I have been to quite a few Japanese steakhouses in my day. I really enjoy the atmosphere and the entertaining nature that they tend to provide. The cuisine is not so bad either. Today, I went to the Yabi Japanese Steakhouse in Winter Garden, Florida for the first time. It is new place that we happened upon this evening in looking for a good place for a pre-Father’s Day dinner. I gave the family one piece of criteria in choosing our dinner destination: It had to be a small business. No chains, or major brands.
Yabi Japanese Steakhouse 16112 Marsh Road, Winter Garden, Florida 34787 (407) 654-9588
The outside really did nothing to show the branding of the restaurant, or convey the feeling that an Asian cuisine lived beyond the front doors. Sometimes, this is the fault of the building owner though. You really cannot hold the restaurant responsible for that.
Upon walking in, the entrance and the rest of the restaurant has the minimum done to help convey the Asian atmosphere. I was definitely disappointed in that.
We sat down to order, and our server seemed nice enough. She knew and understood very little English though. She thought I ordered a Corona, when I actually ordered a Kirin Ichiban. And while I mention the Kirin, they are a whopping $4.50 each! Crap!
Their regular drinks such as sodas and tea are $2.00 each. That isn’t so odd these days, unfortunately, and it has prompted me to begin ordering a water with lemon at most places. However, this place doesn’t allow for free refills in a to-go cup. Once again, I was not impressed. Another bad first impression was my fork. It was all bent up. I am surprised it was laid out at all without being bent back into shape first.
Looking through the menu, the prices for all of the meals and appetizers seemed quite reasonable, in contrary to the drinks. I say reasonable, but they are at least comparable to other Japanese steakhouses. They had only a few options for vegetarians though.
We ordered an appetizer, sushi, and each had the hibachi or teppangaki table meal.
The appetizer came out pretty quickly. It was Sweet Potato Tempura ($3.95). Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a fan for sweet potato at all. It’s one of those foods that I simply do not enjoy. However, knowing that I was going to review this later, I went ahead and tried it. I am so glad that I did. This was a fantastic dish! It was slightly crunchy on the outside, and sweet and tender on the inside. The deep frying technique and breading of tempura took away a little of the original sweet potato flavor that I do not enjoy, and enhanced it to a level of deep satisfaction and addiction. What I think really made it work for me was the mysterious sauce that was lightly drizzled over the top of it. Perfect!
Following the appetizer, our Japanese onion soup and salad was next to come. The salad was unremarkable. It was a standard garden salad with the ginger salad dressing. However, the soup was delicious. It was just the right blend of ingredients and broth. It had mushrooms, green onions, and fried noodles. We all liked it, and usually, I am the only one who likes the soup at these places.
I was quite disappointed in another area too. I always order sushi along with my hibachi meal. I have never had to wait on it until this time. It came when the first round of food was being served onto the plates at the table.
The sushi was delicious though. Every sushi place has one or more specialty rolls that are named for the area or region. This restaurant has a roll named the Winter Garden roll, named after the city it’s in. It was okay. Along with that roll, I ordered 4 pieces of Eel, 2 pieces of Salmon, and a Wasabi Roll. The Wasabi roll was fantastic! I really liked it. I would suggest it to any sushi lover. There was a few different types of fish in it. Something to note about the sushi that I haven’t seen before is that the menu itself was reusable. Instead of being a throw-away piece of paper, it was laminated to be reused. The order still gets taken on a normal piece of paper though.
Our teppangaki chef was also unremarkable. He started strong with some of the standard jokes and tricks. One thing he did that was new to me, was to break out a little fireman doll. When he pressed a button, it’s pants went down, and it peed oil onto the table which of course flamed up. It was funny. He faded very fast though, basically resorting to just cooking. He even failed to do the standard onion volcano. We had to point it out to the kids when we saw it at the other tables.
The meal he cooked up was delicious though. I ordered shrimp and scallops for myself, filet mignon for my lady, and the kids had chicken (1) and steak (2). The seafood all tasted very fresh. I also tried Kim’s filet, and it was definitely a high-quality cut of meat, cooked perfectly. We ordered the meat to be cooked medium. However, the popular white sauce was very runny, and not thick like I am used to.
In addition to the meats tasting great and being cooked perfectly, the vegetables and rice were also fresh and delicious. At the end of the meal, we were served chilled (near frozen) oranges. Like the rest of the food, they were fresh and delicious. They must have a really good produce supplier. (Other restaurants should take note.)
We found ourselves to be uncomfortable towards the end of our time there. When we first arrived, less than half of the restaurant was taken. By the time we were ready to go, people were standing in line, waiting for a table to open up. During that time, the side of the restaurant that had the teppangaki tables was extremely hot. We were literally sweating, and looking around, it was clear that we weren’t the only ones.
We cannot fully discuss any restaurant without also discussing cleanliness. The interior and exterior of the restaurant were very well kept. And the men’s restroom was also as clean as you’d expect a bathroom to be during the dinner rush. Nothing to report here.
So what’s my final verdict? There are definitely better places to go if you’re in the mood for a Japanese steakhouse. This one compares well in food quality and prices, but it really does fail in service. There were times when we could get any server, much less our own. I would tell you to find another place to get your hibachi grill craving taken care of. Your money is better spent elsewhere.
Personally, my favorite is Blue Fugu, in St. Pete Beach, Florida. Their website leaves much to the imagination, but they make up for it if you visit them. If you find yourself in their area, GO! You will not be disappointed – trust me.