BY BRIAN CLAREY
Let me say right up front: Nobody goes to hibachi restaurants for authenticity. The Japanese do not wear tall hats and flip shrimp off giant griddles when they cook at home. Giant piles of fried rice are not a staple in traditional Japanese cuisine. And those fancy, fruity drinks served in hollowed-out, ceramic Buddha figurines? Also not, strictly speaking, Japanese.
And those giant griddles are not actually hibachis, which in Japan are used for heat more than for cooking. They are technically called teppanyaki.
Still, hibachi restaurants and the pan-Asian cuisine they serve are enormously popular in the Triad, and Fire and Sticks in High Point is certainly one of them.
Located in a restaurant row off Eastchester Drive, Fire and Sticks has a large lobby that leads off into a lounge, a sushi bar and a big dining room with more than a dozen hibachi tables, each of which seats 10 comfortable. The décor is light and airy, and during a recent lunch hour perhaps three of the tables held enough diners to fill the seats.
Because it leaned towards the end of lunch hour, my wife and I got our own table and a private hibachi chef.
The hibachi menu at Fire and Sticks is predictable: a slew of steak and seafood dishes that come with soup or salad, some sautéed vegetables and the aforementioned giant pile of fried rice. An extensive sushi menu has traditional and specialty rolls, a list of baked and grilled rolls that sound fantastic, and sushi and sashimi choices that cover all the bases.
But a few items surprise, like the tempura appetizer list, the chicken wings and sliders, and the traditional dumplings — dim sum, gyoza, bushido and shumai. Were I not sitting with a vegetarian, I would have surely delved into these hardto-find delicacies. While dumpling joints thrive in big cities all over the nation, they have yet to catch fire here. And it’s easy to revert to type at a hibachi restaurant. Sure, give me the NY strip with a bowl of soup, and the chef will slice and dice with his utensils all a-clatter. Flames roar from the surface of the grill and the ingredients tumble through the air like acrobats.
It’s a show, is what I’m saying — more about the performance than the food, and it’s undeniable that a hibachi chef is loads more entertaining than a server at TGI Friday’s.
My steak was just fine — fabulous, actually, and a good deal for two NY strip steaks cooked to order. There was nothing wrong with the fried rice and vegetables either. My wife’s vegetarian dish met expectations. And the portions were just huge, too big for a normal person to finish. Even I couldn’t take it all down.
Our chef, we noticed, was Montagnard, from Greensboro, and we joked about the “Japanese ketchup” which was actually just regular ketchup laced with red-hot sriracha sauce, which like the chef is technically a product of Vietnam.
We talked of the cuisine of Vietnam — banh mi and pho and the like — and I asked him what I did wrong when I attempted to make pho in my own kitchen. The noodles, I said, weren’t quite right and the broth wasn’t what I wanted it to be and I had trouble finding some of the raw vegetables I wanted to use.
He said that when his parents make pho, the traditional Indochine noodle soup, they just pull all their vegetables from the backyard garden. Then he hustled off to do his act for another table that had just been sat.
And for the rest of the day I wondered what his parents would be making for dinner that night.
Fire & Sticks; 3917 Sedgebrook St., High Point; 336.887.3473; fireand- sticks.com