By Alex Province
I was first introduced to the experience of Hibachi dining a year ago. I’ve been to Goten four times since then and I would go back again. My girlfriend, Ce, introduced me to hibachi and my curiosity and enthusiasm was piqued. The experience was so stimulating; it was visually entertaining, funny, engaging, and of course, the food was mouth-watering. If you’ve tried hibachi before — hopefully some of these descriptions sound familiar. If it doesn’t ring a bell, then I strongly recommend you take an evening and try hibachi at Goten.
Goten of Japan is a beautiful and historic restaurant with a traditional hibachi menu. The walls are carefully adorned with traditional Japanese artwork, or Nihonga; mostly comprised of detailed vertical paintings, and the ambience of the restaurant is calm and welcoming. Soft but uplifting piano jazz plays in the background.
When I was new to this method of cooking and presentation, I was enamored with the full and comprehensive multi-course meal included on the menu. One order of hibachi includes it all. The food comes in waves: they start off by warming up your appetite with a light mushroom soup and a salad with their stomach-relaxing ginger dressing. The next step is to get the food sizzling atop their tappan style tables, which are basically massive stainless steel-top tables with a heating element underneath the metal. The chef always creates a volcano out of a stack of onions and lights it afire, creating a blaze of fire that flashes the whole table with light! You can feel the warmth of the fire as it explodes into dancing figures and quickly subsides.
Next, they bring on the carbs by placing the fresh and piping-hot rich and savory sauteed noodles on your plate with a bowl of hot jasmine rice on the side. This is simultaneously as you stare, mouth-watering, as the chef slowly cooks your favorite protein on the grill inches in front of you. The smell of sizzling surf ‘n’ turf wafts through the air- filet mignon, shrimp, chicken- the choice is yours.
Goten has a welcoming staff and a talented group of hibachi chefs. From spatula percussion to the onion volcano to serving as the quarterback in their signature food-throwing, the chefs there are multi-talented. Most recently, my chef there had a knack for comedy, and he bore an uncanny resemblance to the satirical comedian Eric Andre — in both appearance, and delivery of jokes. He had plenty of funny bits, but I’ll never forget the joke he told about the family that he served a while back. He said a large family had a reservation and were sharing hibachi on a night out at Goten, but he noticed a pretty negative vibe from the customers; it was as if nobody was happy even though they were eating at such a special restaurant.
So, he asked them what most chefs would ask their customers: “What’s the matter, did somebody die or something?” It turns out somebody HAD died, and it just so happened that the family in the story was eating a dinner in the wake of a family member’s death. My girlfriend and I laughed. The couple next to us at the hibachi table scowled. “Wow, this guy is actually Eric Andre in the flesh,” I thought. The dark humor, the nonchalant and sarcastic delivery, it was all there. “Maybe he’s in the wrong work industry,” I figured.
Alter ego comedian/chef identities aside, I always feel that I get a unique dining experience when I dine at Goten. The chefs always offer the food-catching competition; and it’s always so spontaneous that they catch even the shy eaters off-guard and usually most people at the table take a try at catching a slice of shrimp or zucchini in their mouth. It’s all good fun, and the drinks are adventurous too. None is more ideal for a couple like us than the Scorpion Bowl. A ceramic bowl with a circular protrusion in the middle holds a mix of light and dark rum, apricot brandy, and a mix of fruit juice. It’s accompanied with the warning- “Beware the sting!” Two straws protrude from the bowl. This usually turns the consumption of our $10 drink of choice into a matter of whoever gets there first.
By the time the filet mignon or desired protein comes around, I’m usually already pretty well-fed with the soup, salad, rice, and noodles. Brown sauce and white sauce are presented as the two options— sweet or spicy, and the flavors offset harmoniously with the savory and salty beef or chicken that you’ve ordered. The steak has a light brown sear with a soft texture on the exterior, but the inside of each bite is a mouth-watering, pink, buttery medium rare. The crispy vegetables crunch alongside the soft bites of steak, rice, and noodles. The dish has achieved its balance.
On a good night, I’ll clean the plate of all its ingredients. But most nights I would absolutely plan on bringing leftovers home from Goten. The first time I ever went, they wrapped up our leftovers in aluminum foil in the shape of a crab and a swordfish. They haven’t offered that service since I’ve gone recently, sadly. You can wrap up your meal with a treat that should be more widely adopted in our grocery stores — the delectable ginger ice cream with its pungent and spicy flavors, a perfect clash with the cold and sweet ice cream base.
Goten is a great place for a special night to bring a date, the family, or just have fun in the wholesome and welcoming environment of the hibachi dining experience. Hopefully they bring back the animal-shaped takeout wraps, but that remains to be seen.
Essentials: You can find Goten of Japan at 104 Old Amherst Rd, Sunderland, Massachusetts 01375. Reach them by phone at 413-665-3628. Their menu can be found here.