Bay Area Reviews
My sister Kathy loves Benihana so of course we said yes when she asked us to take her there. There are several in the Bay Area but the closest to us is the one in Burlingame so we made reservations there for a Friday at 7:45pm (April, 2004).
We arrived quite early (traffic wasn't nearly as bad as we feared) and we waited at the front of the restaurant for about 15 minutes for our table. Wait for those without a reservation was about one hour. You can also wait in the bar area or, presumably, outside. That might be fun as the restaurant is right on the water and you can see the planes going both to Oakland and San Francisco airport. Unfortunately we hadn't brought coats with us and it was quite chilly and windy outside.
At Benihana, guests are seated around a u-shaped counter facing a large, flat grill. The chef stands in front of the grill performing and cooking your food. The "tables" seem to accommodate 6-8 people so you will have to share your table with others (in addition to the chef) if you're not part of a large group. Gregarious souls are likely to have much more fun than private ones.
Soon after we were seated, a hostess appeared with plates carrying three types of sushi (all rolls) covered in plastic wrap. Mike chose some random rolls and he was quite pleased with them. Mika ate a few rice grains.
The menu gives you a choice of several beef, chicken and fish types (and combinations thereof) that will be grilled to order. Entrees are about $15-30 and include soup, salad, shrimp, rice, vegetables, tea and, in some cases, ice cream. Not a bad deal all in all. Kathy and I chose to have the filet mignon, while Mike went for the steak & chicken.
The Japanese onion soup was a broth with some thin mushroom slices floating on it. Kathy liked it and Mika ate all the mushrooms. The salad was a pre-dressed simple affair but apparently pretty good; both Mike & Kathy ate theirs (Mika wouldn't). The same can be said about the shrimp. I have to say that the portion served looked extremely small on the large plates. Given that none of the portions are particularly generous, Benihana would probably do well to use smaller plates.
When you order, you are given a choice of getting fried rice (made before you) instead of white rice, for an extra fee. For some reason both Kathy & Mike decided on the white rice, but I went for the fried rice instead. It was quite good, and Mika actually enjoyed eating it a lot. If you like fried rice, I'd suggest you order it.
Our filet mignon, cooked medium rare, was extremely tender, so much so that I wonder if they don't use MSG (their website is silent about it). It was cooked with garlic butter but I still didn't find it as flavorful as I would have liked (filet mignon is, of course, a pretty flavorless cut). Kathy liked it, though.
I thought Mike's chicken was a little too dry (overcooked). His steak (sirloin, I'd venture) was just OK.
The ice cream served for dessert tasted of artificial flavors and just wasn't very good. Mika, of course, loved it.
Perhaps because we had been to Benihana once before, I didn't find the "show" to be particularly entertaining. The chefs have amazing juggling and cutting skills, but ours, at least, seemed as tired of the whole shebang as we were. The "show" did hold 2-year-old Mika's interest for a few minutes at best.
As you can gather, Benihana is not my idea of a great restaurant. Still, Kathy likes it and it's acceptable enough to go once a year or so. And I do count my blessings, after all, she could have chosen Olive Garden.
1496 Old Bayshore Hwy.