Teppanyaki Kyoto brings delicious and authentic Japanese food to Highland Park
I knew there was something special about Teppan–yaki Kyoto the moment I walked through the door.
I slid past a few patrons who were waiting for a table at the already crowded restaurant and I made a beeline straight for the bar. With just a handful of tables and a handful more seats at the bar, this Highland Park place was cozy.
I absorbed everything that I could almost immediately, including the sound of the light music, barely audible in the background as the iron griddle sizzled in front of me and folks chattered on to the left and right of me.
I flipped through the menu, which I had previously looked up online, and was delighted to see sushi rolls featured. With each page I turned, I made a mental note of the dishes I wanted to sample. By the time I reached the final page of the menu, I had selected so many different items, I laughed, thinking how ridiculous I would seem ordering such a laundry list.
Teppanyaki is the Japanese style of cuisine that uses flat-top griddles heated by propane to cook food. It is somewhat of a familiar concept, though much of what the city offers is in the way of hibachi, which is very different. Hibachi is an open grate heated by charcoal or gas. The flat top of teppanyaki allows for remarkable preparation using small and delicate ingredients.
With the exception of a few items, everything I ordered was cooked on the griddle. I was thankful to be seated close so I could watch the precise-but-quick hands of the chefs as they whipped up dish after dish. Each had a look of concentration while preparing and another look of admiration after each order was plated.
Sushi caught my eye, but was not the breakout star of the night. The asparagus roll and the shrimp tempura roll were both basic and served well as a starter while I watched the crew handcraft the rest of my dinner. Because sushi may just be a temporary starter, try the takoyaki, an appetizer comprised of diced octopus inside a ball of fried batter. Or fried dumplings filled with pork or edamame. The edamame are a striking bright-green hue.
Rice and noodle options were on the menu as well, including a stunning yaki onigiri, rice balls grilled with a soy flavor. I tried both the plain and salmon yaki onigiri and delighted in the taste and texture of the almost-caramelized exterior of the rice.
It seemed silly to waste my appetite on salad, though the chilled tofu salad with mustard pickles, spicy chili and cilantro sounded too good to pass up. A beautifully and artfully arranged dish arrived alongside a dish of grilled scallops on a bed of nori seaweed. The salad, a unique blend of chilled tofu with warm pickles and spicy chili was one of the most interesting things I tried, and the sashimi-grade scallops made for a perfect segue to that something special I mentioned earlier. That breakout star I mentioned. The hiroshimayaki, a savory pancake filled with a variety of ingredients.
What makes Teppanyaki so special is the traditional okonomiyaki and hiroshimayaki is prepared on the iron griddles. It is a Japanese pancake piled high with vegetables and your choice of meat, topped with a fried egg and bonito fish flakes. The dish takes about 25 minutes to prepare and is truly worth the wait. The flakes fluttered as the plate was passed over the griddle to the bar in front of me.
As I swallowed the first bite, I knew I was about to enjoy something truly special. The combination of flavors in the hiroshimayaki, from the beef to the egg, vegetables and sauce was utterly spectacular and unlike anything I have ever eaten in any type of cuisine.
After enjoying my first-ever taste of green tea mochi ice cream, a mound of smooth sticky rice filled with ice cream and coated in corn starch. I took a peek around the private space in the back of the restaurant.
The zashiki-style seating, complete with tatami straw mats, is a traditional way of dining in Japan — first removing shoes and sitting at a low table. Offered at Teppanyaki Kayoto on weekends only, and with a reservation, it seems like a way to make a special dining experience even more special.
Amanda McFadden is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute a weekly dining column to Trib Total Media.