By Ben Adler
Having gone by the name Benny when I was a kid (my dad still refers to me thus) I was always intrigued by Benihana. (I thought it was spelled “Benny Hannah’s”, and did not realize it was Japanese-ish, until quite recently.)
Growing up in New York City the wonders of chain sit-down restaurant are largely a mystery to me. I never saw an actual Benihana until Spencer and Mandy drove me out to the suburbs to try one in Bethesda. Shockingly enough, I was disappointed.
I will say the following for the place: you get an awful lot of food for $17. Soup, salad, an entree and side vegetables. If only the food were good. The soup was a bland broth, although it did have the brilliant innovation of fried onions in it. The main selling point of the place, that you get to watch the the chef chop and sautee the food before your very eyes, is kind of neat. For instance, I never realized that fried rice uses relatively little oil. That makes me feel better about my proclivity for it.
But the chicken I ordered was mediocre. The dipping sauce, sort of an Asiany honey mustard (Mandy’s observation) was good on first blush but grew sickeningly treacly after repeated use. And I had the better dish. Mandy’s steak was squishy and insufficiently flavored. Spencer hated his tuna. The chef, named Gomez, had an irritating “Look at me, I’m incomprehensible and have a dirty sense of humor,” disposition. I nicknamed him Dirty Gomez (not to his face.) Overall Benihana reinforced my default assumption that all chains are terrible and food is better in New York where you are not subjected to them.