Hibachi House, the latest restaurant venture from the owners of Sumo Sushi, had its soft opening in downtown Rochester last Wednesday.
It didn't take long for residents of Rochester to flock to its doors.
There was nothing "soft" about the crowd last Friday night: the place already had quite a gathering.
Hibachi grill dining isn't your typical dinner out. Customers share seating around a Hibachi grill, where the food is prepared with more than a bit of flair while you watch. The shared dining experience fosters a sense of community.
"Our focus is community, a warm and inviting experience," said assistant manager Cortney Labbe. "The other night we had a regular from Sumo in, a widow who just lost her daughter, and she was sitting next to a young couple that had just moved to Rochester. They shared a meal together. It's all about the experience.
"Hibachi is a great way to meet your neighbors."
There are a few things you need to know about Hibachi dining:
- It's not fast food. On a weekend night allot yourself a couple hours to enjoy the experience.
- It is a lot of food. Come hungry or prepare to take home leftovers.
- Work the corners. To make conversation easier, you want to seat your party around the corners of the Hibachi table. A table features two grills and 17 seats.
"The food is incredible. Our chefs are outstanding. But it's the experience that makes it special," Labbe said.
As I mentioned, a Hibachi meal comes with a lot of food. It starts with miso soup and a house salad.
(And I have to pause right here to say the homemade sesame-based house dressing is so good I wanted to pick up the bowl and drink it.)
Next, the chef — for our meal it was head chef Jimmy Liang — takes his place to prepare Hibachi vegetables, noodles, rice and entrees.
This all starts with a very impressive flame, designed to get your attention.
Utensils are drummed and juggled. Onions are stacked and set aflame amid cries of "Fire in the hole!" An egg performed tricks so amazing you'd swear it was hard-boiled. And, for the willing, rice balls are lobbed through the air to awaiting mouths.
(Those that manage to catch the rice ball area allowed full family bragging rights. Let me pause again to say, "All hail the Mama" and take a discreet bow.)
All during the show, your meal is being prepared before your eyes.
Labbe said the most popular entree is the steak and scallop combination for $25. Entrees range from $16 for the Teriyaki chicken to $34 for Hibachi lobster.
I had the scallops, calamari and chicken. While all were delicious, next time it will be all scallops for me. My husband got the steak and calamari and thought the calamari an absolute delight.
We both also upgraded to the fried rice, at Labbe's suggestion. It's made right in front of you on the grill with a sweetened soy sauce. We thought it was well worth the $2.50 up-charge.
We shared our half of the table with the Irwin family from Troy. Mark Irwin, who works in downtown Rochester, told me: "We're fans of hot, fresh food and this is it!"
But wait, there's more!
If by any chance you need more food, the menu also includes appetizers, soups, salads and rolls.
Appetizers range from $4 to $10. Labbe called out the Maki Mono, a scallion wrapped in a thinly sliced meat with teriyaki sauce, as the most popular.
The menu also includes a selection of eight rolls, not exactly sushi since all are thoroughly cooked. Roll prices range from $8 to $14. Labbe recommends the Salmon Attack as a staff favorite, made with salmon, cream cheese tempura, jalapeno, spicy cream and chili sauce. We tried the Tempura-California, fried and topped with a sweet sauce, and were instantly hooked.
There is a small kids menu with Hibachi chicken, steak or shrimp ranging from $8 to $10. Kids meals come with all the hibachi sides.
And there is a lunch menu with entrees ranging from $9 to $12 and combination lunches ranging from $13 to $16.
Gluten, vegan and vegetarian options should be added to the menu by February.
In the basement
Hibachi House also includes downtown Rochester's only basement lounge. It's a full-service bar from 5 p.m. to close and features five large-screen televisions.
They serve mixed drinks and beer on tap, including two local beers and Sapporo, but the speciality is "really fun sake drinks," Labbe said.
There's live music upstairs on weekends. On Friday night Brian Sheehan performed on an acoustic guitar with mellow hits from artists like Bob Marley, Janis Joplin and Radiohead.
"A really fun experience is what we're after," Labbe said.
When you're entertained even while watching the grill get cleaned at the end of your meal, you know that goal's been met.
Hibachi House is located at 335 South Main, directly across the street from O'Connor's Public House. Hours are Monday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Saturday noon to 12:30 a.m. and Sunday noon to 11:30 p.m. Hibachi chefs are on break from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., although the full menu is available. For reservations or questions, call 248-266-6055.