Picky Eater’s Review: Osaka Restaurant

Last night, my boyfriend Mitchell Goldfarb ’08, Nik Gavelis ’08 and I went to go try the new Japanese restaurant Osaka on Main Street (right next to Brook’s Pharmacy).

I’m really annoying to eat with. Well, I mean, I can be. My entire family grew up in the restaurant business. My mother was a waitress, my uncle is a professional chef and my grandmother ran her own restaurant for more than thirty years. My brother and I have both served our time waiting tables and prep cooking and so we know our way in and out of a restaurant kitchen. As consequence, like I said, we’re annoying to eat with.

First off, as I usually do before I try a new restaurant, I ask to see a menu before I sit down. A menu can give you a lot of insight into the creativity and quality of what you can expect to eat, but I found Osaka’s menu to be pretty basic with a lot of, dare I say it, bad Engrish?

The prices themselves are a little pricier than Japanica, my personal favorite Japanese restaurant in Middletown (excellent prices but really wonderful service), but the menu includes Hibachi (which Japanica also serves, however, they do not have the dining experience of watching a hibachi chef prepare the food in front of you).

Anyway, so upon Mitchell’s insistence, we try it out. But first a disclaimer. Middletown is a notoriously unique city in that a good percentage of its new restaurants actually survive their first year. In most places and under most circumstances, restaurants typically fail. With that, there is a considerable number of different restaurants in Middletown that you’d have to wait for a seat on a Saturday night.

Well, we walk into Osaka last night at around 6:30. We are told for the Hibachi, we can except a 30 minute wait. Considering we did not make reservations (I normally do, but we were unsure of the number who would be in our party) this was reasonable for a Saturday night in Middletown. However, there is little waiting room at Osaka as this place was CROWDED. The host suggested we sit at the bar (which none of us can legally do) or take a nonexistant seat. Instead, we walked over to Brook’s to kill time.

Twenty minutes later, we walk back to find seats and begin to wait. And wait. And watch groups we know walked in after us with no reservations (they had their walk-in book wide open on the counter) get seated before us.

We had waited more than an hour before we were seated.

The first thing we noticed upon being seated was how bad an idea of crowding hibachi grills is. The burning oil and smoke in the air is suffocating, more so than usual. We all felt initially sick and teary-eyed and that’s usually not the best way to start a meal.

Anyway, so finally after that we wait some more and around 8:00 someone takes our order after they finally fill our hibachi table. I ordered the salmon hibachi ($16.95), while Mitch and Nik ordered the chicken ($14.95). The hibachi dinner included a salad, clear soup, two pieces of hibachi shrimp, fried rice and a vegetable side. I found the salad unagreeable (iceberg smothered in dressing) and gave it to Nik. The mushroom broth was tasty, however.

The fried rice as prepared on the hibachi tasted exactly like one might expect fried rice cooked on an open grill to taste like except it was filled with onions (which I can’t stand remotely). I gave that to Mitch.

My salmon was decent, however minimally seasoned. It desperately needed the mustard sauce, which, again, as is a theme here I guess, was basic and minimal. Nothing surprising or exciting.

Our hibachi chef was friendly and entertaining (have you ever met a hibachi chef who wasn’t?) but the food itself and the presentation wasn’t particularly noteworthy. I hate to say this, but I’ve definitely seen better and didn’t have to wait over an hour to have it.

Overall, I don’t recommend Osaka for hibachi. The wait was inexcusable (typically, at new restaurants that are desperately seeking your return businesses, a host will tell you after you’ve waited a half hour that you may have to wait another half hour and in the case of very nice establishments, offer you a drink on the house or a discount), the food pretty bland, the host kind of rude and the prices pretty high for what you’re getting. Our server was nice and on task, but overall, I found the dining experience off-putting and probably won’t go there again.

Though, we were seated next to these two awesome Connecticut locals from a town over. This nice elderly couple told us stories of their motorcycle and weird friends who got rich tapping for maple syrup up in Canada. Nik told them how he wanted to live in a van and grow organic vegetables for sustenance.

Yeah, so anyway, I think I’ll stick to the nice people at Japanica for my future Japanese needs.