Here’s something I never thought I’d ask my wife: “Under what circumstances would you allow someone to squirt water in your mouth from across a hot grill?”
Beverly answered gamely. “If I was drunk . . . and 23.”
We were out for dinner at Hana Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar and had requested a seat away from the drama, earthy grunts and clattering cleavers of the flamboyant tepanyaki masters whose cooking skills are second only to their showmanship. After we had been seated, we realized that while we weren’t in a hibachi section of the restaurant we were flanked by them.
Here’s the thing. We’re not stuffy sorts but we enjoy conversation with dinner. And once you’ve seen the dazzling display of chopping skills and the 10-foot flames, there’s not really much they can add. (All right, one of the grill masters did flip bits of shrimp into the gaping maws of pliant patrons while barking like a seal, but does anyone over 12 need to see that?)
Hana Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar
WHERE: 1620 Western Ave., Guilderland; 452-4262; www.hanaalbany.com
WHEN: Monday-Thursday: lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner 4:30-10 p.m.; Friday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4:30-11 p.m.; Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday: noon-10 p.m.
OTHER INFO: All major credit cards accepted; handicapped accessible; children’s menu available
There is good news, however. There are sections of the expansive restaurant that are not within earshot or sight of the hibachis, and the food is good, the menu extensive and the service mostly swift and efficient. There is also a full-service bar with a respectable wine list, Asian and domestic beer, an array of exotic specialty drinks — like the Red Lotus, described as a Japanese Cosmo (it contains lychee liqueur), and other potent potables.
The restaurant has many dining areas. Some are devoted to sushi, some to hibachi parties and some to other Japanese cuisine. Our tastes generally fall in the last category.
We ordered warm sake, Japanese rice wine ($7 for 8 ounces), and sipped to warm ourselves as we perused the menu. I wanted some gyoza for an appetizer, but to my disappointment they had none of the little pork-filled dumplings.
Instead, I chose a Lemon Grass Hot and Sour Soup ($6), a delightfully crisp and spicy seafood melange — shrimp, scallops, white fish and fish cake in a broth flavored with lemon grass and a little heat. I’d definitely order it again.
For her appetizer, Beverly chose avocado rolls — with pickled ginger and her favorite Asian condiment, wasabi ($3). The rolls were fresh and delicious with their accompaniments.
Less satisfying was her entrée, an Assorted Tempura dish featuring shrimp, chicken and vegetables ($16). While it was accompanied by a dipping sauce that helped, what was most remarkable about the dish was its blandness.
My own choice for the main event was a Seafood Yakiudon ($17), featuring stir-fried udon noodles with shrimp, scallops, fish cake and mixed al dente vegetables in a light sauce. It was our unanimous choice for best dish of the evening, a savory combination of seafood and our favorite wheat noodles, complemented by sweet slices of orange. We’d definitely order it again.
Hana offers an interesting array of teas — blooming teas, flavored teas and green teas.
Specialty drinks include a “Classic Sake-Tini,” which consists of green tea vodka, lemon-lime soda and sour mix ($7) or a Mai Tai, which is rum, amaretto, triple-sec, orange juice and grenadine topped with dark rum ($7). There are also more than two dozen beers, about half of them imported.
There are also 13 separate kinds of sake — including lychee, raspberry and plum flavored — and about 20 wines, all of which are sold by the glass at $5 to $8.50 or by the bottle at $20 to $32, and there are four different plum wines.
And while we’re on the topic of choices, you can get brown rice at Hana, and that’s always our choice when it’s available.
Hana offers a large assortment of sushi and sashimi possibilities — 13 sushi appetizers alone and eight sushi dinners. There are 25 varieties of sushi and sashimi you can order a la carte — like sea urchin, octopus, horse mackerel and belly tuna.
Appetizers from the kitchen (as opposed to the sushi bar) include “Dinosaur Eggs” ($8), which are fried oysters with mango sauce and Mount Fuji Onion Rings ($5), which are Tempura Onion Rings served with katsu sauce and tempura sauce.
You can also order Teriyaki dishes and special chef’s dishes, some of which got my attention, like the Samurai and the Mermaid ($25), which is a grilled filet mignon with six jumbo shrimp layered with coconut sauce and accompanied by sweet potato and the Duck and Pineapple Fried Rice which features broiled duck breasts in a port wine sauce ($22.)
The priciest choices for entrées are those that include the show — the hibachi dinners. There’s a filet mignon, for example, that’s $27 and lamb for $26 and lobster tail for $31.
These meals, cooked at your own grill table, include vegetables, rice or noodles and for $1 or $2 more, a green salad and miso soup. And in fairness, I have to point out that you don’t have to catch shrimp with your teeth or water from across the grill if you don’t want to do so. You can simply watch the lightning-fast cleavers and eat the results.
Our tab, for two appetizers, two entrees with tax and tip came to $55.44, not counting the sake.
There’s a big gong hanging at the hostess’s station at Hana that kept distracting me during dinner. I wanted to give it a whack. Finally, I asked the hostess if it was in working order, and she assured me it was just for looks.
“It’s the first thing I asked when I started working here,” she said.