Has anyone not been to a hibachi steak house restaurant by now? You know, a room full of large open grills, each with a surrounding counter-table and seats for eight to 12, where the chef in his whites and high toque comes out smashing his spatulas together and putting on a show of rapid fire cutting and cooking three feet in front of you?
If you haven’t, it is worth the fun. Plus, you will get a whole lot of tasty Asian-style meat, seafood and vegetables directly from the cooking surface to your plate.
One of our favorite hibachi restaurants is Ooka, which has locations in Willow Grove, Montgomeryville and Doylestown.
Setting: Ooka in Willow Grove has a dining room with four hibachi grills, each seating eight. There is also a separate, larger Japanese food dining room and sushi bar. This Ooka is located at the intersection of Route 611 and Fitzwatertown Road, just south of the turnpike exit.
Food: From the hibachi dinner menu, you select from a variety of full four-course dinners, all starting with a clear chicken broth soup (or miso, on request), salad with ginger dressing, steamed white or fried rice, a few grilled shrimp, and soba noodles sauced and warmed on the grill.
While eating these, my LDC (Lovely Dining Companion) and I sipped the chilled sake we had brought—it’s B.Y.O.B.—and watched our group’s hibachi chef skillfully prepare our main dishes with a flourish.
Among the possible main course seafood choices are salmon, sea bass, shrimp, scallops, calamari and lobster. There is also chicken, strip steak and filet mignon for meat eaters, and there are mix and match combinations for the unaffiliated.
Ooka also offers a large selection of other Japanese cuisine favorites such as teriyaki, negimaki and yakitori.
Taste: A few of the 12 seated at our community table also ordered a maki roll from the sushi and sashimi menu; it was quickly brought in from the sushi bar. Our favorite, a salmon and avocado roll, was first-rate.
This food is verifiably fresh and quite tasty. My only complaint was that the chicken on my chicken and scallops combo became too chewy and dry from too much time on the griddle.
On a very recent repeat visit, I chose the filet mignon and scallops hibachi dinner ($27), while my son picked the filet and shrimp combo ($26). The steak was done perfectly by the hibachi chef to our liking after asking our desired degree of doneness. The cubes of meat were tender, moist and delicious, as were the shrimp and scallops.
Service: Ooka’s staff is Chinese. By far, most of the area’s Japanese sushi and hibachi restaurants are owned and operated by non-Japanese Asians, by Koreans and Chinese. At Ooka, there was prompt, courteous and thoroughly purposeful service by the black-clad servers.
Sounds: The constant whoosh of gas powering the big hibachi grills, the loud intermittent clash of spatulas slapped together by the chefs, the sudden roar of fire—rice bran oil squirted and ignited—right in front of you, and the happy hubbub of fellow diners enjoying the “show” was entertaining.
Parking: There's an off-street, steeply inclined parking lot. Just remember to put the car in park, and set the emergency brake.
Overall rating: mmmm (out of 5 m’s) for an unusual, entertaining and tasty dining experience
Location: 1109 Easton Road, Willow Grove
Hours: Lunch until 3 p.m., and dinner at 4:30 p.m., daily.
Prices: $15 through $34
Ambiance: Casual, with spare, clean décor typical of Asian eateries
Reservations: Suggested on weekends
Credit cards: All major accepted
Alcoholic beverages: B.Y.O.B.
Special features: Hibachi dinners cooked right in front of you.
To contact Mitch Davis, email MdavisMainCourse@aol.com.