Normally, I am not a fan of Hibachi restaurants. I like their counterpart- authentic Sushi brethren. The fresh fish, the delicate movement of hands roll and slicing, the scent of salty ocean water in the air, aaahhh….., but for my son’s birthday he wanted a dinner location that would be approachable to the people he wanted to invite. We haggled a little and finally decided on Kabuki. This restaurant is known for over-the-top theatricality and boasted a hip new renovation so begrudgingly (and because I love him), I acquiesced.
Upon entering Kabuki, we were greeted with a trendy ceiling treatment that looked like a night sky on silkscreen. When I looked over at my dinner companions I noticed that their white clothing was glowing with the aura of black lights. Really surreal, and sort of strange for a non-club experience. It was then that I turned to the ceiling-to-floor window at the rear of the atrium and was caught by a serene koi pond set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was breathtaking. The pond was riddled with lilypads adorned with delicate waterlilies and rotund koi weaving around them. It was a strange and lovely juxtaposition with the modern ceiling and light show.
We were shown to our table in the main dining room and given hot towels to refresh our faces with as we sat down. I’m not much for the towel-face thing, but my family seemed to be keen on it. It’s kind of like the fact that they all eat with chopsticks and I just can’t get past eating with a fork (or my hands if they let me :)). I guess I am sort of set in my ways. We all placed our order and moments later the soups and salads started arriving.
The soup is one of those that tastes like chicken noodle but has mushrooms and chives in it. I’m not a big fan since I like my soup hearty so I always pass mine on to my husband who happily slurps it up. The salad though, surprised me. It was the usual suspects of greens, shredded carrots and cucumber but the dressing was not usual. It was a ginger-based dressing that had a very bright front and then finished with a tang of citrus. It also had visible chunks of ginger in it. They had succeeded in exciting my palate.
It was at this moment that the hibachi chef emerged with his rolling cart of oils, sauces, meats, veggies, rice and cooking implements. He unloaded and began to work on the shrimp appetizers that came with everyone’s hibachi meals. This was where the fun began; he started launching the shrimp at us in an effort to get us to catch them in our mouths. It was hilarious. My daughter had shrimp hit her in the head, others got hit the lap, and my son managed to catch his. Probably not something to try at home ;). I will say that our service foir drinks and clearing of plates was slow. This restaurant seems to depend alot on the show aspect, rather than the top-notch service and food you would expect in finer eateries. I went in expecting this and you should too.
From there he moved on to our dinners. My husband and daughter had ordered the teriyaki shrimp which had good flavor and was a generous portion. I ordered a New York Strip steak and was slightly disappointed. The cut was meager and lacking in marbling. The flavor though, when I received it was “alright”. The chef had seasoned it well and cooked it to the right temperature, medium rare. The stars of the meal emerged next, the rice and veggies. Our hibachi chef mounded the zucchini, yellow squash and onions on the grill. He deftly sliced through them in that “I might cut my hand off” manner that seems second nature to hibachi chefs. He created the perfect matchstick versions of the veggies and heavily loaded our plates. They were as delicious as they looked, seasoned well with salt and pepper, semi-crisp and not overcooked and bursting with the taste of in-season produce. Next was the rice. Again it was mounded on the grill and mixed with baby peas, onions, carrots and a generous portion of soy sauce. It also was perfectly cooked. The texture still had a little crunch and the salt and pepper was not overwhelming. Our chef laughed and joked with us and made the experience fun for our entire party.
We skipped on the pre-packaged birthday cake Kabuki offers since I had brought cupcakes. On each family member’s birthday, they can choose any dessert they would like and I make it for them. My son had asked for something simple like vanilla cake with strawberries. I suggested cupcakes and he agreed. I made cinnamon-vanilla cupcakes with strawberry-white chocolate buttercream frosting. Making desserts like this from scratch takes a little extra time, but it was worth it when the Kabuki staff brought them out. The staff actually sang “Happy Birthday” to my son with all of the flourish that they did with the normal birthday cake package. It was very nice of them and much appreciated. The cupcakes were delicious. The cake had the velvety moistness you hope for as a baker and just the right level of spice. The frosting was rich and creamy with the folded layers of white chocolate and fresh chunks of summer strawberries. We had enough cupcakes to send some home with guests and some left over for me to take to the Blue Ridge Writing Project session I had in the morning.
So I must admit, my food snobbery in relation to hibachi restaurants was unfounded, at least in Kabuki’s case. It was fun and filled with good food, laughter and memorable moments, and isn’t that what food and family are about?
BTW- My daughter and I are obsessed with restaurant bathrooms. We always talk about how a restaurant’s bathrooms reflect their attention to detail and style. Kabuki’s bathroom is very modern and eclectic, kind of like an Atlanta bathroom. Except, it was not pristine and had generic supplies, it was a lot about the show. Hmmm, wonder if there is anything to this bathroom correlation..makes you think….
Cinnamon Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry White Chocolate Buttercream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, spray and line cupcake pans
Ingredients for cake:
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 cup cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. roasted cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean scraped and seeded
3 jumbo eggs
2 tbsps. Pure vanilla extract (don’t use imitation, it changes the flavor)
1 cup sour cream
Ingredients for frosting:
5 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 oz. rinsed, diced strawberries
7 oz. good white chocolate, melted and then cooled
1 lb. confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. roasted cinnamon
1 vanilla bean scraped and seeded
1. In a medium bowl, whisk the two flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and granulated sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla and vanilla bean to this mixture and beat until incorporated. Add to this the flour mixture and sour cream in alternating additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically to ensure incorporation of all ingredients.
3. Using an icecream scoop (my favorite because you get the perfect amount of batter for each cupcake), scoop batter into your greased, baking cup lined pans. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven. The toothpick is your best tester here. If it comes out free from batter, your cupcakes are done. Transfer them to a cooling rack while your work on the frosting.
4. In the stand mixer again, this time with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until creamy. Slowly add in the confectioner’s sugar, scraping the sides as you go. Add the cream, vanilla, vanilla bean, cinnamon and cooled white chocolate. Once the frosting looks creamy, begin adding in the strawberries and beat on low speed until the juices start to release. The frosting will take on a sort of blush color and the strawberries will be fully folded in.
5. At this point check your cupcakes. If they have any heat left to them, put your frosting in the refrigerator until they are completely cooled. The heat will melt your buttercream and then all of your work will be for naught. Once they are cool completely, go ahead and frost them any way you like (I like a pastry bag with a fancy tip attached, but do whatever you like).