The ability to offer a chef, conversationalist and entertainer all wrapped up in one person is at the heart of Teppan-Yaki Dan at the Sheraton Maui Resort.
For those unfamiliar with the term "teppan-yaki," About's Japanese cuisine Guide Setsuko Yoshizuka explains the meaning quite clearly, "Japanese BBQ is known as teppan-yaki. Teppan-yaki is a way of cooking as teppan indicates an iron pan, and yaki indicates grilling in Japanese."
Most mainlanders are probably familiar with the restaurant chain of Benihana® which introduced teppan-yaki to the American public in New York City in 1964.
Teppan-Yaki Dan offers a much more personal experience than you will find at any of the larger chains featuring similar cuisine. The restaurant has only five grills, each surrounded by seats for eight guests. The host will tell you that the seats on the end are the best, and they may well be; but having also sat on the front on a previous visit, I can assure you that there are no bad seats.
The menu features many of the standard beef items that you would expect at a teppan-yaki style restaurant, but also a strong emphasis on local Hawaiian seafood - fresh lobster, Maui shrimp and sea scallops, as well as locally grown produce such as asparagus, Maui onions and peppers.
Aside from the miso soup and the fresh green salad that my wife and I chose, all other menu items were prepared at the table by our chef, Kalae Tanaka of Maui.
Our dinner companions were Richard and Susan Levine from Randolph, New Jersey and a newlywed couple, Naomi Nisimura and Ken Tsujimoto from Osaka, Japan. Interestingly, Susan is a photographer who specializes in scenic nature photography including many things related to Hawaii. Her whale shots on her website are some of the best I have seen.
All of the guests at our table chose at least one seafood course - a wise decision in Hawaii. You should take every opportunity to enjoy fresh Pacific seafood when you're in Hawaii.
Chef Kalae first prepared appetizers for those who had ordered them. He then cooked the side dishes, which included fresh asparagus, ginger and onion fried rice, bamboo shoots, Maui onions, shitake mushrooms and fresh red and yellow peppers. All were grilled to perfection before our eyes.
Part of the fun of the teppan-yaki experience is that you not only get to watch your own meal prepared, but also the meals for each of your table mates.
As he sliced, tossed and grilled lobster for my wife, shrimp for myself and several other guests, beef tenderloin and fresh scallops for others, Chef Kalae maintained a constant conversation on topics ranging from his own background (Maui born and raised with two years as a teppan-yaki chef), the art of teppan-yaki cooking, to the recent heavy rains and impact of road closures on those who have to commute from Central to West Maui. While never missing a beat, each dish was served up, grilled to perfection.
Our chef could not do his job without the assistance of the three other folks who handle other aspects of table service. Whether it be to clear away the dishes from one course, ensure that beverage glasses are always filled or help with a bit of English-Japanese interpretation, these folks work efficiently and quietly with a style you would expect in a fine restaurant.
Many Americans are leery of trying new dining experiences. Rest assured, the folks at Teppan-Yaki Dan will make you feel comfortable, whether it be explaining how the dinner will work or just getting you that knife and fork when you just can't handle chopsticks anymore.
When you first look at the menu, you may think that the prices at Teppan-Yaki Dan are a bit high. If you're looking for a 30-45 minute meal, then go elsewhere. But, if you are looking for a two hour dinner with intimate live entertainment and the unique opportunity to make new friends with people from all over the world, then you'll realize that you're getting more than your money's worth.
Teppan-Yaki Dan is currently closed on Sundays and Mondays. Your best bet is to call several weeks before your arrival and obtain their current days and hours. Their local number for reservations is (808) 661-0031. You do not need to be a hotel guest to dine at Teppan-Yaki Dan. Non-guests can park in Sheraton's attached garage for $1.00 for up to three hours with restaurant validation.