Here’s Who Goes to Benihana

I might have known.

So the food wasn’t bad, exactly. Trowels of garlic butter on everything, which was a little disorienting—I didn’t think Japanese food was known for its abundant use of dairy, after all—but it actually tasted pretty good (of course it did; it was smothered in garlic butter). The place itself was a strange combination of airport lounge and theme park, slightly worn and blatantly synthetic. Fourteen hibachi-centered tables, each seating eight, were filled with groups of raucous twentysomethings downing umbrellaed frozen drinks, blonde families clearly on vacation, and Benihana veterans from outer boros wearing white sneakers and thick gold chains. Red-toqued chefs entertained each table with an assortment of tricks using knives, spatulas, and squirt bottles. Clearly they’re all sent to the same clown school, though, since we saw at least four different men (no women chefs here) catch first a piece of shrimp in his shirt pocket, and then an egg on top of his hat.

During dinner we noticed that our chef’s arms were glistening. Was it sweat or grease? We got our answer while waiting for the subway to go home, when S realized that everything looked a little foggy:

Our chef’s name, by the way: Karim. He was about as Japanese as I am.

On board the subway car, the guy sitting across from us looked up from his book and sniffed, as one might when a particularly ripe homeless person wanders through. I took a deep breath and realized what he smelled: It was us. We reeked of burnt garlic butter and cooked meat. In fact I’m pretty sure we still do, a full day later.

I must admit, though, that we had a great time. It was like a mini-vacation for us, the most non-New York experience you can have without leaving home. No wonder it’s “America’s Most Popular Restaurant.”