you know Benihana is 50 this year? I didn’t. According to the corporate history, the first, in 1964, was in New York City; there are now 70 around the world. I don’t know when Ontario’s opened, but probably the early or mid 1990s; Daily Bulletin types were going there on occasion when I started here in 1997.

Oh, and at the end of your meal, they still give each group a Polaroid of themselves in a little paper frame, as if you were boarding a cruise ship, except here it’s free.

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  • http://originalpechanga.blogspot.com OriginalPechanga

    I took my wife (then 1st date) to the one on La Cienega in 1979..and was in Ontario last year. Good special occasion place…

  • SAWZ

    I don’t whether or not Benihana is a step-parent or any other relative of Tokyo Kitchen in Montclair–I have never been to Benihana, but had seen its performance many times on TV. The ritual and food are exactly the same at both places–I think TK is a tad cheaper–but there is no free group picture. They celebrate birthdays at TK with the picture, a clapping-song by the staff, and a plate of fresh pineapple, but the celebrants pay about $3.50 for the celebration–they used to also include a silly hat fashioned from gift wrap–I don’t know if they discontinued the practice because the “birthday” person felt silly wearing it, or because of the cost. Anyway, my local family includes 13 people, and we have a birthday celebration at TK several times a year. I was a “first” patron at TK about 30 years ago and the cook from that first time is still serving our group. TK is not part of a chain, unless it is really another Benihana in sheeps clothing–as close as Montclair is to you, David–how come you have not been to Tokyo Kitchen?

    • davidallen909

      There’s no connection between TK and Benihana, to get that out of the way. I was about to say that I’d had lunch with a couple of friends once at TK but upon further reflection that was Bombay Bistro next door. So, I guess I do need to eat at TK sometime.

  • Becker0109

    Benihana’s and TK are similar regarding the “show” of preparing the food. I’d give Benihana a tad higher grade because there are usually more tables opened. TK is good though but with a larger group we’ve gone to Benihana.

  • Becker0109

    David, thanks for your stories.

    • davidallen909

      You’re welcome!