SPRINGFIELD I remember with great clarity the first time I ever encountered hibachi dining. I was in the sixth grade and our family was stationed on Okinawa. It was a startlingly different restaurant experience watching the chef prepare our meal at the table.
Ever since then, I've taken every opportunity of going to such a restaurant, but they've been few and far between. Now, I know they won't be as Rice at 1168 Boston Rd. has two new hibachi tables.
Rice is a "pan-Asian" restaurant, which means that their menu features a wide selection of dishes from various nations and styles of cooking. The offerings one would expect from an American Chinese restaurant are offered along with noodle dishes, Thai and Vietnamese food as well.
My wife and I visited Rice last week specifically to try their hibachi offerings. One of the tables can accommodate eight people, while the other can seat 10 diners. There is a separate dinner menu that features largely Japanese dishes.
Because Rice has a sushi bar, we ordered two types of Maki rolls, which do not feature raw fish. If you're not as adventurous as most sushi lovers, the Maki rolls are an excellent choice as they feature combinations of ingredients with cooked fish.
We selected two favorites: a Philly roll that has smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese ($4.95) and a California roll made with crab meat, avocado and cucumber ($3.95).
Both were presented beautifully on a wooden tray and they were delicious. The California roll had a light coating of salmon roe, which was a tasty addition.
The hibachi menu ranges in price from $9.95 for a vegetable plate to $49.95 for a dinner for two that includes filet mignon, chicken, shrimp, scallop and lobster tail. All hibachi meals feature soup, salad and freshly prepared vegetables and fried rice.
We selected the chicken and steak combo ($16.95) and the seafood combo ($23.99) with shrimp, scallops and lobster tail.
The soup was a light and delicate clear broth with scallions and mushrooms and the salad had a traditional Japanese dressing with a slight taste of ginger. Both were fine introductions to what was about to happen.
Chef Wilson came out with a rolling cart of ingredients and tools. A great hibachi chef is a showman and Wilson was just that. He was here to entertain us as well as prepare a delicious meal. He juggled knives, played with fire and showed a great sense of humor.
"I'll make a volcano," he declared at one point. Separating an onion into its rings he then piled them into a stack added some cooking oil and set it a aflame for a great effect.
But how was the food? Delicious.
Wilson asked me how I liked my steak and prepared it to my wishes. My wife's seafood yes, I sneaked a few samples was perfectly cooked. Having cooked in a seafood restaurant myself, I know that it's easy to over-cook shrimp and scallops, but Wilson did it perfectly.
Once finished with the cooking, Wilson thanked us and left us to eat, but our meal was not finished as yet. Our hostess wanted us to try red bean ice cream, an Asian take on the popular American dessert.
In many Asian cuisines, red beans are used in desserts because of their sweetness. This red bean ice cream was formed into a ball, then coated with a batter and fried. Cut into quarters, chocolate syrup was drizzled over the ice cream, which was also garnished with whipped cream and a cherry.
And how did an ice cream made with beans taste? I didn't know what to expect, but it was light and sweet and didn't really have what Americans would describe as a "bean" taste or texture. My wife and I agreed we would have it again.
The management at Rice recommends making reservations for the hibachi tables and has a special event coming up for Jan. 28 and the celebration of the lunar New Year. Call 782-3133 for more information.