Dinner and a show provided at Tokyo

Jimmy, a hibachi chef at Tokyo Restaurant, demonstrates his technique and entertaining flare for cooking. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD I love Japanese hibachi! There are really no words to express how much I enjoy this cuisine, whether dining at the cooking tables of Japan or the United States.

My parents first exposed me to this type of entertaining, flame throwing, knife and spatula twirling dining extravaganza during one of our many trips to Walt Disney World. We went to the Mitsukoshi Teppanyaki Dining Rooms in the Japan Pavilion at Epcot and I was hooked. The only problem was I didn't know how to eat with chopsticks and my father told me kindly that if I couldn't figure out how to eat with them I wouldn't be eating at all.

Now in my 20s I've been eating this food for well over a decade -- having mastered the art of chopsticks. So when one of my coworkers told me she'd never experienced the art and entertainment of hibachi, I felt compelled to rectify the situation. We invited the whole editorial crew down to Tokyo Restaurant in West Springfield for a fun getaway from the office.

I love this place. My fianc took me for the first time last month during his holiday leave from the Army and since then I've gone half a dozen times. This restaurant has exceeded my every expectation. I consider myself a Japanese hibachi connoiseur, having eaten Japanese cuisine in Osaka, Japan, and at every hibachi restaurant I can find during my travels throughout the United States.

For all those who haven't experienced this cuisine, you dine at a large cooking table, big enough for eight to 10 people. When ordering hibachi at most restaurants such as Tokyo you have your choice of chicken, steak, filet mignon, tuna, shrimp, scallops, calamari, salmon, lobster or any combination of two in addition to fried or steamed rice, noodles, cooked vegetables, shrimp appetizer, salad with ginger dressing and mushroom soup. Needless to say, it's a lot of food and can be quite pricy (anywhere from $11.95 - $59.95) if you're only used to going to Applebee's or Chili's but it's worth every penny.

First you are brought mushroom soup and a salad with ginger dressing. The soup at Tokyo Restaurant had just the right amount of scallions and fish oil to create a soft, warm introduction to my dining experience.

Then comes one of my favorite parts -- the salad -- and I don't like salad except at hibachi restaurants because of their delectable ginger dressing. The dressing -- while it can be overpowering if too much is placed on the salad, as some of my coworkers experienced -- creates a tangy, fresh concoction of lettuce and sweet ginger that revs up your mouth for the excitement to come.

Once finished with your soup and salad your hibachi chef introduces himself and begins his cooking show. Jimmy was our chef that day and on his table he creates a blend of hilarious, fun entertainment and quality cooking. Around the table we'd each ordered something quite different: scallops, calamari, vegetables, chicken and the combination of filet mignon and chicken. The latter is my personal favorite.

Jimmy had all of the classic tricks when he began, the choreographed simultaneous tossing of his knife and spatula, the usual creation of a smiley face out of oil to light the table for cooking and the steaming volcano made out of onions. But then his performance became very interesting because he was very interactive with us. He tossed vegetables into our mouths in the middle of preparing our meals, to which I was the only successful participant, and I was awarded with a mouthful of sake. My coworker Courtney Llewellyn and I were the only ones brave enough to try the sake.

Our meals were prepared with the utmost care in the midst of the entertainment. My filet mignon and chicken were cooked just right, not overdone, and tasted even better in my side of ginger sauce and spicy mushroom sauce. All of the meals are prepared very similarly with garlic, Sake, sesame seeds, butter and "Coca-Cola" as Jimmy said.

When experiencing this cuisine it is very important to have a high-quality chef, who knows his/her tricks as well as how to prepare the food. All too recently at another establishment, that shall remain nameless, the chef closed his eyes while performing his tricks and when he flipped the egg for the fried rice it cracked and landed in my lap rather than cracking over his inverted spatula.

Overall Jimmy was a whole lot of fun and a great chef. Never once was there a threat of disaster and I walked away happy and very, very full. Everyone at our table enjoyed their meals, several clearing their plates and licking them clean like me.

I would definitely put this restaurant in my "Top 10 Hibachi Restaurants of All Time" others of which are in the greater New York and Springfield areas as well as Lawton, Okla. In addition to the excellent cuisine, the service was prompt and cordial and the restaurant as a whole was immaculately clean.

If you are looking for a fun night of entertainment and great food for a casual date or for your entire family (yes, there are kids menus too) then go to Tokyo Restaurant at 1152 Riverdale St., West Springfield.