Hibachi hysteria

My lunch is on fire. Yay!

In fact, it’s become a steaming volcano of hot oil and my eyebrows are feeling perilously close to being singed. No worries, my buddy Sulfan the Spatula Master has it under control. “Japanese fireman!” he says, shooting a stream of water from a toy that tinkles. Somehow it’s adorable rather than horrifying.

My lunch is still on fire, however. Or at least steaming and hissing threateningly just inches from my plate–which, of course, is the whole point of Japanese hibachi. Part comedy routine, part spatula acrobatics and all entertainment, the idea is to sit around a sizzling grill while the chef plays with your food. Just watch your eyebrows.

With the paint barely dry, and the entire staff eagerly gathered around the door, BiteClub was honored to be the second customer (quite by accident, or uh, maybe because I’ve been circling the place for weeks) at Hikuni Japanese Seafood & Steakhouse in Santa Rosa this afternoon. Open just hours, it was understandable that the entire staff pretty much watched my every bite. It wasn’t surprising that no one had quite figured out yet that forks might be a necessity for chopstick-clumsy folks like me (the situation was immediately corrected). And even Sulfan, my personal hibachi chef, had a few opening-day jitters.

It couldn’t have bothered me less. The effect was utterly charming. Ridiculously fun. And very much on fire. Just the way lunch should be.

If you go: Don’t make my initial mistake of avoiding the hibachi table. Even if you’re alone, the chefs will give you a terrific show and make you feel right at home. Lunchtime hibachi specials are entirely reasonable, just over $10 for a huge portion of steak. Hikuni also offers a full sushi bar and a huge variety of entrée choices. You won’t go away hungry. Or bored.

Also, don’t miss the giant fish tank over the sushi bar. It’s a perfect way to relax. Er, unless you’re a fish.

Hikuni Japanese Seafood & Steakhouse, 4100 Montgomery Drive #C, Santa Rosa. Open daily for lunch and dinner.