Welcome to ‘The New Yamagata Japanese Teppanyaki Restaurant’ boasts the website, giving off the impression that the business hadn’t been doing so well and has revamped, offering better food and a better experience. Well, I can’t speak for how ‘the old’ Yamagata restaurant was (if that even existed), but I can vouch for how enjoyable the new dining experience is. My family and I were (not) greeted by an old Japanese woman with a stone expression and not a hint of welcoming. She sat us down and snapped at us when we didn’t sit at the table in the correct way she wanted. We were given menus and the woman tied a paper napkin bib around each of our necks. My parents had dined at Yamagata the previous week for a Christmas work party and were eager to bring my brother and I along, as they know of my huge interest in Japan. Of course, I phoned beforehand to enquire about gluten free options. To my delight I was told the chef could easily accommodate with gluten free sauces and could leave out certain ingredients.
There are five main tables inside the restaurant, each with a large hot plate and space behind for your own personal chef to cook for you, in front of you. The lighting is dim and Japanese artwork hangs on the walls as well as lanterns and red fairy lights. A lone waitress was busying around dressed in a Kimono complete with Japanese slippers and wearing socks. Staying true to Japanese culture, a male waiter was prompt to keep each diners glass full.
We chose the Kyoto set menu ($50 a head) which included: miso soup, prawns, chicken, miso steak, mixed vegetables, japanese fried rice and tea or coffee. Everything is seasoned with salt and pepper and a few tricks with the shaker for show. We were each given a small dipping plate of soy sauce, and chopsticks – no western cutlery. An entree of Miso Soup was served, and I was a bit aprehensive about trying the Miso after making a packet Miso for dinner once and absolutely hating it, but this soup was delicious. Chopped shallots were part of the soup and it was served steaming hot. As we downed our soup slurping straight from the bowl, the chef began cooking the prawns, de-veining and de-heading, but keeping the heads and legs in a corner of the hot plate, occasionally flattening with his spatula. The fresh tasting prawns were cooked in butter, oil, and garlic sauce for those not gluten free. Very simple, but amazingly delicious.
Next was chicken breast, chopped into smaller pieces in front of us with the sharp spatula, again cooked with oil and then rice wine. Simple, but tender and very tasty. Dipped into the soy sauce further enhanced the flavours.
Third was the beef miso steak, again chopped using the sharp spatula. Oil, salt and pepper were used as seasoning, and with a splash of what i assume was miso set the meat on fire. Yet again, very simple, but delicious and tender meat.
Third was the mixed vegetables, which were not really mixed vegetables at all, but rather a whole bunch of bean shoots mixed with thin strips of carrot and zucchini. I usually leave the bean shoots behind in any meal, but the chef allowed the shoots to cook and soften which I liked, however I would have much rathered stir fried vegetables (broccoli, bok choy etc). Using the soy dipping sauce added even more flavour.
Our last meal was Japanese fried rice, before beginning the chef lined up four eggs on the hot plate, cracking the bottoms slightly so as to stand the eggs. Using his spatula he flipped each egg onto the utensil and asked us to catch our eggs in a small bowl. A slight nervous feeling was felt as a result of previously watching diners at the other table missing the egg and having it splatter all over their clothes (my freshly washed hair!). All of us caught the eggs, and the chef ‘painted’ the lightly whisked eggs on the hot plate with the spatula. He cooked a thin omelette, rolling it up as he went, showing off his fast chopping skills, chopping the rolled egg into smaller pieces, throwing bits into our mouths like you would with popcorn. Then came the throwing of small bowls filled with rice which we were also expected to catch. However the rice is not for eating, it’s purely for fun. The chef emptied a large bowl of white rice, minced meat, and shallots and began frying using the same spatula, he folded in the egg and he was done. Using the remains of our soy dipping sauce he poured into our individual bowls, I suddenly wished i’d been more scarce with the use of it. For non gluten free diners, a sauce which smelt like teriyaki (or something sweet and honeyish) was also poured on the rice. That cheap oily feeling was felt upon my lips afterwards. The chef gave us each a head of a prawn from much earlier, I was skeptical but tried it anyway. Expectantly crunchy but too much of a seafood taste for me. The chef thanked us and hoped we enjoyed our meal.
Overall, the ‘meals’ at Yamagata feature very simple flavours and dishes, but it’s clear that it is the Japanese dining experience that is worth more than the dining/food and is what will definitely lure me back. It’s a restaurant best enjoyed with parties or with family to ensure plenty of laughs as there is sure to be at least one diner who is showered with sprays of rice or rolls of egg flying from the hot plate of a less experienced chef.