When I was a kid and my parents let me pick the restaurant on a special occasion, it was always Oki’s Japanese Steakhouse in North Providence. There were so many unique items you’d never find anywhere else, and you wouldn’t have to choose between them because you’d get them all. There were endless possibilities of mixed and matched flavors, each more delicious than the last. And the show... oh, the show. A table built around a stove and a front row seat as those crazy chefs juggled their tools, flambéed their food and caught that shrimp tail in their hat every single time.
So when Miku in Barrington was selected for this month’s column, I was elated. I hadn’t been to a hibachi place in years. I called for a reservation and asked for seats at the hibachi table, but I was told that “we do not have the tables for customers, we cook the hibachi in the back, in the kitchen.” My bubble of excitement had burst quicker than I could say “shih tzu” (yes, that’s a Chinese dog – not Japanese – but profane puns know no boundary).
I still had Oki’s on my mind when we arrived, so I was surprised to see that Miku is very different. It’s fairly small and the décor is modern, with less of the traditional Japanese flair I’ve seen in other similar style restaurants. We were seated by a friendly server, and someone immediately brought over a tray of hot towels for us to clean our hands – a Japanese custom called “o-shibori” that is a nice touch of hospitality.
My next surprise was all the sushi on the menu, and a lot of interesting sushi at that. It was a serendipitous discovery because there is a dearth of good sushi places in the East Bay. However, I was with a relatively unadventurous crew – the type that thinks California rolls are sushi – so I would not be captaining any sushi boats on this night.
I did get my companions to dip their toes in the water, and all three of our appetizers did include some raw fish. First, an order of Salmon Tartar ($10.99) with chives, shallots, sweet onion, crème fraiche and sesame miso sauce that I thought was the winner – light and clean flavors that let the fish shine. The others preferred the more complex concoctions. The Tuna Pizza ($11.00) was a unique presentation of tuna sashimi, jalapeno, guacamole, spicy aioli and balsamic glaze on a grilled fajita. The Miku Roll ($13.99) had spicy tuna and spicy salmon on the inside, with an outside of salmon, avocado, mozzarella cheese, crispy onion and “chef’s special sauce.” For me this was a little too “interesting”... while I applaud experimentation and creativity, when I’m having sushi I want to taste the fish. Here, the mozzarella cheese and sauce were a bit much. However, the flavor masking is a good way to get squeamish sushi rookies into the fold. We finished the round with the obligatory sushi hazing – getting someone to put a dab of that green stuff (wasabi) on their tongue.
For our entrées, it was hibachi all around – shrimp and steak ($19.50), steak and scallops ($19.50), chicken ($13.00) and vegetables ($10.00), just a few of the possible combos that could also include salmon and lobster tails. Entrées come with soup or salad (not both like the good old days), as well as fried rice and vegetables. Everyone was pleased with their meal, both the hearty portion and tasty sauce that Miku dubs the “magic ingredient.” While there was no chef putting on a show, we did have the entertainment of watching someone trying to learn to use chopsticks.
I should mention that Miku’s menu is quite large, so if hibachi or sushi are not your thing there is still plenty to choose from. There are other Japanese restaurant staples like tempura, teriyaki and noodle dishes as well as alternative steak, chicken and fish entrées. I’d need several more columns to cover it all. I haven’t mentioned dessert as we were too full to even consider it, but with so many delicious options you might not get to the dessert menu either. All in all, it’s a dining experience you wouldn’t expect in Barrington, but one the East Bay sorely needs. The hibachi fun factor may be missing, but the food and service will still give you a great taste of the Far East.
Miku. 306 County Road, Barrington. 401-289-2591.