Since 2004, Chef Edwin Dai has been flipping knives and masterfully sautéing Japanese Teppanyaki meats and seafood while putting on a show at Benihana in Santa Monica.
Unlike traditional Asian chefs, Dai is also an performer and his entertainment can be found in his preparation of lobster, shrimp, steak, and chicken.
The Benihana chain has been around for 47 years and its Santa Monica location has been serving guests since the late 1990s. Dai has been with the restaurant since 2004.
Dai begins the show by teasing guests with select pieces of shrimp while he makes chicken fried rice slicing vegetables and chicken with the skill of a cutlery genius constructing art out of food and forming romantic shapes like a perfect heart out of the rice.
“Look, it’s my heart for you,” said Dai posing a moment before scooping the fried rice into bowls for everyone seated at the table. Dai topped his art by sprinkling on some sesame seeds.
Next Dai cooked up some vegetables for the entrees along with choice cuts of meats and shellfish on a Hibachi grill that heats to 350 degrees.
“I just put a little water in the onion and it makes steam,” said Dai, referring to the onion volcano he had built out of rings of onions stacked on the grill.
What Dai does isn’t easy.
In order to become a Benihana chef, a lengthy process of training needs to be completed.
Chefs are trained for a minimum of three to six months at the restaurant. They start in the kitchen and they learn food preparation, seasonings, and eventually they learn showmanship. One of the main things Benihana looks for in a chef is the right personality.
Hector Fernandez, a manager at Santa Monica Benihana, said the restaurant butchers all of its meat in-house.
“From cleaning it to cutting it, we do it all here at Benihana early in the morning,” Fernandez said.
Hibachi steak and chicken can be found in menu items such as Rocky’s Choice and the citrusy avocado lovers Emperor’s Salad.
“(Our customers) can make sure that the food is completely fresh and cooked right in front of them,” said Fernandez. “Benihana is a family friendly place and when people have a party they can reserve a few tables and have a good time.”
Walk-ins are also encouraged.
Seafood lovers will not be disappointed by the selection of shellfish items.
Ocean’s Treasure is one of Benihana’s most popular items and for good reason.
It combines a cold-water lobster tail with sea scallops and premium colossal shrimp mixing together garlic buttered veggies soaked in Benihana Safflour Oil.
The seafood teppanyaki meal is served with a mustard and a ginger sauce and this only adds character to this colorful entree.
Expect to try the breaded onion soup and small salad that is served with most entrees on the menu.
In the realm of sushi, The Sumo Roll should be awarded the Shukunsho award, as it is layered with delightful pieces of crab, avocado, cucumber, shrimp tempura, and topped with baked salmon and special sauce.
Noodle lovers will find a slice of heaven inside of the Yakisoba, which are sautéed Japanese noodles with mixed vegetables that include a special sauce.
But all feasts must have drinks and Benihana is prepared to deliver.
Among the best drink items are Sake Sangrias that come in unique plum and peach flavors.
Varieties of cold and hot sake make up the traditional Japanese choice drink options and do well to accompany the decadent meal of Samurai sliced meats.
For November, Benihana’s feature beverage is Sake infusion. It’s a combination of Benihana Hot Sake where guests choose to infuse it with flavors of Chambord, Kahlua, or SoHo Lychee.
For dessert, Benihana tempura served with Green Tea ice cream with whipped cream and cherries will be sure to do the trick.
1447 Fourth Street, Santa Monica
Mon-Thur: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. / 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Fri: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. / 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Sat: 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. / 3 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Sun: 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. / 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.