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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.


November 3, 2008


My family eats at the neighborhood hibachi restaurant, often.

Actually, what we Americans have come to know as “hibachi” is actually teppanyaki-style cooking. A hibachi is a small, portable grill like the ones I used on my apartment balcony during a very lengthy and tenuous college career.

Teppanyaki-style cooking is done on a flattop griddle in front of guests who are seated around the cooking surface. Usually salad and soup (or broth) are served first. Vegetables and rice are cooked on the flattop. The customary protein choices are chicken, steak, and shrimp. They are cooked quickly with minimal accoutrements and maximum flair. Many restaurants offer scallops, lobster, and several different cuts of steak.

You know the drill— lots of fire, fancy knife work, the onion volcano, the flying egg in the chef hat, and the novelty soy sauce squeeze bottle which the chef uses to squirt a brown string at unsuspecting guests (I fall for that one every time).

Teppanyaki-style eating is somewhat healthy as long as you don’t have a problem with rice. There is a small amount of fat used when cooking the protein and a substantial amount of soy sauce used when preparing the rice, but for the most part, when compared with other styles of restaurant cooking, it’s healthy and flavorful.

For the remainder of this column I will refer to teppanyaki-style cooking as “hibachi” because that has become the American moniker.

For me, the “show” in a hibachi restaurant comes in a distant second to the food. Once you’ve seen the routine for the third or fourth time it becomes stale. I like dining at our neighborhood hibachi restaurant because we can walk in, sit down immediately, and begin eating. My kids love it, it’s fast, it’s healthy, and it’s good. If I want less soy sauce or rice, I tell them.

Several years ago we visited a hibachi restaurant with a PG-13 rated hibachi chef. He had a very thick accent and the children couldn’t understand him, but he discussed some pretty inappropriate stuff— I think. I could catch every sixth or seventh word and it was like a bad Saturday Night Live skit filled with sexual innuendos and heavily accented dirty jokes.

He had no filter or concept of “child appropriate.” He laughed long and loudly at his jokes which made everyone else laugh, which made him think everyone was laughing at the jokes and not his laughing, and the vicious cycle continued around and around.

An inappropriate hibachi chef is much better than what I— this very second— witnessed. While writing the previous paragraph, my seven-year old son walked through the room singing television’s “Viva Viagra” jingle to the tune of Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas.” Thankfully he has no clue, and I’m not about to enlighten him. Unfortunately there is no way to watch a football game with your children nowadays without hearing the words, “erectile dysfunction” several times before the end of the first quarter.

The PG-13 rated hibachi restaurant eventually closed and the chef moved to Las Vegas where he is probably doing stand-up comedy or E.D. commercials.

There is a communal aspect to hibachi eating. Sharing a meal with family, friends, and strangers is a great treat and a fun alternative.

I could care less for the fancy knife work and all of the bells and whistles. As long as the chef takes it easy on the oil, and you moderate your rice intake, it’s a quite healthy meal. It’s quick. It’s fun. It’s family oriented and one can order exactly what he or she wants prepared exactly as he or she likes— sans the sexual innuendos and dirty jokes.

Dirty Rice Cakes with Crawfish Mardi Gras Mix

The rice cakes can be made two days in advance (the topping one day in advance). After the dirty rice cakes have been browned, they can be held in the refrigerator for up to two days.

3 cups dirty rice, cooled
1 /4 cup green onion, chopped
2 Tbl parsley, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 /4 cup coarse bread crumbs
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 /4 cup unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350.

In a food processor, pulse 1 1 /2 cups of the dirty rice (Do not make a paste, the rice should just begin to resemble coarse bread crumbs).

Place pureed rice in a mixing bowl with the remaining rice, green onions, parsley, eggs and plain bread crumbs crumbs. Mix well.

Form into 1 1 /2-inch round patties approximately 3 /4-inch thick. Gently bread the cakes using the Italian bread crumbs.

In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat and brown cakes on both sides. Place browned cakes on a baking sheet.

Bake the cakes for 8-10 minutes.

Top warm rice cakes with crawfish mixture and heat for 5 more minutes.

Place on serving dish and top with a small dollop of red-pepper aioli.

Yield: 20 cakes

Crawfish Mardi Gras Mix

1 Tbl olive oil
1 /2 cup red onion, minced
1 /4 cup red pepper, diced
1 /4 cup green pepper, diced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp creole seasoning
1 /4 pound cleaned crawfish tails, drained (not squeezed) chopped fine
2 Tbl sour cream
1 Tbl parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat> Add onion, peppers, garlic, salt, and creole seasoning and cook 4-5 minutes. Let cool. Combine cooled vegetables, crawfish, sour cream and parmesan cheese.

Dirty Rice

1 Tbl bacon fat
2 oz ground beef
2 oz ground pork
1 bay leaves
1 Tbl poultry seasoning
1 tsp dry mustard
1 /2 cup diced onion
1 /4 cup diced celery
1 /4 cup diced bell pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbl butter
1 cup rice
2 cups pork stock, hot

Brown the ground pork in the bacon fat.

Add veggies and seasoning and cook 10 minutes.

Stir in rice and hot stock, lower heat , cover and simmer 18 minutes.

Yield: 3 cups

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