Ukai-tei: Top tier Tokyo teppanyaki treats
Outside Japan, partaking of teppanyaki meals (literally, “grilling on an iron plate”) can mean a gaudy show. A chef juggles his pepper grinder, offers up wisecracks and tosses food into the air. Diners are grouped with strangers around the cook at a U-shaped grill and the nature of dining with those you don’t know often makes for an awkward evening. If that has been your experience, then you may be hesitant to give it a try in Japan. Don’t be. Here teppanyaki is a respected culinary style. Most times you’ll have your own private chef, and the energy is focused on drawing out the flavors from the ingredients with a menu that changes seasonally rather than on a BeniHana two-step. At different ends of the spectrum, Keyakizaka at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo and Ukai-tei in Ginza offer two different takes on teppanyaki in Tokyo.
A thick, red carpet welcomes diners into Ginza Ukai-tei’s grand entrance, guarded by two stately silverware soldiers. Guests are then transported back in time as they enter the exquisitely furnished welcome room. Glamorous and over the top (in a good way), the museum-like space hosts pieces by René Lalique and Emille Galle. Even if you don’t know these artists, you’ll be struck by their works’ timeless craftsmanship.
While luxuriating at Ukai-tei be sure to request a private room, at no extra charge. The intimate experience of dining VIP-style with just your friends and the chef is arguably the only way to celebrate a special occasion.
The menu at Ukai-tei is not strictly teppan grill, as it includes classic European cuisine with dishes like smoked salmon and consommé. The steamed abalone is a signature dish, steamed under a mountain of salt until tender.
The tender Ukai wagyu is richly marbled with fat, cut into bite-size cubes and served with thin-sliced garlic the chef skillfully cooks into chips and freshly cracked black pepper. It pairs perfectly with the garlic rice. The wine list leans toward the French, which is actually perfect for the cuisine—and these classical European dishes work surprisingly well with teppanyaki.
On weekdays, lunch guests are escorted to a lounge where a dessert wagon is rolled up with pastries including classic sweets like macaroons, sables, caramels, marshmallows and petit fours. This is the ideal time to order a glass of brandy, cancel any afternoon plans and reflect on the state of teppanyaki today—far from the knife clatter and salt-n-pepper shaker percussion of western imitations.
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