By Meredith Munk Special to The Herald
Kyoto Japanese Steak House is another one of those restaurants that you really have to look for to find. In the back corner of a large strip mall on Everett Mall Way, it is not easy to spot. Inside, a small foyer with bench seats leads to a large dining area. The dining room’s purposeful layout, filled with huge metal grills surrounded by seats for up to 10 people each, is clearly for teppanyaki.
Teppanyaki is the Japanese style of cooking using an iron griddle. Teppan translates to iron plate and yaki means grilled, broiled or pan-fried. This is dining and theater rolled into one, suitable for celebrations, groups or an out-of-the-ordinary experience.
If you arrive with a group of fewer than nine friends, you are likely to be seated with other people. When I ate at Kyoto the other night, we were three, and seated with three people we didn’t know. Boisterous tables are common, even with a mix of strangers. At least a couple of times during our meal, a loud Japanese gong rang out, a tambourine was played and two servers sang “Happy Birthday” in Japanese.
It was a hoot.
The menu, while offering several choices, is simple. Dinners are all-inclusive and range from the veggie plate ($13) to the Imperial, with lobster, steak and chicken ($37). There are also hibachi chicken, steak, shrimp and calamari, steak and shrimp; 15 options in all. You get salad, soup, steamed or seasoned rice, a shrimp appetizer, vegetables, your entree and dessert.
Dinner started with the soup, a hot cup of a delicious simple broth with mushroom and green onion. An iceberg lettuce and tomato salad were next with a choice of ginger or ranch dressing. The ginger dressing appeared to be homemade and was chunky with a strong ginger flavor and a bit of vinegary tang. It showed up later as an accompaniment to the rice and meat.
Soon after soup and salad, the chef arrived at the grill with a cart of his tools and our food. He said hello and asked if this was a first visit for us; once someone said it was, he said it was his first time, too. This began the entertaining banter and shtick that continued throughout the meal. He poured oil on the middle of the grill, in a happy face shape and lit it on fire. A giant burst of flame leaped up, heated our faces and got our attention. He then cooked sliced zucchini, mushrooms and onions with a well-practiced display of spatula, fork and knife skills. First time? Yeah, sure!
He stirred, sliced, flipped and spread the large mound of vegetables across the grill. Seasoning was added with fancy spins of salt and pepper shakers, flourished squirts of soy sauce and oil and generous chunks of butter smacked onto the grill with his flat spatula. There was a lot of spatula slapping and utensil clanking.
Keep in mind as this is going on at our table, it is also taking place at every other table. The sounds of sizzling, oohs and ahhs, spatula slaps and the occasional gong made for a lively dining room. It would be hard to come here and not have a good time.
Shrimp followed the meat and chicken onto the grill. Fried rice ($3 extra) was worth the cost, just to see the chef’s preparation. This included spinning whole eggs, tossing them between spatula and fork and flipping one in the air and catching it in his hat.
Another one went into his pocket. They were scrambled and mixed with bean sprouts and cabbage and combined with the rice. At one point, chicken, steaks, fried rice and vegetables covered the grill. The chef’s hands and tools moved quickly from one end to the other cooking and then portioning food into plates with his big spatula. I am not going to tell you what happened when he grabbed a squirt bottle of teriyaki sauce, aimed it at my head and squeezed.
Everything was tasty: the rice, the vegetables, the shrimp and our meat. I could have had an entire plate of those vegetables. My filet mignon ($27) was melt-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful; the regular steak, a New York strip steak, ($21) was flavorful but not quite as tender.
It was a fun bit of entertainment, a good meal and nice to have this different style of dining in our own back yard.
Kyoto Japanese Steak House
1205 SE Everett Mall Way, Everett; 425-438-8683.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday; 4:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Vegetarian options: Yes.