Dining at Benihana Restaurant in the Avani Atrium Hotel is more than just a meal, it’s an experience.
by Christopher Scott Dixon.
The crash of a gong by a pretty waitress dressed in traditional Japanese style as we entered told us this was going to be no routine eating venue. Opened last year, Benihana The Japanese Steakhouse at the Avani Atrium Hotel on New Petchaburi Road, Bangkok is the second branch in the city, the first being the one at the Anantara Riverside Resort and Spa.
Despite being relatively new, the Avani Atrium version has already forged a reputation for the quality of not only with its food but also for the great entertainment that comes with it.
The expansive dining area is comprised of open-plan seating and tables where the fun takes place and partitioned sections for more “conventional” eating. We sat on comfortable upholstered chairs in a semi-circle with rope surrounds forming a border.
Large plate-shaped illuminations hang above, aptly like spotlights over the cooking station where the chef execute his culinary skills and deliver his performance. There is a mix of blood red, dark browns, and black giving the entire environment a tangible feeling of intimacy and theatre.
We began with a flavor-filled shitake mushroom and onion soup. A tasty uminosachi salad-shirauo fish, vegetables, tobiko-salmon roe, and wasabi sauce accompanied this.
Two signature drinks were enjoyed next: Benihana punch-rum, peach, strawberry liqueur and pineapple and orange; and a saketinis-mojito with white rum, fresh lime, and mint dressing. Both packed a memorable kick.
An impressive starter saw us tuck into succulent Alaskan king crab tossed in spicy black pepper and celery. The signature sushi roll resembled a giant caterpillar, which was a truly tasty marriage of crispy salmon coated with tiger prawns. By this time we could see the action and hear the chorus of laughter from a neighboring table as their own chef was giving his show, so we eagerly anticipated the arrival of ours.
Then he appeared, wheeling his portable Teppanyaki counter to ease seamlessly in front of us. The phrase on the neat folded paper of chopstick instructions said, “My kitchen is your table.” There was a whirl of knives as he greeted us, warmed up and cleaned the surface, something that he did after each different food preparation (top marks for hygiene indeed!).
The interaction with guests is an integral part of what is called “eatertainment,” and while the cooking processes remain essentially the same among the chefs, each has his distinct personality and stage “presence.” Our chef, Bank, was a human windmill with lots of egg-juggling and tweaking of a toy chicken, twirling arms and skillful swishing of utensils, all while he indulged in good-natured banter with my wife and two companions.
We loved his “UFO,” as he called it: a green laser torch that beamed down as he held it with one hand, while chopping ingredients. His first concoction was delicious shrimps including crunchy tails individually served across the table to each of our group.
“How do you want your steak?” Chef Bank then asked, and after we gave our preferences watched intently as he diced and sliced and sizzled the tasty waygu beef then served again with a broad grin. His passion for his work was obvious and infectious.
The unpredictability of what’s going to happen really makes it fun as the chef suddenly stopped the cooking and produced some rings and coins, proceeded to do a magic trick and made them disappear! Then, with us still trying to work out how he did it, we moved from meat to fish as he prepared some excellent and moreish Norwegian salmon that was speedily devoured by all.
Smells, sights, and sounds continued to tempt and amuse us as the chef whizzed around his counter chatting and mixing, a master on his culinary stage. Aromatic and sizeable scallops were next on our plates. We sat back briefly as Chef then halted and looked at us. What now? This time he brought out a pack of cards and asked one of our parties to keep a card in mind. She did so and several moments later he correctly drew the card she had mentally selected.
“Unbelievable!” my wife declared, and we agreed. To a final crossing of his knives akimbo and a respectful bow, Chef Bank finished his brilliant show and gastronomic exhibition to our sustained applause and cheers. We were still reflecting on the delicious range of food and the multi-talents of the chef when dessert arrived. A scrumptious banana tempura was partnered with yummy vanilla ice cream.
The top-quality, competitively priced menu and the stylish environment would be enough selling points but the super, unforgettable culinary show makes Benihana even more “unmissable!”