"Good God, no," she said. "After you had seen the dog act, the Irish tenor, the tap-dancing moppet and the acrobatic troupe who did all the same stunts as the acrobatic troupe from the previous week, you couldn't care less about going back for more. The movies didn't kill vaudeville, dear. Vaudeville killed vaudeville."
I must have inherited her low tolerance for ennui. That's one of the reasons I've decided I can no longer dine in Japanese steakhouses. I've seen the show -- the cracked eggs, the flaming volcano of onion rings, the corny jokes, the flying shrimp -- too many times. The only thing worse than feeling blasé in a Japanese steakhouse is having your teppan-yaki chef looking more bored than you are. The cuisine -- a limited menu of chopped meats typically drenched in teriyaki sauce -- doesn't really set off bells and whistles, either. So what is the draw, exactly?
Well, kids love the banging and clanging of the oversized salt shakers, the flipping of the spatulas, the flash of fire when the cooking oil ignites on the grill. Even if youngsters turn up their nose at the grilled squash, the fried rice or the soy-glazed chicken, they dig all the action, which has an edge of danger -- knives! flames! -- unlike those wimpy, animatronic characters at Chuck E. Cheese. As for adults, it's great for friends who want an amiable gathering place where conversation is nearly unnecessary: The noisy teppan-yaki antics dominate most of the meal, so it's almost like eating in front of a TV.
But I confess that I stifled more than one yawn the other night at the Yoshiko Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar in Parkville. It's certainly prettier than many of its contemporaries, decorated in an almost austere elegance without gaudy banners or accessories. The sushi bar, right across the foyer, is downright stunning, done up in polished wood with a gorgeously outfitted aquarium behind the bar. When it comes to pure visual style -- the black pottery; the rust-colored napkins; the tasteful light fixtures; the heavy, leatherette menu jackets -- Yoshiko wins points for class. But once you've tasted a chicken and steak combo at one teppan-yaki restaurant, you're not going to find any noticeable difference in flavor or preparation at another.
As with many teppan-yaki joints, the problem with Yoshiko isn't the overwhelming sameness to the menu and the show but rather the timing. Because the chef typically cooks more than two meals at once, small groups of diners -- Lou Jane and I at one meal -- are often forced to sit and wait until more customers arrive and all the seats around the grill are filled. It's a boardinghouse mentality: No one eats until everyone is at the table.
It's a clever way to sell appetizers and sushi before dinner, though at Yoshiko it takes so long to get both that I was chewing on my chopstick by the time the shrimp-tempura roll and the rainbow roll arrived. But at least at that meal, they did finally arrive.