There's something about a Hispanic guy pretending to be an authentic Japanese Hibachi chef that makes me feel American.
To celebrate the first week of summer vacation, I took my boys to Benihana for dinner. The smell of MSG greeted us in the parking lot. No less than 5 excessively smiley (most assuredly not Japanese) hostesses bowed to us at the heavily bamboo-ed entrance. Within moments, my kids were wearing menu hats.
Seated with us was another typical American family comprised of a Mom and Dad - the Dad's young son from his previous marriage, the Mom's young daughter from her previous marriage, and somebody's step-niece visiting from Mexico. We all got along swimmingly as the chef made a choo-choo train out of onion rings my children won't eat.
Benihana is one of those places that sounds soooo fun when you're in the car driving there.
As you're being seated with strangers, you hear yourself say "That's Hot!" for the first time and start to question your restaurant selection. Neither of your children want to sit next to strangers and thanks to their lack of volume control, the strangers now know it. The table is an odd shape, so suddenly your children are sitting together, arms length from a burn unit visit, and you are elbow-elbow with someone else's teenage Mexican step niece. As the waitress offers your children coca-cola, you get a text from your husband. Flight canceled. Uch. At that moment your toddler discovers the chopsticks.
You review the menu choices and suddenly recall that though it's never on the menu, every time you go to Benihana, you wind up with Hibachi diarrhea. Meanwhile, your son just ordered a shit load of million dollar shrimp.
Ok, back to me. The chef makes the fried rice egg spin round and round while I am flooded with memories of pre-prom dinners 20 years ago. These dudes were doing this egg spinning thing way back then. He cracks the egg uncleanly. Shell goes everywhere. Glad I didn't order the fried rice.
"Was that supposed to happen?" my son asks. "Shhh," I say, not wanting to hurt chef feelings.
He flips shrimp tails into his hat. (Well, one made it in, I honestly couldn't tell you where the rest landed.) He does some sort of percussion routine with his salt and pepper shakers. My younger son imitates him with a full glass of water and I'm thinking that maybe the folks who wrote Fela got inspired here.
The chef finishes with a flourish and my kids applaud. "Woo-Hoo!" the little one cheers. "That was awesome!" the big one confirms. They push their veggies aside with their jerry-rigged chopsticks and gobble up their meals all smiles. "Summer Vacation is the best ever!"
My clothes smell distinctly of teriyaki sauce, but my children are happy - and therefore by some sort of scientific theory - I'm happy. Which is lucky for me, considering what I ordered.
I can't say I'll be racing back to the least Japanese Japanese restaurant in America anytime soon, but I do know I'll be back. Mom points are nothing to sneeze at.