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Beyond Benihana

That's eatertainment: Tokyohana knows how to play with its food.

The interior at Tokyohana is vaguely similar to Benihana's, but with a few tongue-in-cheek twists, like a goofy fountain with fake turtles. The real difference between Tokyohana and Benihana, says Dickson, is the attitude. "Our chefs are younger and hipper, and our atmosphere is more festive," he says. Tokyohana is also much less Japanese. The chefs here are white, black and Latino. Owners Harold and Akin Soo are Malaysian. The only employee with a Japanese background is a hostess. But clinging to Japanese traditions, culinary or otherwise, was never the idea at either restaurant.

An unscientific survey of Tokyohana's clientele helps clarify Dickson's comments. It's true that a large percentage of people at Tokyohana don't seem interested in exotic Asian food. It's also true that many of them are too young to drive. On our first visit, a bunch of nine-year-olds had taken over the place with an animated birthday party. The clanging spatulas, flying pepper mills and flaming onion rings mesmerize the youngsters. And parents who usually have to admonish their fidgeting offspring can relax and enjoy themselves, too. "It's ironic," says Dickson, "when I first started working here, the owners didn't want to target kids." Now children are a huge part of the market. In fact, the place was named Best Family Restaurant in the Press's Best of Houston issue last year.

On my second visit, I take my 13-year-old daughter, Julia, for Sunday brunch. She lingers at the sushi counter on our way in, ogling the raw fish. Julia loves sushi, especially the kind of American-style rolls they make at Tokyohana. The tiger eye roll, stuffed with smoked salmon and cream cheese, is her favorite. After a sushi assortment, Julia orders the yakisoba chicken and hibachi shrimp combo, and I have the sirloin. The food is predictably bland, but Julia doesn't care. She's having great fun with the chef, whose best trick involves an egg and fried rice. The chef spins the egg into the air and neatly slices it in half, then fries the scrambled egg and folds it up with the rice.

Dinner and a show: Tokyohana's teppanyaki cooking not only provides entertainment, but it cuts down on the operational expenses
Deron Neblett
Dinner and a show: Tokyohana's teppanyaki cooking not only provides entertainment, but it cuts down on the operational expenses

Location Info

Map

Tokyohana

3239 SW Freeway
Houston, TX 77027

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Greenway Plaza

Tokyohana

15155 N. Freeway
Houston, TX 77090

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Outer Loop - NW

Details

713-838-9527. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, noon to midnight; Sunday, noon to 11 p.m.

"Earth and Sea": $21.95
Tiger eye sushi roll: $5.95
Yakisoba chicken and hibachi shrimp combo (brunch): $9.95
Sirloin (brunch): $8.50

3239 Southwest Freeway

Our chef's name is Trevor. He says he went to culinary school and worked in the restaurant business awhile before arriving at Tokyohana. "This is a lot more fun than being stuck in the kitchen," he says.

With a kid in the audience, the chef's routine is considerably more spirited. The grand finale of every cooking performance here is a game Trevor calls "Tokyohana basketball." The chef takes out a dish of chopped raw zucchini. He points to his victim and, with his spatula, flips a squash chunk high into the air. If you are the intended target, you're expected to open your mouth and catch the vegetable bit in the air. When my date and I ate here the first time, we dutifully played the game. We each caught one and missed the rest. Julia takes Tokyohana basketball much more seriously.

The first launch is too long, but she leaps from her chair, leaning over backward flapping her arms in circles trying to catch the zucchini chunk anyway. And when she catches the next one, she claps her hands in front of her and makes a noise like a trained seal. The kids at the next table go wild with applause.

Now that's eatertainment!

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