Is resurrection possible in the restaurant business?
Based on what we saw at Mikado, I guess it is. The restaurant has moved into the space occupied for decades by Akira, and based on our memory it looks like the five teppan grills are still in place as well as the sushi bar and the dining areas.
For longtime fans of Akira, it was some comfort to see the owner's son open Kyoto Japanese Grill on Stockdale Highway late last year, using the recipes but without the big show of the teppan grill chef cracking jokes and dazzling us by juggling sharp instruments.
Enter Priscilla, a very young teppanyaki chef who was our master of the grill when we visited Mikado. She grew up in the business with a grandmother who owned a Japanese place on Ming Avenue, and she likes to play a "guess my age" game with her customers. We all came in high, figuring 20s at least as she was so mature and self-assured. Nope: 19. We're just glad she didn't try to guess our ages.
Frankly if you can get the teppan grill food at Kyoto at less cost, you know when you come here you're paying for the social experience of sitting around a grill with people you may not know even if you will soon become new best friends (we swapped a lot of dog stories with the couple at our table, and they really made us laugh).
You also come for someone like Priscilla, who we suspect will build a clientele as devoted as the old Akira's wizards did. She was quite deft moving fire around with her hands, which was startling. She did some stunts that resembled magic tricks, such as putting a small steel bowl over a whole egg on the grill, lifting it up to reveal two eggs.
She knew we were experienced teppanyaki people so when she started slicing the onion to construct the volcano that we've all seen for decades but still expect on every visit, she said something like, "Here comes the volcano." It wasn't hard to believe she grew up watching this.
Oddly, though, it looked like the owner or manager was observing from an empty seat, evaluating her. After she finished with us and went to work on another grill with 10 people who told her they wanted no butter on their food (a world I hope I never have to live in), he took another seat to watch.
I hope he found her entertaining when she flipped whole eggs up into her hat and then popped out a small stuffed chick with another funny remark. Or when she made a smiley face with the oil before frying the rice. To me, she's got the right schtick and her young energy made for a fine dining experience.
We ordered two of the combo dinners, my companion choosing chicken and shrimp while I picked the steak and shrimp (both $28.95), with a glass of Woodbridge chardonnay at $8.95 for a generous pour.
Coldplay was playing in the background, but who could pay attention to music while listening to her.
The food was really solid for a number of reasons. The miso soup was not too salty, there was a really fresh spring mix in the salad with a sharp ginger dressing. Priscilla managed to give me my steak medium and the other couple's order rare without sweating it. The shrimp was quite appealing, very crispy brown from the grill and fresh, and the chicken had just the right amount of punch from the soy sauce.
End your meal with your choice of four flavors of ice cream, which is included with dinner.
Just don't go here expecting a new and spectacular ambiance. I hope my memory bank isn't faulty, but it looked a lot like the last time I visited Akira, with five grills, a small dining room and a small sushi bar to the back right as you enter.
It would be wise to hold off on a remodel till the business is built back up. But whatever happens, Priscilla is the real deal and her energetic, buoyant personality made for a pleasant evening.