Hagane: Lively hibachi in Howard Beach

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Hibachi, a style of Japanese cuisine invented in the United States in the Sixties, and virtually unknown in Japan, has been enjoying a renaissance of sorts here in Queens. The latest bandwagon-jumper we know of is Hagane on Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach.

It has been a long-held belief of ours that every type of restaurant has its own unique purpose i.e., to get you in and out fast, set a romantic mood, impress your clients and so on. In a sudden epiphany, we realized the purpose of this hibachi restaurant. Virtually every group at the communal tables included at least one squirming toddler, sullen teenager or minor somewhere in between.

Not a whine or whimper was to be heard while the hibachi chefs went through their paces. The age group that usually finds an extended fine dining experience with the family something to be endured rather than enjoyed looked cheerfully engaged by juggled utensils, flaming volcanoes of onion rings and other feats of culinary derring-do.

The noise level, a combination of the clatter and sizzle of tableside preparation and the youthful clientele, is admittedly high, but so is the quality of the food. We were actually pleasantly surprised.

We started with pork gyoza, nicely crisped on the outside and succulent within. The shrimp spring rolls were not the usual bunch of mini shrimp and chopped stuff fried in a wrapper. Instead, it was a platter of four tail-on jumbo shrimp that were each deep fried in their own wrappers. The shrimp were sweet and the wrapper thin and crisp, and they went easy on the grease.

The success of a hibachi meal relies on two factors: timing and the quality of the ingredients. The cooking style yields subtle flavors, derived mainly from soy sauce and sesame. This is a definite asset when dealing with finicky youthful palates. Dipping sauces provide the missing pizzazz.

Our amiable Chinese chef expertly seared the salmon, jumbo scallops and shrimp on the grill, leaving the insides juicy. His watchful eye insured that our steak was rare as requested, while others got theirs more thoroughly cooked. The steak, whose cut wasn't specified, was a satisfyingly juicy and well-marbled slab cut into strips. The mixed hibachi vegetables were tender-crisp.

The service for the most part was smooth, except for a communication problem that proved to be more comical than anything else. We were asked whether we wanted brown or white rice. Thinking it was part of the deal, we chose one of each. It turned out that fried rice was included, but the brown rice was extra. The gentleman to our right specified no rice, only vegetables. For some reason the waiter thought he requested rice only, no vegetables, which he repeated to the hibachi chef. No matter how many times the man reiterated his wishes, both the waiter and the chef kept inundating him with portion after portion of all manner of rice, which he kept passing along to everyone else at the table to our collective hilarity. By the way, avoid the brown rice. It was unpleasantly mealy.

Dessert choices include sorbet or ice cream, plain, mochi or fried. We went for green tea mochi ice cream for a touch of Japanese authenticity. A layer of mochi encases a ball of ice cream. Mochi is a sticky Japanese confection made of sweetened glutinous rice. It is traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year's Eve, when a few people choke to death on it every year. We have been told that the choking results from revelers being too drunk to swallow something so sticky. Maybe they need more Heimlich posters over there.

Hagane also has an extensive menu of yakitori, grilled skewered foods that are eaten as pub grub in Japan. We did not get a chance to try it on our visit, but hope to return.

The Bottom Line

Hagane is a lively spot for a family outing. Be prepared to share a table, and probably talk to strangers. If you go only with adults, go late.


161-02 Cross Bay Boulevard

Howard Beach, NY 11414


Cuisine: Hibachi & yakitori

Setting: Small for hibachi

Service: Efficient

Hours: Lunch & dinner daily

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: Beer & sake

Parking: Lot in rear

Dress: Casual

Children: Children's menu

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Noisy

Handicap accessible: Yes


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