Way back in the '80s and '90s, whenever there was cause for celebration, Benihana was the default restaurant. Something about the artistry of a joke-telling chef wielding a knife and artfully grilling a steak at the teppanyaki table and maybe catching a jumbo shrimp in his hat appealed to the sensibilities of families who aspired for social currency. Basically, you made it if you could tell the kids at school that you went to Benihana over the weekend after winning the trophy in softball. It was a sort of status symbol under the guise of cheesy dinner theatrics that the whole family could enjoy.
Flash forward to today and the heyday of the upscale Japanese chain restaurant has long past. But that doesn't mean that families aren't still craving an artfully executed dining experience, so believe the folks behind O'Samurai in Taylor. An extension of sushi restaurant Black Pine Tree Sushi Bar in Southgate, this location focuses instead on the tradition of teppanyaki cooking. The concept is a dead ringer for the Benihana vibe: The chef wheels a cart of ingredients to your table and proceeds to prepare your entrée on the hibachi while making you laugh at his attempts at tableside humor.
This time the atmosphere is decidedly more approachable to the modern family. Situated in the Taylor Retail Center Shopping Center next to a drive-thru Panera Bread, O'Samurai aims to provide for the Downriver set who might be less inclined to trek up I-75 into trendy downtown for a fancy night out. The crowd is small, so you're pretty much guaranteed a spot at a hibachi-equipped table the moment you step in. It's all very welcoming indeed — guests are greeted by friendly staff eager to get the show started, and the dining room itself is so clean you could cook on the floor.
Like at Black Pine Tree, an array of freshly prepared sushi and rolls is available, but here they're the starters, not the real star of the show. That's the hibachi. Start by choosing from a variety of cuts of steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops, or lobster tails, then pick steamed or fried rice and then simply let the entertainment begin.
If you spring for fried rice, the chef starts by preparing the rice on the grill. He'll bounce an egg with his spatula as many times as possible before tossing it on the sizzling hibachi. He'll then throw on the rice and some veggies, slapping on pads of butter, which he calls butterfly. (Get it? The butter flies.) Then he douses a chopped onion with some sort of accelerant and lights it on fire, creating a flame that resembles a gas flare you might see as you drive past the Marathon oil refinery. For added effect, the chef might finish off his first course behind the counter by taking a bit of leftover fried egg and catapulting it into your mouth. If he misses, it's best to just be courteous and applaud his earnest attempt and overall showmanship.
The rice is ready in mere minutes and served bountifully on each guest's plate. It comes rich in teriyaki and soy flavor, is firm and slightly crispy, and is paired with broccoli, bell peppers, and that flaming onion. As the rice is nearing readiness, golf ball-sized scallops and a lobster tail, still in its shell, are added to the grill. The chef expertly extracts the lobster meat from its vessel and goes about chopping it into tiny bite-sized morsels. Then come the scallops, reduced in size, and all the seafood gets a bath in butter, teriyaki and soy sauce. The resulting seafood comes out quite flavorful, but in our opinion a bit well done for our taste. If you're in the mood for fish, we suggest springing for the sushi.
The steak is the obvious better choice for this kind of experience. Watch as the tender cuts go from bright red to seared to just right, right before your eyes. It comes out with the right amount of juiciness and blends in seamlessly with the other courses. The serving sizes are huge and are better split between two or three people.
If you're not thoroughly stuffed, we suggest indulging in a Mochi ice cream, a Japanese confection in which pounded sticky rice holds together the sweet, creamy goodness in a neat, delectable ball.
As for drinks, well, O'Samurai doesn't yet have a liquor license, an issue our server says is temporary. While that setback could spell trouble for the business in the long term, diners are treated graciously and promptly, making that detail less of an issue.
Overall, O'Samurai seeks to restore a bit of nostalgia in dining, bringing guests back to a time when showmanship and fine cuisine worked hand-in-hand to create a memorable experience. With the chefs' attention to detail — both on the hibachi and to his skills as an entertainer — we say they've nailed that task.