Photo courtesy of goodtimeznow.com

KOTO Syracuse Japanese Steakhouse — Hibachi & Sushi Bar

2841 Erie Blvd. East
Syracuse, NY 13224

Hours:

Mon-Thu 11am-3pm, 4:30pm-10pm
Fri 11am-3pm, 4:30pm-11pm
Sat 12pm-3pm, 3pm-11pm
Sun 12pm-10pm

Happy Hour :
Monday – Thursday 4:30 to 6:30
(at the bar only)

Phone#: 315.445.KOTO (5686)

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“It’s party time!” Our hibachi chef David said to our table last Thursday after cooking our meal.

He chopped bright green zucchini into tiny cubes and with his silver spatulas, aimed one at a time at the seven happy mouths around the table.

“One…. two…. three!”

The cubes flew in the air, landing in some of our mouths on the first try, and some, it took an extra time (or two).

David has good aim.

It was my birthday last Thursday. While I had a combined birthday party with another friend on Saturday, I wanted to do something on my actual birthday with one of my friends that I knew would be a fun time.

I thought of KOTO on Erie Blvd. I hadn’t been to this fairly-new restaurant all year, and now was the perfect opportunity to seize the moment and try it.

When I entered the restaurant with my friend Alicia, we were both wowed at the beauty and décor of the restaurant. At the center of the foyer is a beautiful waterfall fountain. Later in the night I discovered there were fish swimming around in the pool below the fountain: beautiful orange, white and black speckled fish.

The parking lot was packed, and when I have driven by it before, it always seemed to be that way. Fortunately, our wait time was only just a few minutes.

We were led to a big square table with two other groups: a family of three and two very nice girls who looked around my age.

After ordering a glass of smooth, rich malbec (a delicious red wine I recommend to you all) it was time to study the menu.

This menu is extensive, friends. There were three huge pages of anything from appetizers such as jalepeno fried shrimp, sushi rolls such as the Erie Blvd. roll (1/2 salmon, 1/2 tuna and avocado topped with crab meat), and on the back page in the left hand corner on the bottom, was what I was looking for: hibachi!

Hibachi is one of my favorite culinary experiences. Not only for the amazing fresh food cooked in front of you, but for the “show” like experience itself.

Last Thursday flashed me back to watching episodes of Iron Chef on Food Network.

The chef comes out, has a certain amount of time with you to cook beautiful, fresh dishes.

David came out with his big cart full of goodies: the meat/fish/veggies/rice/etc. stacked on big silver trays, the colored unmarked ketchup-type bottles of sauces, the special gadgets for later on in the show.

He started our experience by going around the room and repeating what we ordered. He had a great memory. When he got to the younger boy at the end of the table, he completely went wild.

“You ordered CHICKENNNNNNNNN! CHICKENNNNNNNNNNNN!! Bawk bawk bawk bawk bawk!” David said in a high pitched voice.

One thing I’ll admit before I tell you more about the show: it made me nervous that I didn’t notice any overhead fans above each of the hibachi tables. There were a ton of hibachi tables throughout the restaurant, and they each had a little faucet attached to them on the side (in case of fire, I assume). However, every other hibachi place I have been to in my life thus far has had some sort of ventilation above each table. Was it hidden and I didn’t see it? I was really expecting a lot more visible ventilation.

David first had a little tossing-the-spatulas show for us. He rolled them behind his back, throwing them very close to our face and catching them right back. As soon as he drew a smiley face with sake on the grill and lit it on fire (HUGE flames in front of our eyes, making me think about ventilation again), it was really time for the food magic show.

Alicia and I both got the salad to start, which was different than any other salad I’ve had at a Japanese restaurant. Most times I have had an iceberg salad with a bright orange colored tangy ginger dressing. This one was large mixed leafy greens and romaine with a very creamy ginger dressing. While the dressing was full of that strong ginger tang, the creaminess actually balanced the dressing and went very well with the mixed greens.

The rice was put on the griddle and David swirled it around with his spatulas. He tossed an egg in the air and caught it with his spatula several times. The egg quickly fell to the griddle and somehow, David managed to pick up the shell with his fork-like utensil without a single chard of shell in the fried rice. Bravo.

By this time David had already handed out two sauce-trays to us. One was specifically called “YUMMY  YUMMY” sauce (with David’s huge grin to go with it). That was a creamy orange-colored sauce, that tasted like spicy mayo you get at sushi restaurants but with a twang to it. The other sauce was a brown, sweet ginger sauce that was very light to the taste. It went well not only with the fried rice, but was a great dipping sauce for the luscious fried sweet potato sushi-roll Alicia and I ordered as our appetizer.

Since I have been to several hibachi places over the years, I had a feeling as to what was coming next: the onion volcano. If you haven’t seen an onion volcano it is a very simple procedure. David took rings of an onion and built a volcano-looking structure with the biggest ring as the base, building it up to the smallest ring on top. David sprayed a ton of sake in the volcano and set it on fire.

Again, I was thinking about ventilation. The huge flames coming out of the volcano turned into piping smoke, which David then pulled out another thing I’ve seen at many Japanese restaurants: the boy-toy. This is a doll of a boy where if you push it down, water comes out of it. Everyone usually laughs at this, and for some reason I was dying laughing by then. David turned to me and really started cracking up:

“Ohhhhh you must reallyyyyy be enjoying this huh!” David said.

“OH YES,” I said while still dying of laughter.

The show started to die down a bit after this. Once he started cooking up the meat and fish for us at the table, besides watching him cook with such precision, there wasn’t as much to see. He doused everything with several sauces and spices, that again, were unmarked.

Regardless, my meal was fantastic. The vegetables, served on my plate first, were tender, juicy and filled with that teriyaki/sake flavor in every bite.

I’m a huge fan of the fried rice at hibachi restaurants because it is fresh-made and has more of an airy taste versus the heavier taste and texture at Chinese restaurants. Last Thursday’s fried rice was incredibly flavorful of soy sauce, and with the fresh-cooked egg in it, really made the dish.

However, it really was my meat and fish that stole the show for me. I ordered filet mignon, cooked medium, and it came out perfect. It was tender, juicy, and had several sweet yet spicy flavors mixed into it. It was a balanced taste, which I appreciated. I also ordered salmon, which had a subtle caramelized crunch to it, yet melted in my mouth. It had a sweet teriyaki flavor to it, yet there were also crunchy sesame seeds on top of the salmon, adding to the balance of flavors.

But just when I thought the show was over, the show had just begun. The zucchini cubes went flying in our mouths first. But then the real show started for the over 21 crowd.

David lifted the clear sake squirt bottle above his head.

“Sakeeeeee!” he said.

While there was one person under 21 at the table, it turned into quite the sake party. David aimed the clear squirt bottle at each of our mouths. We were drenched by the end of it.

The man sitting at the table had so much sake in his mouth from David’s spraying that the sake was literally foaming out of his mouth.

When he got to me, he sprayed so much in my mouth that when I bent my head down a little bit to close my mouth, sake not only drenched my shirt, pants and face, but went in my eye. My eye burned for a few seconds, but I tried to laugh that off.

All of the girls at the table were squealing and screaming at David’s sake squirting. I think he was trying to go for a record with each of us as to how much sake we could possibly consume in our mouths.

Yes, despite the drenching, it was a fun time. But yet, the party was still not over.

For $6 you can get the “birthday” package, which includes tempura ice cream with a candle on it, the staff singing to you and a souvenir picture.

The staff came around to me and made me get up out of my seat.

Then they told me to “shake, my booty, shake, shake my booty.”

I love to dance, so I did shake it in front of the entire restaurant.

The staff sang a song to me about getting old and my face turning red and counting on down “Happy Birthday to You!”

The tempura ice cream was delicious: all I could taste was the rich, fried batter with the chocolate sauce on top. The ice cream looked yellow. While I’m assuming it was vanilla, it was one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had.

Next time I go there, I am really going to look harder for ventilation above me, though. While the restaurant had very high ceilings, I really felt there should have been some more visible fans.

My birthday was filled with love, happiness and culinary experiences I’ll never forget.

Thanks, KOTO, for making my birthday very special and for reminding me of the importance a single amazing food experience can mean to a person, regardless of how drenched you get from some sake.

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