I seem to be frequenting mall restaurants these days. This time the destination was planned. Friend Lois had heard about Sake Bon Hibachi, Sushi and Lounge, and suggested we review it.
We headed to Chrisler Avenue in Rotterdam and found that the new restaurant was in the location that had been occupied several times in the past 15 years, most recently by E.K.’s Cibo.
The new venue bills itself as “Hibachi, Sushi and Lounge, Asian Food” and is divided into three rooms spread between two storefronts. The front door opens into a lobby with the front desk on the left and a small sushi and cocktail bar across the rear. To the right is the restaurant with approximately nine tables. To the left is the hibachi room with three U-shaped spaces each enclosing two hibachi cooking surfaces with 15 seats.
Lois ordered a happy hour glass of Pinot Grigio ($5) while I chose a small carafe of warm sake ($4). The extensive menu boasted appetizers, soup, salad, sushi a la carte, roll or hand roll, signature rolls, signature entrées from the kitchen, noodles and rice, udon and soba, vegetarian dishes and dinner from the sushi bar. It also included several combinations and dinners from the hibachi area, as well as a kids’ menu. Prices ranged from $4 to the mid-$20s.
A serious crab Rangoon fan, Lois ordered the appetizer ($7), eight pieces arranged longitudinally on a long, deep green leaf on an even longer white dish. A small cup of sweet-and-sour sauce seesawed at one end with a small bouquet of kale and spirals of ultrathin deep purple beets at the other. The stylish presentation was equaled only by the quality of the appetizers themselves — crispy on the outside and wonderfully creamy on the inside.
I love Soft-Shell Crab ($9). Although they tend to be seasonal, I have found that with modern freezing techniques soft-shell crabs are often available all year-round. Sake Bon presents its version disassembled, making it easier to eat. The airy mound of pieces were crispy and delicate, garnished with cilantro leaves and served with a sweet citrus chili sauce. I was entranced by both appearance and flavor.
Lois’s Stir-fry Pad Thai with chicken ($13) was art on a plate. Besides the crushed peanut topping, the noodles and chicken were balanced by a wedge of lime, a fuchsia-hued orchid and a frilly clump of dark green kale. Once again, the flavor of the entrée equaled its artistic presentation.
My dinner was accompanied by miso soup and a house salad composed mostly of iceberg lettuce. Both sides were standard and both were more than adequate. The “Double” in my Sizzling Double Treasure ($21) was perfectly cooked salmon and medium-sized shrimp with pudgy pods of sugar snap peas, asparagus, onions, yellow and green squash, and red and green peppers, all sautéed in a southern Asian-style sauce and served on a hot sizzling plate — steaming and creating the flashy variety of presentation that causes audible oohs and ahhs as the server parades it through the dining room. Served with a small bowl of white rice, the dish appeared as a still life painted by an Asian chef with an eye for color, texture, shape, balance and taste.
The dessert menu was presented as color photographs with brief descriptions, enticing and irresistible: Snickers Pie, Tiramisu and a handful of ice cream Bombas (a variety of layered, brightly colored ice creams and sorbettos covered with white or dark chocolate), most in the $6.50 range. Once again, an artist in the kitchen plated the Snickers pie for Lois. The slender green bamboo drawn on the white plate begged to be admired. It was, but only briefly.
My Exotic Bomba consisted of mango, passionfruit and berry sorbetto blanketed with white chocolate and drizzled with dark chocolate. Gilding the proverbial lily was a dollop of real whipped cream, an artistically sliced fresh strawberry and a peppermint-striped cookie straw.
While we were dining on the quieter side of the restaurant, the far side was hosting a boisterous group of people celebrating a birthday. Three hibachi chefs were grilling, entertaining and eliciting peals of laughter. I was especially intrigued by the chef who was bouncing an egg on the grill, ultimately catching it mid-air and splitting it with the blade of his spatula, allowing the white and yolk to fall on the grill while he deftly caught the shells. In the past, I have thought of these hibachi antics as gimmicky and silly, but I now think that with the right group of friends and a sip or two of sake, an evening at Sake Bon’s Hibachi Grill and Lounge could be great fun — with excellent food.
Sake Bon Hibachi, Sushi and Lounge
WHERE: 1702 Chrisler Ave., Schenectady, NY 12303, (518) 393-00266, http://www.sakebonalbany.com
WHEN: LUNCH Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun. 12:30-3 p.m.; DINNER Sun.-Thurs. 3 p.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m.-11 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $68.04 for two people without alcohol, tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible (restaurant is on the same level as the outdoor sidewalk), mall parking lot, all major credit cards accepted, daily specials, kids’ menu, takeout.