Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, May 02, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Teri-yucky

Not-bad food gets a lackluster presentation at Sake.

By SHELLY MOON

Sake Japanese Steakhouse

5736 SW Green Oaks Blvd, Arlington. Sun-Thu 5-9:30pm. Fri-Sat 5-10pm.

he authenticity of hibachi-style cooking came into question last summer when a friend and I were seeking an appropriate spot to take two Japanese guests looking for comfort food, such as sushi and stir-fry. We chose a north Dallas establishment whose name rolled off the tongues of everyone we asked. As soon as our wide-eyed 19-year-old guests saw the word “sushi” on the restaurant’s façade, their stomachs started to rumble. But when my young friends laid eyes on the hibachi grill inside, they looked befuddled; they asked, “What’s that for?” So much for “real” Japanese cooking.

The teenagers played along with their American hosts, and after an enjoyable meal gave us something else to laugh about: Not only is hibachi cooking a foreign concept in Tokyo, but the animated chef who sliced, diced, and flipped our dinner was actually from Korea.

Alas, these kids awakened us to another of the great oxymorons of Asian cuisine in the United States: Even if it says “Japanese” on the sign out front, the contents of the menu are sure to be a homogenized American version of what the natives actually enjoy.

With that in mind, visiting a Japanese hibachi restaurant could be viewed as an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek experience. The hibachi chefs at Sake Japanese Steakhouse don’t seem to understand that. Their enthusiasm on a recent visit was more like that of 7-Eleven clerks ringing up your hot dog and chips.

Yeah, those upbeat show-offs who flip raw eggs into their hats and start small fires with sake in onion pyramids are normally quite personable. The entertainment is built into the price of the meal.

But at Arlington’s Sake restaurant, the chefs seemed too tired to care. They went through the motions, not making eye contact with any of us or trying any really exciting tricks. The experience was akin to what it might be like to watch Robin Williams deliver just the dialogue of his energetic comedy routines, sitting on a stool and sipping Diet Pepsi. Flat.

The lackluster performance was definitely not worth the 45-minute wait. That’s a lot of time to kill in a restaurant where the acoustics stink. You can’t hear the person seated next to you, but the shrieking toddler across the way comes in perfectly clear, of course.

During the wait, an equally bored waitress appeared with bowls of soup that were nothing more than tasteless blends of chicken bouillon with sprinklings of green onions and sparse mushroom slices. (If you want real Asian soup, go to Tai Kee Noodle House.)

Finally my friend and I were seated, among some strangers, everyone situated around the large silver hibachi grill where the “festivities” would take place. A salad made from crudely chopped lettuce covered in a grainy house dressing with a hint of ginger flavor came first. Bor-ing. Appetizer orders of sushi rolls ordered by another diner at our table were colorful and looked and smelled fresh. Too bad I wasn’t so lucky.

The entrée offerings at hibachi restaurants are pretty standard. Fried rice, stir-fried meat, veggies. “Standard” fits Sake perfectly.

The vegetables were fresh. A vegetarian stir-fry order was just as tasty as a traditional chicken, shrimp, steak, and squid offering. The shrimp appetizer, unfortunately, which was switched to eggplant to accommodate my vegetarian pal, was disappointing. The vegetable was cooked to the point of being flavorless mush clinging to a thick, purple peel. A good point: The meals were considerably less salty than others we’ve had in similar venues.

You can almost never go wrong ordering tea in an Asian restaurant — unless you’re at Sake. Instead of offering us a soothing pot of green tea, the waitress brought a cup of tepid, weak-colored water that might have been green tea at one point that day. If you need something a little stronger, the restaurant offers a variety of domestic and Japanese beers, mixed drinks, Japanese and American wines, and drinks made popular by our grandparents, including the Kamikaze, Singapore sling, and mai tai.

Located in a strip mall set back from the intersection of I-20 and Green Oaks Boulevard, Sake is not easy to find. Despite its lackluster staff — and the overall dingy appearance of the tiny dining room — Sake seems to have built quite a following since opening three years ago. That might be due to the buy-one/get-one-free offer on hibachi dinners served weeknights. It might also be that patrons don’t know how much more entertaining the hibachi chefs are at other establishments.


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