Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our Inner Brenda Awaits us at Benihana's

A few weeks ago I finished reading Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. It's an extremely fun read where Ruth—reputable food critic for the NY Times--decides to visit restaurants in disguise in order to provide an unbiased report on NYC restaurants to her readers. One of the characters Ruth transforms to is Brenda, a happy-go-lucky individual who takes enjoyment in life's simple pleasures. Ruth's son Nicky also seems to adore her new down-to-Earth character. By the end of the chapter he asks if they as a family could go to "chop-chop" aka Benihana—a place where any respectable restaurant critique wouldn't step foot in, but a place where Brenda would surely be happy to go. (Garlic and Sapphires p. 165) Brenda is greeted with smiles from fellow patrons as she easily takes enjoyment in the moment.

Similarly to Brenda, we recently had dinner plans at Benihana's in celebration of a friend's birthday party. When I told my friends (fellow chefs) about this dinner plan they giggled.  They pretty much see it as a tourist attraction where it’s only cool to drop in for drinks or little nibbles. While it's totally true that you don’t go to Benihana for the food,  it’s definitely worth a visit. From the 45 minute wait (if you neglected to make reservations), to the sharing of tables with other guests, to being rushed to place your drink orders even though you were given your menu minutes before makes this place unique….all this before your chef actually arrives. When he does the chef begins doing tricks that are cheesy, but still captures you. The onion "volcano" and the flicking of shrimp in his pocket are among the few. The fact that other tables are simultaneously experiencing similar tricks at their tables is unreal. I guess what I take from both the book and my experience at Benihana, is that you have to just live in the moment. Okay, there are hundreds of better restaurants out there, but the environment is such that you can't help but be entertained. Rather than sit there thinking “Why am I here?” just soak up the moment, clap, eat, giggle and embrace your inner Brenda.

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