Yamato Japanese Steakhouse

My friend recently treated me to dinner at Yamato Japanese Steakhouse in the Wiregrass Mall. I have been to their bar before (more on that soon), but have never had their Teppanyaki before. We arrived pretty late during a weeknight so the place wasn’t too busy. There was one other group sitting with us who were friendly. I’ve never sat with another party during a visit to a Japanese steakhouse so I thought it might be awkward, but we actually had a good time conversing with the other party at the table.

My friend went ahead and ordered my favorite drink I regularly have at this restaurant for me. It’s called a Blue Samurai and it tastes like pineapple juice, but it packs quite a punch. The taste is smooth and it’s easy to slurp it down (though the drink will hit you fast so beware). Japanese steakhouses always have these innovative tasty mixed drinks (it’s one of my favorite things about them) and Yamato is no different. Although I was missing the usual umbrella Benihana gives.

We were given a free sushi roll on the house. Shrimp on the outside and imitation crab with crunchy breading on the inside and a little mayo on top. The shrimp tasted fresh, normally I would prefer fried shrimp, however the shrimp delivered a solid taste and the crab and crunchy breading inside made it even better. A nice start to our meal, indeed. I decided to order their Steak and Calamari ($17) from their Teppanyaki menu and we also ordered some sushi and sashimi.

The soup came out first. The soup had an onion taste to it, but wasn’t powdery. It tasted good, but I couldn’t detect what about it made it taste good. It wasn’t heavy (like miso soup sometimes is) and still left plenty of room for the feast we were about to have.

The ginger salad or house salad left plenty to be desired. I will agree with other critics that the sauce has too much liquid. A ginger salad is better when the ginger is freshly added on such as how it is made at Sushi Ninja in Riverview.

This had to be the most interesting thing we ate that night. Bacon Scallions. It doesn’t sound quite appetizing, but it was pretty tasty. I continue to be shocked by all the wonderful ways bacon can be consumed. Chocolate Sunday’s chocolate and bacon is still my favorite.

Our Teppanyaki chef was attentive to our group and made our meal in a timely manner. He did a few tricks, such as the spinning egg and also the smoking onion volcano. There was also a big flame moment, which reminded me of Arigato Steakhouse (which used to be on North Dale Mabry). I’d say Kobe Ichiban in Brandon is probably my best experience with an entertaining and humorous chef, but Yamato was not far behind. It far outdid my experience last summer at Benihana in Orlando where the chef couldn’t do barely any moves and left my party feeling completely disappointed.

A very popular Teppanyaki chef trick. The smoking onion volcano.

The best part of our meal was interestingly enough the sashimi. I don’t expect sushi or sashimi to be high-quality in a Japanese steakhouse and our decision to order was merely an attempt to sample what they had. We ordered a Sashimi Platter and also Mackerel Nigiri. Mackerel has to be one of the fish I am most picky about. Either it is fantastic or downright disgusting. The mackerel at Yamato was amazing. I could have ten or twenty of them. All the sashimi was fresh and the salmon hit my taste buds in all the right places. Each bite of sashimi was savory and I almost forgot to pay attention to the teppanyaki as I bathed in the fish.

We also had some a California Roll and Salmon Roll. The California Roll was excellent, the crab was great and there was plenty of avocado and masago. The masago tasted very fresh and I had  to snap a photo of it to share with my readers. I was really impressed with how well the California Roll was made, it was clear the chef took some time to make it right. The Salmon Roll was just as great as the salmon sashimi, though I’d probably add some avocado to it next time.

The rice was appetizing and full of flavor. I am normally not too much of a rice consumer, but this rice tasted great and I finished most of it before I even was served my steak or calamari. I was really surprised with the amount of flavor in Yamato’s teppanyaki food. In my prior experiences to Japanese steakhouses the food has been regrettably bland and I constantly need to drench my food in the sauces provided to make my food have flavor, but Yamato actually had a natural flavor in their food. The steak, calamari, noodles, vegetables, and rice were all enjoyable and dipping them in sauce was less of a chore to make it taste good, but just something I sporadically did to test the difference tastes I could make with the food. It was this attention to flavor that truly made me enjoy Yamato as a Japanese steakhouse and make it a place that I would recommend others try as well.

Yamato Japanese Steak House on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Yamato Japanese Steakhouse

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 28211 Paseo Drive, Suite 100 Wesley Chapel, FL 33543

Neighborhood: New Tampa

Phone Number: (813) 907-8701

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Benihana

This past weekend was my step-father’s 50th birthday. To celebrate we went to our timeshare in Orlando and had dinner at the Benihana on International Drive. I used to eat at Benihana in San Francisco’s Japantown all the time as a kid with my father, so I was excited to go to this Benihana and re-experience it. The tall hats, shrimp that goes in your pocket, umbrellas in your drink,  koi fish, among other things are ingrained in my childhood memory.

My Mom made the reservations and we all arrived fairly on time. This location was pretty small compared to the one in San Francisco. The chefs also seemed to have shorter hats, though I’m not sure if this is different or I just have forgotten that detail since my last time in San Francisco. They had to separate our twelve person party in two, which sucked a bit.

I went with the Rocky’s Choice which includes steak and chicken among the other things served with most meals at Benihana. The chef was friendly…but really was the most disappointing part of my experience. Maybe he wasn’t trained enough, but every trick he tried to pull off failed pretty bad. He was quiet and all his jokes seemed forced. He dropped his cooking instruments during a trick and when he tried to do the popular shrimp in a pocket he missed and the shrimp just fell. After awhile I think we all got bored with him and started to look at my parents chef, little did I know that they were looking at the chef at the table next to them as well…It was also one of the shortest shows I have seen and we found ourselves eating our food instead of watching the chef do his job, which quite frankly is the opposite of how my visit to Kobe’s was when I went for my birthday last year.

The soup and salad were decent, but nothing to brag about. The chicken and steak were both bland and despite constantly dipping them in their ginger and mustard sauces, the taste just would not come. I tried their Orange Sorbet and really disliked it. After a few bites I was just poking at it.  For $26 it is pretty disappointing to not be able to taste any flavor.  I understand that most people visit these restaurants for the show, but since that wasn’t going to be any good this whole visit was pretty much spoiled.  I will say, however, that that their green tea is quite good. Maybe the only thing I enjoyed there.

To make matters worse after the shows were over they came out to sing Happy Birthday to my Step-Father and my Mom and half of the party were in the bathroom. They came out of the bathroom to find that the singing was already over…that is not a great way to treat someone who made the reservation to go there in the first place.

Overall just a really disappointing experience. Reviews seemed favorable, but none of them seemed to mention these things. Most reviewers claimed that Benihana beats any other Japanese steakhouse such as Kobe or Arigato’s, but after this experience I have to disagree at least about this location.

Restaurant Name: Benihana

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 12690 International Drive Orlando, FL 32821

Phone: (407) 239-7400

Website: http://www.benihana.com/

Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/benihana-orlando-3

Benihana on Urbanspoon