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Don Appetit! Benihana’s Delicious Theatre


Don Douloff, Food WriterFor 44 years, Benihana Japanese Steakhouse, in the lower level of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, in Toronto, has entertained diners with its teppanyaki-style experience.

Customers sit around a rectangular table outfitted with a flat-top grill. After ordering, diners sit back and watch the show unfold, as the chef wheels in a cart laden with the table’s orders and gets to work.

First up is the appetizer — expertly cooked shrimp. Then come main courses: filet mignon, New York striploin, lobster tail and ahi tuna, each served with a mountain of veggies (onions, zucchini, mushrooms, bean sprouts), all perfectly cooked right in front of customers.

Benihana’s chef in action.

But the key to the experience is the sense of fun and crowd-pleasing enthusiasm the charismatic chef brings to his task, flipping, chopping, dicing and slicing with tremendous energy and skill; juggling pepper mills; constantly joking with the rapt audience.

This is interactive dinner theatre of the highest order.

And there’s no denying the unparalleled freshness of food cooked and served immediately, piping hot off the grill. It’s a generous meal and everything is deeply satisfying (I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed bean sprouts more). Two dips (a thick ginger sauce and a thinner mustard-based sauce) add zing to everything. Tip: Instead of the steamed rice, opt for the Benihana fried rice (tossed with egg, diced veg and garlic butter). It costs a bit more, but is worth every penny.

Benihana does sushi, too — say, rosy slices of seared ahi tuna; scallop maki roll; and nigiri (yellowtail; big-eye tuna; melt-in-the-mouth broiled eel brushed with sweet soy glaze).

Ending the evening was a pair of charmingly old-school sherbets (raspberry, orange) and an enormous slab of creamy lemon cheesecake topped with juicy mandarin orange sections and partnered with red bean ice cream.

Benihana can accommodate groups of up to 112 people at teppan grills, each of which seats eight. There’s a private room featuring four teppan grills.

Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,300 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.