Restaurant Reviews

Hoochie Koo Hibachi

Hibachi Rock's vestibule is crammed with Japanese dolls, and Polaroids paper the wall. A manager says these photos were shot some three years ago when this Allen restaurant opened. There was a steady racket rumbling just beyond the dolls and snapshots.

As we moved toward the glass inner door, it grew into a throbbing thump:

Oh we're not gonna take it
No, we ain't gonna take it
Oh we're not gonna take it anymore
Oh you're so condescending
Your gall is never ending
We don't want nothin', not a thing from you
Your life is trite and jaded
Boring and confiscated
If that's your best, your best won't do

Whoa. It's way hard to synchronize an appetite with Twisted Sister, even if it turns out that singer Dee Snyder really is Christina Aguilera as the Web site strenuously avows. (Hell, it made a believer out of me, and I always thought Christina Aguilera was really Britney Spears after a sweaty musical strut into an electric fence.)

But this is the Hibachi Rock shtick: rock and roll coupled with...well, it's a little hard to determine that part. It's kind of lukewarm hibachi grill fare welded to a dozy sushi bar done up in generous portions of...Wang Chung I think that was.

The hibachi portion of the restaurant is also low-key, which is strange for a culinary species known for its frenetic utensil technique. The chef, wearing a paper toque fashioned to resemble a puffy American flag, is a kind of drowsy version of the juggle-a-knife-and-spank-the-shrimp-with-a-spatula-into-the-rafters-while-breathing-fire-into-the-bean-sprouts high jinks found in most hibachi spots, at least the ones that can get the right kind of insurance. No, here it's a spatula slap here and a blade click there, seemingly with the fervent hope that a shrimp tail will get in the way of the tepid fury and not a pinkie.

But that doesn't mean the results of this click and clack over oil flameouts doesn't have tasty results. Entrées--chicken, steak, shrimp, scallops, lobster or various combos--begin with deliciously crisp bean sprouts, squash, mushrooms and onion fused into a hibachi medley. The filet mignon, shrimp and chicken combination was studded with juicy lean cubes of steak cooked to a perfect medium rare. But the meat was a little shy on richness. Much better was the tender, juicy chicken and the lushly briny shrimp.

The priciest combo is the shrimp and scallops paired with an 8-ounce lobster rump. The shrimp was the best of the mingling, texturally perfect and tasty, just as it was with the fillet and chicken. The large scallops were a little spongy and soapy, while the lobster, somewhat pulverized from an uncharacteristically enthusiastic hibachi beating, was dry and a little tough and mealy. Yet a pair of tasty sauces accompanied these creations: a mild wasabi and a rich ginger sauce.

The sushi was accompanied by Elvis, acres of him. It was distracting to eat the raw strips of fish while the King's hips swiveled on the Elvis clock fastened to the wall above. It was strange chewing raw ruby-red tuna to the voice of a man who installed green shag carpet on his ceilings at Graceland. Yet his voice was like a seasoning. Hoisin sauce maybe:

Well the world turns
And a hungry little boy with a runny nose
Plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto
And his hunger burns
So he starts to roam the streets at night
And he learns how to steal
And he learns how to fight
In the ghetto

Hibachi Rock's raw fish bar was a little like a sushi ghetto. The gray chairs around the bar look like they were lifted from a soda fountain--a bit fitting for a place with a King fetish. The area is dark and gray, not well-lit and crisp as it is at most sushi restaurants. Yet the goods are mostly good. Sushi was clean and chilled, though the presentations were tattered at times. Tobiko was fluffy but overstuffed in a clumsy, loosely assembled nori sheath binding the rice. Tuna and salmon were good, if a little stringy, yet the hamachi was satiny, creamy and sweet, and the taco (octopus) was chewy and tender.

Behind the bar is a marker board with a list of "top 10 rolls," another twist on the rock thing. But there were only five or so entrants on the list. The bottom five hits must have slipped off. Gripping the No. 1 slot was the Cajun volcano roll, a huge delicious mess. A sliced roll imbedded with coated and fried crawfish is positioned on a plate with spicy cream sauce and then slipped under a broiler. Emerging a little singed, the sticky creamy roll is then buried under a heap of fried crawdad tails, avocado, chopped scallop and little dots of red pepper sauce. It looks like a Japanese po' boy without the hoagie. Warm shrimp rolls--little shrimp stained in a spicy red sauce and stuffed into a loose nori rice wrap--were tasty and fresh.

Décor is on the fresh side, too, or is it kooky? In addition to the Elvis clock, the far wall holds a poster of the Beatles' Abbey Road, only the people strolling through the crosswalk are Humphrey Bogart, Elvis Presley, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe instead of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Next to that is a picture of the Fab Four standing next to a junked car. The room is striped with an endless panorama of Polaroid shots: customers during their birthdays and anniversaries, as well as customers just posing for a Hibachi Rock mug.

Service is engaging, affable and efficient, with requests executed almost before they're requested. (Our drinks were remembered and ordered on our second visit before we sat down). And after a few sakes, it can get difficult to keep track with what you're listening to. I could have sworn I heard Rick Derringer's "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo." But if I didn't, I should have, as this is a perfect Hibachi jam:

I hope you all know what I'm talkin' about
The way she wiggles that thing it really knocks me out
Getting higher all the time, I hope you all are, too
C'mon a little closer, gonna do it to you.

Yeah, cook--although Rick Derringer has changed his tune as of late. It seems he's shucked his bluesy riffs--at least temporarily--for the Lord and a little salvation. His latest album is titled Aiming 4 Heaven. A real hibachi roller.

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz

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