Ken of Japan
4340 Cochran Street, Simi Valley
527-6490, $2.50-$27.50

On a Saturday evening, a friend and I found ourselves craving the atmosphere and the Japanese cuisine of Benihana’s. Seeing as the closest Benihana’s is in L.A., we decided to stick to a restaurant closer to home, but that would equally satisfy our craving. After much pondering, we drove to local hot spot Ken of Japan to dine at its teppanyaki tables that neither of us had experienced in the past.  

Upon entering the restaurant, we noticed the walls were covered with overlapping pictures of happy patrons. Many of them were patrons posed with the chefs or waiters, which instantly gave me the sense of a community-driven restaurant.

We were greeted by a friendly hostess and given three options for our dining experience: the dinner room, a teppanyaki table or the sushi bar. To our left we saw a dimly lit room with booths and tables set up for a more intimate dinning setting.

As quaint as the atmosphere in the dinner room was, we were certain we wanted to head in the direction that the sounds of clanking knifes, frying vegetables and laughs were coming from.

The hostess led us into the room to our right that was home to teppanyaki tables and a full sushi bar. We were seated at a teppanyaki table next to two parties that were celebrating a birthday. Once again, I felt a sense of community. I also observed that both parties had young children dinning with them. After opening the menu, it was apparent that Ken of Japan’s versatile menu catered to children, families, parties and sushi lovers.  

Once we were seated, it took us a moment to read through the widespread three-page beverage menu. My friend and I were excited to see Arnold Palmer’s name, and decided on the tasty refreshment of half iced tea and half lemonade. We were also enthused to see that all of the entrées at the table were served with a shrimp appetizer, green salad, vegetables, steamed rice and miso soup. However, as good as steamed rice is, we knew we wanted to spend an extra $2.50 and upgrade to the fried rice.

I ordered an entrée entitled sukiyaki steak while my friend opted for the samurai chicken even though there was a wide range of seafood to choose from as well. The green salad came out first, which was a composition of crisp iceberg lettuce, carrots and cabbage with a ginger sauce for dressing.

The miso soup followed the salad and was a satisfying surprise. I am not a big fan of soup, but was thoroughly pleased by the wonderful flavor of the broth mixed with pieces of tofu.  

Our chef entered the room while we were sipping the miso soup and confirmed our order. He then began twirling and cautiously throwing an egg around with his spatula to begin the fried rice. He even asked if I wanted to take a stab at twirling and cracking the egg, but knowing me, it would have ended up on the floor or another nearby patron. We watched him eagerly as he prepared the fried rice from fresh vegetables and laughed when he made a volcanic eruption flame out of stacked white onion rings.

A mound of fried rice was handed to us and we began eating while preparing ourselves for the next trick he had up his sleeve. As he cooked up the shrimp and vegetables, he would flip pieces here and there and dispose of unwanted portions in the top of his chef’s hat or pocket. The vegetables were an array of mushrooms, carrots, onions and zucchini that were grilled wonderfully, and even had my friend exclaiming, “Oh, my gosh! These vegetables are cooked perfectly!”  

The steak and chicken were the final dishes grilled up, and both were spiced and cooked amazingly. The steak and chicken were juicy, flavorful and bite-sized. Both meats were cut, so there was no silverware required (that is, if you are handy with chopsticks).

Our dinner and our show were delicious and entertaining to say the least. It fully satisfied my craving for Japanese cuisine and made it much more worth it to eat closer to home and indulge in great food at a restaurant that caters to the community.