Don’t pick me, don’t pick me… My lack of coordination stands in stark contrast to that of the chefs on display. Chosen as the recipient of the flying shrimp, I’m doomed. Just get to the onion volcano, already.
Benihana, the original hibachi grill, is one of my dear true loves. I’ve been to this establishment for every occasion, from finding a stray sock to the big 1-6. Not to mention in both hemispheres (Yes, I located the one and only in Santiago, Chile). Imposters, lump yourself in this category expect to be measured by stiff standards. I’m happy to slander your establishment in the name of ginger goodness. If the sauce doesn’t measure up, you’re out. Grades are assigned in direct correlation to ladles consumed.
For a short while, I considered Benihana chef as a career choice. After the news broke about the buffet, however, I let that one slide. Working at the one and only as a summer busboy, my brother dashed my hopes. The endless employee buffet of steak accented with shrimp-sauce fountains was a farce. I knew it was too good to be true. I’d never be able to wield a knife like a nunchuck, anyway.
Now, to be fair, and to assure no readers are misled, I will present all sides of this story. Not to be confused with reasons to dine anywhere else.
Unless you have 7 friends on reserve, be prepared to make friends. Or to avoid eye contact for about an hour and a half. The tables are set up for eight, and they do not like to waste those precious seats. You’re likely to sit where they tell you, when they tell you, and with whomever they fancy. I told you they’re kind of a big deal.
Additionally, you’re likely to emerge from the experience putting off a bit of a waft. Table side preparation is a delicacy, I tell you! Stash a change of clothes in the car, or, eat enough to seal your coma for the rest of the evening and you’re square.
In attempts to bring one spark of the joy Benihana imparts to its patrons to my life here in Korea, I came up with the following. It proves itself as a stand-in, and even meets the dietician’s criteria.
When slicing and dicing, remember to track your chops per second. One never knows at what point they’ll consider a career change. Since when is playing with food against the rules? Being bad never tasted so good. (Disclaimer: Not responsible for kitchen splatters and ruined silk charmeuse.)
Crispy Tofu Steaks with Zucchini, Onion and Sesame Ginger Sauce
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 medium onion, remainder reserved
1″ piece of ginger, skin rubbed off
8 firm tofu steaks, cut 1″ thick (Due to the unscientific portioning at my corner shop, I have no idea of the exact measurement. Sorry!)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large zucchini
3/4 medium onion, sliced
First, make the sauce. Heat sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat. Stir often, cooking until seeds turn golden and begin to pop, about 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
Combine soy sauce, vinegar, 1/4 onion and ginger in the blender. Pulse until smooth. Add in reserved sesame seeds and set aside.
Next, spread the tofu steaks out in a single layer on a flat surface. Cover with paper towels and press to absorb the excess moisture. Repeat until tofu seems fairly dry to the touch.
Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add tofu steaks to the pan, being careful not to crowd the pan. Allow to come to an even golden brown, about 3-5 minutes, then flip and repeat. Remove and allow to drain on paper towels.
When all tofu has been browned, add the onions to the pan. Saute about 2-3 minutes until beginning to brown and become fragrant. Remove and set aside.
Add the zucchini to the pan. Arrange in a single layer, and allow to brown. Flip and repeat, being careful not to over cook.
When finished, arrange tofu steaks, zucchini and onions together for serving. Top with 1-2 Tbsp sauce and enjoy.