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.
At Sake House’s sprawling sushi bars, skilled chefs slice sashimi and wrap up rolls with fish such as fresh salmon and yellowtail. Though the eatery is known for its seafood, the kitchen also whips up pan-fried dumplings, bowls of udon soup, and chicken glistening with sweet teriyaki sauce. To aid decision-making, star icons call out popular items on the menu, pepper icons signify spicy dishes, and chef-hat icons designate the dishes that were pulled from the top chef’s hat.
The culinary creators at Chiang Mai Thai & Sushi Bar artfully twist a variety of sushi rolls and curate a menu of traditional Thai dishes. The hot pepper and basil with beef or pork ($10.99) and Siam tofu ($14.99) are both doused in house-made chili sauce, which warms tongues with a gentle flame beneath the restaurant's potted bamboo and hanging art. The Fancy Duck dish ($18.99) arrives tableside with a posse of cashews and veggies while dinners admire dishes elegantly presented on indigo flatware, ornate wooden trays, and the backs of sleeping butlers. Cool glasses of Singha beer ($4.99 each) complement rolls from the sushi menu, such as the Dancing Dragon ($13.99), a duo of shrimp tempura and imitation crab that sashays among cucumber and scallions to a smattering of masago applause.
Situated a few chopsticks’ length away from a nearby beach, Sushi Shoya serves Japanese fare and sushi amid ocean breezes. Inside, foliage spills from wicker baskets lining the doorway, echoing the pale green walls that envelop the eating environment in a natural tone. Guests can settle into black leather chairs at a table or sidle up to the sushi bar, where chefs slip fresh fish such as salmon, tuna, and spicy yellowtail into a variety of specialty rolls. Unlike their more secretive maki counterparts, nigiri sushi pieces covered with eel, surf clam, and smelt roe let it all hang out, much like clotheslines on vacation.
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.