Last week, I wanted to take my son to a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant—one of those places where the chef prepares the food in front of you on a hibachi grill and performs a bunch of slapstick knife and spatula tricks. Benihana was fully booked, but a bit of googling led me to Ginza in Park Slope.
Benihana basically invented this genre. I’ve been to teppanyaki restaurants in Tokyo, where the food is taken seriously, and there are no clown tricks. But every version of it that I’ve found in the U.S. (plus once in London) follows the same pattern: mediocre food, but a fun night out for kids and tourists: Disney meets Japan.
Craig Claiborne of The New York Times awarded two stars to Benihana in 1970, but it hasn’t been a serious restaurant in years. Ginza, at least, feels a lot less commercial. It’s in a narrow Fifth Avenue storefront, and with plenty of exposed brick it even feels cute. There’s a small seating area for those who want to order sushi, but four hibachi grills are the showcase. We saw plenty of families, most probably from the neighborhood.
The chef knew all of the standard clown tricks, but the food was pretty bad, starting with a humdrum salad and dull miso soup.
The chef gets the rice and vegetables started, then the shrimp, and throws in some fire for show (it has nothing to do with the cooking).
The shrimp are about done now, and so is the fried rice, to which the chef had added two fresh eggs. These are the best things we had at Ginza, mainly because they were not over-cooked, and the chef didn’t cut them into little pieces.
Now, the chef finished off the chicken. Three lovely chicken breasts were chopped up and fried to death, losing all of their natural mosture. In the photo on the left, you can see a strip steak on the grill, thick and nicely marbled.
But the same violence was inflicted on the steak, too: it is cut into tiny pieces and fried to death, so that almost none of the natural juices are left. The chef cut off a fatty piece on the end, and was about to throw it away, but we insisted he give it to us. At least it had some flavor.
Ginza is good fun for the family, but I wouldn’t go for the food. My son complained about the long subway ride from Upstate Manhattan into far-away Brooklyn, but his objections melted away when he saw the hibachi grills: kids adore this stuff.
Prices don’t break the bank. My girlfriend had the chicken and shrimp dinner ($20.95), with an extra side of vegetables ($7.00). My son and I had the chicken, shrimp and steak dinner for two ($47.95). Beers were $6 apiece.
Ginza (296 Fifth Avenue between 1st & 2nd Streets, Park Slope, Brooklyn)
Ambiance: Nice neighborhood place