The Tale of the Blind-Date Ambush at Benihana

On Benihana's website it asks: "What did you do last night?" Well I have two additional questions. When was the last time you ate at Benihana? And when was the last time you went on a business lunch disguised as a blind date? My answer to the first question is too long ago. I forget about Benihana, but then I eat there and am reminded how fun it is to anticipate who will sit at your teppanyaki table and how good the food is. As for the second question, my answer is "not too long ago." A co-worker recently invited me to a business lunch at Benihana near our office in the L.C. (yes we still call Las Colinas the L.C.).

So my co-worker and I met this fellow, whose business we were going to learn more about, at Benihana for lunch one day. Benihana has great lunch specials. Lunch Boat Specials come with your choice of chicken, salmon or beef julienne, shrimp and vegetable tempura, sashimi and half a California roll served with edamame, miso soup, salad, steamed rice and fresh fruit. All of this food costs less than $10. Except, they'll get you if you want fried rice -- it's $3 or $4 extra. I chose the chicken Lunch Boat, while the businessman ordered the salmon Lunch Boat. My co-worker ordered the chicken teriyaki bowl.

Our lunch conversation started normal enough -- regular introductions, what kind of work we each did, and where we each grew up. Then the businessman asked me where I lived. I told him and he replied: "Great! I live there too. Now I know someone in the area. I'm so going to drunk dial you." Excuse me, I thought. Who says that? And who says that on a business lunch? Are we seriously considering doing a project with this guy?

From that moment on, things moved from the professional realm to all things personal or inappropriate for the steel Benihana grill at lunchtime. The businessman pushed his Lunch Boat away and started firing off questions (How could he not even finish his fish?), most directed at me. Why did this guy who was allegedly going to tell us about business opportunities take a special interest in my marital status? And why did my co-worker seem to fall silent right after the waitress served our miso soup and salads topped with ginger dressing? She even scolded the businessman by saying, "You're making this feel like a date."

But it was a date. She had planned it with the businessman and never told me it was a blind date. (And I'm so naïve that she convinced me to go to lunch based on the promise of a Benihana chef creating a flaming tower of onions.) I wondered why things felt so awkward. Then it became perfectly clear. Mid-lunch, my co-worker rested her chopsticks on her soy sauce plate and left her seat at our teppanyaki table to take a conference call.

I endured the businessman's barrage of questions and apparent inability to sense my discomfort. If it weren't for my yummy Lunch Boat, I probably would've suggested we go find my co-worker sooner. But I didn't, and instead managed to eat as much of my tempura as I could before giving up and moving onto the last pieces of the California roll.

When I finally decided I'd had enough of being told I should hang out with the businessman on the weekends, we found my co-worker in the foyer finishing up her call. I smirked as she apologized for how rude it had been to get up during lunch. Then I hastily shook the businessman's hand and walked towards the parking lot. As we drove back to the office, my co-worker remarked: "I felt like the third wheel."

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Monica Berry