My wife had her birthday this week and wanted to celebrate with the family by going to the Benihana in a mall in Beaverton. For her this was the Old Country, a place where birthdays were elevated to their proper level of veneration, which is to say in her mind we should paint “Birthday” in fuchsia backwards on the hood of our car so drivers would yield the road to better make the day special.
Needless to say she values highly the singing of “happy birthday” by any service worker and would probably ask the oil change mechanic to do so if she had any inkling she could get away with it. I hate anybody who I don’t know singing me happy birthday. But damn it! I was going to get in the mood and do right by my loved ones.
My wife went to Benihana many times in her life – each time for the express purpose of birthday celebration. I went once in 1975 and don’t recall much except that my father wore a coat and tie – a rare occurrence then.
In the restaurant entry there were photos of celebrities who have visited Benihana over the years, among them a black and white of John and Yoko, unfortunately underscoring the glamor days might have passed. I wonder what they were doing in Beaverton, Oregon?
Adding to my skepticism was that I was going to pay a hundred bucks for a family dinner where the kids might not like the food and would probably be disrupting others with family-oriented meltdowns. Why not spend fifty bucks for a surefire hit dinner and we don’t have to sweat coaching the kids through the difficulties of a challenging meal?
Oh, how little I knew about Benihana!
Going to Benihana isn’t about the food, that’s just an afterthought. It’s some sort of experience mandatory for cultural literacy. Jon Stewart has noted Benihana several times – maybe not as often as Olive Garden – but he has the place in his arsenal of punchlines.
My initial reluctance to embrace fully the beauty and precision of Benihana was due to my ignorance of the establishment and that I’m a crusty middle aged guy who likes to converse with my companions during dinner.
Once I realized the place was birthdays and only birthdays I got it and quickly joined in the fun. This is a kid-friendly place and the other diners, based on their attire, weren’t worried about headgear, long pants, shoes, or even meltdowns (too noisy). Plenty of kids, old people, guys with black T-shirts and crew cuts, and over-served men in sweatpants. The table across from me had one couple on a date night staring at four overweight sales reps. These are the people who don’t get it.
The food tasted fine, the staff were efficient and pleasant, and the tambourine-beating waitress who lead the birthday singing did a fine job – I can only cringe imagining how I would handle that one, David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries would be GarrisonKeillor in comparison.
Intoxicated with my new understanding I shot a video of the meal, condensing the 90 minutes into a salient three. The evening wasn’t (completely) about me – it was for my wife, my kids, the Portdaddia team!
|Meiji-era proto-Hello Kitty|
Further kudos to Benihana for delivering such a fine product. The above-mentioned tambourinist took a photo and presented it to us with the check.
|We are shameless! Now start singing!|