Teppan out

While I’m not a particular fan of the culinary vaudeville act that is Japanese teppan cookery, I see no reason to malign it. After all, it can be fun if you’re in the mood, and though it’s basically just a bunch of soy sauce-laden meat cooked on a griddle by a pseudo-comedic juggler, it’s relatively harmless—and even tasty sometimes. Plus, my mom likes it, and she got to choose where we went the other night.

So we ended up at this place, Katana. And what’s nice about it—besides the fact that eating the teppan stuff isn’t mandatory, since Katana serves trad Japanese fare and sushi as well—is that it seems a bit more subdued and classy than Benihana. Where Benihana seems, at times, like a circus show in Vegas with those cheesy sequenced lights and birthday announcements flooding the room and the cook hiding your food in his freakin’ shirt pocket, Katana has a tasteful, quiet interior with an appealing black-and-white marbled floor, and the cooks rely more on bad jokes and cheesy grins than juggling and food hurling. It’s just a little less in your face, which I appreciate.

Another salient feature of Katana is that though only two of the four in our party ordered teppan food, the cook meted it out to all of us and we still had enough left over to take home. We had chicken, New York steak, calamari steak, shrimp and vegetables, with fried and steamed rice. It was just a ton of food, which, if you like tons of food, is a good thing.

I particularly liked the calamari steak, which—though our witty cook claimed to have seasoned it with Budweiser and cocaine—seemed to taste more like lemon and soy and was clearly fresh, supple and delicious.

Other meats were good, if not mind blowing. At least they were fresh, and there’s not much chance of overcooking at a teppan table; because the cooks are so hyped up and flailing around, it’s like they can’t wait to get the food cooked, chopped and dispensed with.

Anyway, my wife and I weren’t much interested in the teppan thing—though we were interested enough when it landed on our plates—so we just ordered bits of sushi to see how Katana dealt with it.

Katana’s sushi is relatively conservative, with the standard entries in the nigiri section of maguro, hamachi, saba, unagi, etc. Perhaps they’re a bit too conservative, as the hamachi I ordered was immaculate, fresh and tasty, but had nary a speckle of wasabi on it. When I eat nigiri sushi, I don’t usually check the amount of wasabi, but I do like to feel as though I’ve been hit by a truck, so when it’s not there it can be a bit of a letdown. Of course, one can always compensate by loading it up manually.

As far as rolls go, Katana has a reasonably wide selection, ranging from the simple and modest tekkamaki to the huge and slightly overbearing phoenix or dragon rolls, which feature two types of raw fish and fried soft-shell crab.

We tried a pham roll, consisting of yellowtail marinated in chili paste in the middle, which was surrounded by seaweed and sushi rice. Draped over the top of the roll were slices of both salmon and yellowtail, and attractive clumps of pea sprouts emerged from either end of the roll. For an added punch, a drizzle of spicy chili cream adorned the top. Dipping this complicated concoction into the awaiting dish of wasabi and soy sauce wasn’t easy, but, once done, I had achieved that hit-by-a-truck feeling which my endorphins were so ready to alleviate, leaving me in a pleasant state of euphoria.

Also good was the even more elaborately constructed lobster roll, featuring crispy tempura lobster tail in the center, wasabi eyes and zucchini feelers.

I’m inclined to think that although Katana’s food won’t be causing riots in the streets, it’s still a solid member of the city’s Japanese restaurant community, and its wide range of dining options—sushi bar, teppan table, regular table—makes it particularly attractive.