Chef Hiroyuki Sakai at Benihana’s Private Event
Last week I was invited to Benihana‘s private lunch to celebrate their relaunch of their newly renovated space and their 48 years in the restaurant business. I took my mother along since she heard that Chef Hiroyuki Sakai was going to be there, as she was a die-hard Sakai fan when Iron Chef Japan used to air.
Benihana used to be just the now second floor of the restaurant but they expanded it to a large lounge and sushi bar on the first floor. Everything was decorated in a minimalist, modern, and done in mostly black and white colors with touches of warm wood from the table tops. The touches of colors were from the plants from the planted bonsai to the cherry blossom tree that’s outside the restaurant.
I’m not going to dwell too much about this particular meal overall but the highlight was to see and meet Iron Chef Japan (the original Japanese television show, not the American version) Hiroyuki Sakai at the beginning of the meal, along with the Executive Chef Tony (of this New York location) and Chef Sakai’s son. Sakai was one of my favorite chefs when I was a young teenager and I was in awe of his knife skills and the food he cooks. He made a semi-serious joke that if we were to go to Japan and eat at his restaurant La Rochelle: Fukoka, we can have a discount. (I’m mentally planning when I can fly myself there to Japan soon.)
Sakai’s special dish doesn’t have a short-and-sweet name but it’s a disc of seafood mousse (made of live scallop, langoustine, calamari, taro, and lotus root) that’s cloud-like in texture, wrapped and topped with tissue thin cucumbers, a harmonious mixture of sauteed shredded vegetables, chives, white miso seafood sauce, and large shavings of whole black Italian truffles, drizzled with truffle oil. It was simply divine. It’s decadent yet ethereal.
Beyond Chef Sakai’s wonderful appetizer, their maki sushi rolls were surprisingly good. The ones I had shared with my mother was the Dragon Roll and the Sumo Roll.
These were made to order and if we weren’t at this private room, The Rocky Room named after the restaurant’s founder Rocky Aoki, there is a sushi bar found on the first floor where you could watch the sushi chefs create these rolls in front of you.
Admittedly, this isn’t the kind of sushi for sushi nerds or serious sushi restaurants would put on their menu but given this restaurant is known for teppanyaki cooking (cooking on a super hot iron griddle), this sushi is considered very good.
We ate a number of dishes and cocktails and overall, they’re pretty good. If you’d like to view more photos of my visit to this event/restaurant, please click through the slideshow (or view my Flickr set):