Hibachi chefs are constantly innovating new tricks, but customers tend to feel cheated if a show doesn’t include at least a variation on each of the following standards. (The flaming onion is non-negotiable.)
1. Heart-shaped rice
The leading two-dimensional trick in the hibachi chef’s playbook involves sculpting a fearsome amount of white rice into a perfect heart as it fries. While this trick is low-risk, and admittedly light on technique, it’s the hibachi version of a handshake: Once a chef has offered up his rice heart, he’s established a personal bond with guests that they’re expected to honor come tipping time.
2. The egg roll
Every chef uses the same punning name for this trick, but its particulars vary tremendously from one table to the next. One chef might spin an uncracked egg on the grill, while another might bounce it from spatula to spatula. Regardless of which route the egg travels, it usually takes a final spatula flip into the chef’s pocket or hat.
3. Shrimp feed
Hibachi theater is always interactive, but the absence of a fourth (as well as a first, second and third) wall is never more apparent than when the chef is tossing shrimp bits. Children and men on dates always seem especially eager to demonstrate their aptitude at catching shrimp in their mouths; veteran chefs will fling as much seafood as it takes to make their receivers look good.
4. Flaming onion
No trick is as celebrated as the flaming onion, also known as the onion volcano. To create the signature pyrotechnic, the chef slices an onion, and then arranges the rings in a tower formation. After dousing the stack with clear alcohol, such as vodka or sake, he sets it on fire. Most chefs also grind pepper over the lit onion in order to encourage the beloved inferno.
5. Please sir, I want some more.
Unlike every other trick that transpires around the grill, this trick is performed by hungry customers. Because a hibachi meal is meted out in stages, with rice and vegetables preceding steak and seafood, fast eaters can polish off their rice before the entree is served. If a server stops by the table to refill sweet tea while the plate is clean, it’s incumbent upon the voracious guest to complain that he or she was shorted fried rice. “That got me the first time I heard it,” a server at Miyabi admitted.