Dale Del Bello remembers everything about his first hibachi experience. While stationed in Korea as a part of the Air Force National Guard, Dale and a group of friends visited Tokyo on leave. They followed a traditional route among his fellow service people, which took him to a hibachi restaurant. Immediately he sensed that he’d stumbled upon more than just dinner. The chefs’ showmanship fascinated him as they seared meats and vegetables on their tabletop grills, allowing guests to sample forkfuls directly off the 600-degree surface. After returning to Buffalo, New York, in 1971, Dale opened his first Arigato location, attempting to recreate what made that dining experience so remarkable. Since then, he has distilled the authentic experience into something that families can enjoy without traveling abroad, establishing Arigato restaurants throughout New York and Florida and staffing them with more than 60 chefs from Japan.
Surrounded by 8–10 diners, these chefs act not only as the restaurant’s culinary creators, but also as showmen and magicians of sorts, dexterously slicing ingredients, flipping shrimp tails into their hats, and conjuring soy sauce out of thin air. Away from the flaming tabletops, meanwhile, bartenders make use of their own skill sets as they mix specialty cocktails, which occasionally use splashes of plum wine or sake to imbue familiar-sounding drinks with new dimension.
A.J. Jewell, born in Japan to an American father and a Japanese mother who was a chef, inherited a love of cooking that transcended the Pacific. When he moved to Tampa in the 1980s, it was only logical that he follow his mother into the restaurant business. At age 18, he trained as a teppanyaki chef, learning to commune with the open flame, and soon after apprenticed under master chefs to perfect his technique. After years at Sushi Tsu, sharpening his culinary acumen, and studying world cuisine, Jewell became its owner. Each of Sushi Tsu's chefs apprentices under Jewell's sage gaze for two years before stepping into their role as teppanyaki specialists. Diners can request their favorite chef for their meal to build a rapport or establish an ongoing rock-paper-scissors game. In addition to serving fresh sushi and hot hibachi-style steakhouse food, the eatery showcases local artists with occasional live jazz music on weekends and artists painting inside the restaurant.
Chef John, the culinary leader behind Shogun Sushi, honed his skills in upscale Manhattan eateries before making his way to Tampa. He approaches sushi with a creative mind and an eye for presentation, updating traditional rolls with unconventional ingredients such as bacon and pineapple. One dish that moves even further into fusion is the sushi pizza, which is healthier than both regular italian pizza and pizza carved from butter. The "crust" is a scallion pancake, the "sauce" is avocado paste, and the toppings are pieces of either salmon or spicy tuna. Not all of Shogun Sushi's food belongs to the fusion category, though; diners can opt instead for traditional Japanese cuisine such as an udon noodle soup with fish cakes, egg, tofu, and shrimp tempura.
Both Oishi Japanese Restaurant's locations showcase Asian-inspired décor, from the ceiling covered in bamboo accents to the marble-topped sushi bar framed by a glass case of seafood. Chefs entertain lunch and dinner diners with "fire shows" at hibachi grills where they sear vegetables, seafood, meat, and wrinkled shirts. Diners also cozy up to unfinished wood tables and booths as servers deliver spreads of Japanese steakhouse cuisine, fresh sushi rolls, and desserts.
Dive into Origami Sushi's picture-filled menu to discover traditional fare with a creative twist. Starters such as the seared tuna tataki or the baked green mussels offer a pleasing beginning to any meal ($6.95 each). Try the tempura gladiator roll with eel, shrimp, asparagus, and avocado for a little crunch ($11.95), or combine shrimp, pineapple, cream cheese, avocado, and a thigh-slimming grass skirt in the Hawaiian ($6.95). Sashimi fans can swim upstream for the salmon roe and white tuna, or snag the sashimi dinner which features 10 pieces of sashimi and a California roll ($16.95). For patrons preferring unraw eats, Origami Sushi also serves up a variety of teriyaki selections and seafood rice bowls. Accompany the feast with a chilly Asahi or Kirin Ichiban beer ($5.95 each), or warm up with an Oi Ocha hot green tea ($2.95) or tabletop chopstick fire.
The Rack boasts impressive lunch, dinner, sushi, and cocktail menus at both the Hyde Park and Brandon eateries. House favorites include the Bomber ($12.95–$14.95), a specialty sushi roll of cooked and uncooked delights (snow crab, avocado, and asparagus topped with salmon, tuna, and eel sauce) served with tempura chips. Or blast through hunger with the Volcano roll’s cucumber, crab, cream cheese, avocado, eel sauce, and spicy mayo ($12.95–$13.95). Fusion appetizers, salads, sandwiches, single rolls, and chef special entrees round out The Rack's eclectic menus into a rolling billiard ball made of sticky rice.