When I was young, my favorite thing to do for my birthday was to go to a Japanese hibachi grill. I was fascinated by the chefs who would chop food at the speed of light, while tossing eggs in the air before breaking them on knives. The sound of the sizzling grill and the flames… I would go once a year until I finally ‘outgrew’ the theatrical dinner. It wasn’t until last week when I realized that I had not actually outgrown my love of hibachi. A friend called me up and told me that a Japanese restaurant had opened in the former iHop restaurant on Delaware Avenue… and they had hibachi grills. I wasn’t quite sure what to say when he told me the news other than, “OK, I guess it sounds interesting.”
Upon arrival to Tokyo II, I was actually impressed with what could have been a transitional disaster. After all, how do you transform an iHop successfully? From the outside it didn’t look half bad. What really shocked me was the interior. It looked nothing like what I had expected. It was filled with all sorts of nicely lit features, including a waiting room, sushi bar, tatami banquet rooms, hibachi grills, and a bar. While I waited for my guest, I headed to the bar to engage the ‘bartendress’ whose name was Ryan. After settling down to a sake, Ryan and a manager by the name of ‘B’ began pouring sake bombs and tequila shots. They were still celebrating the grand opening of the restaurant and were more than happy to spread good cheer.
Once my friend arrived, we headed over one of the hibachi grills and waited for our server to arrive. While we browsed the menu, a bit of my old childhood anticipation crept over me. I found myself looking forward to our chef’s arrival… this was going to be fun. When I finally placed my order with the waitress I told her that I wanted hibachi shrimp and salmon with noodles. My friend ordered the hibachi chicken and fried rice. We also ordered a few pieces of sushi for good luck. Before we knew it our chef was upon us, putting on a show just as lively as I remembered from my youth. He made some sort of flaming volcano out of onions, caught something in his hat, chopped the hell out of everything in sight, and engaged us with friendly banter.
I find it funny that I don’t really remember anything from the hibachi days of my youth other than the thrill of the spectacle. That’s why I was so surprised to find that the food was so delicious. Honestly. I was really happy with the way the shrimp was cooked, and was impressed with the smoky flavor, the freshness of the veggies, and the texture of the noodles. I tried some of the fried rice too – something that I gave up long ago because it never did anything for me. This time I couldn’t get enough of it, especially once I had mixed it all together with the remaining sauce that was on my plate. All in all I couldn’t have asked for better food or a more enjoyable experience. The only thing I would change would be the music – listening to Bryan Adams’ style rock ‘n roll for a couple of hours was enough to make me want to stick my ears on the hibachi grill. I was also disappointed to see Chilean sea bass on the menu (seafood watch).
Tokyo II, like its counterpart on Elmwood, Tokyo Shanghai Bistro (the original Elmwood location has half price sushi on Tuesdays) is locally owned. I was happy to learn that the owners from the Elmwood restaurant had taken over a location of the fallen chain. Tokyo II is a great addition to the city’s restaurant choices. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the hibachi experience – and since I had replaced the hibachi with the sushi experience, I was even happier to encounter both food options at the restaurant (along with some Thai). If you have kids, hibachi is a lot of fun and there’s a shortlist for them to choose from. Hibachi is also perfect for date night due to the interactive nature of the performance as well as the social seating arrangement.
Instead of looking at hibachi dining as just an event, for the first time I’m looking at it as alternative lunch and dinner choice. Thankfully it’s close to home and back on my radar.
2236 Delaware Avenue
Buffalo NY 14216
Open 7 days a week – check website for hours.