Ichiriki Nabe. Image courtesy of Ichirikinabe
With modern restaurateurs constantly pushing the creative envelope in an effort to be unique and stand out, today around the world all sorts of “outside the box” dining concepts and theme restaurants are popping up.
From the extreme, to whimsical, weird, gross, scary, to absolutely repulsive, and everything in between. You can now pay to dine in the dark, naked, under attack by Ninjas, under water, in a hospital, prison or S&M dungeon setting, out of a toilet bowl, eat brains from a live monkey (sickest I’ve ever heard of), to up in a tree house. Or, even higher, suspended 150 feet above terra firma with ‘Dinner in the Sky’. More on that later.
While dining locked-up in an S&M dungeon as you’re handcuffed to the chair, or perhaps while skydiving may sound stimulating, as setting and ambiance are equally important. Along with that, what I really enjoy are those dining experiences where you assemble & cook your meal yourself at your table. Or where a skilled chef or waiter prepares your dish tableside.
Dining with homophobic Great White Sharks and Sponge Bob at Oceanarium Restaurant in the Pacific Beach Hotel, Waikiki.
Of course, you could take that whole formula to the ultimate extreme and have yourself a skydiving “Chute-side prepared” Caesar Salad! Why not? With a super fast, super skilled tendem skydiving instructor/waiter literally at your side, it might be possible! “Oh sh#t, there went all the croutons. I hate it when that happens.”
The Hungry Skydiver. Image courtesy of visitrenotahoe.com
Or you could think of all kinds of flame-grilled interactive “D-I-Y” dining ideas aboard a hot air balloon. There ya’ go!
On the conservative side of that here in good ‘ole fashioned Hawaii, at a recent lunch at Bac Nam Vietnamese Restaurant, I ordered what we might say was “R-I-Y”, with roll-it-yourself Vietnamese spring rolls. With that, first you prepare the rice paper wrapper, which is served served on the side “uncooked”, along with a bowl of hot water to hydrate and soften it. You then take the various fillings served on the entree plate and add them to the softened rice wrapper, roll ’em up, and enjoy with sweet chili house dipping sauce.
Bac Nam: Bo Luong La Lot – Grilled Beef wrapped in lá lốt Leaves. Rice paper wrapper served on the side, along with a bowl of hot water to hydrate and soften it.
For the most part easy to do, however soaking the rice paper wrappers in the hot water to the proper doneness proved a bit challenging, as within seconds they went from plastic-like, to perfectly al dente, to rice paper “mush”. Yet that’s what made it all the more engaging and fun!
Playing with my food at Bac Nam Vietnamese Restaurant
While Japan has some pretty whacky modern restaurant themes, there’s a number of interactive D-I-Y dining experiences in traditional Japanese cuisine, including several varieties that fall under the Nabemono or “hot pot” style. The most popular in the islands being Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu. However places such as Ichiriki with their signature back-to-basics Nabe “stew” are beginning to catch on here as well.
Sukiyaki at home. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
With these Japanese interactive hot pot dining styles, typically a plate of fresh raw vegetables, meats, seafood and other proteins (e.g. tofu & fishcake) are served at the table plated either individually or family style, which you then pick & choose and cook yourself in a centralized slow-boiling hot broth pot that everyone shares.
Ichiriki Nabe ingredients. Image courtesy of Cupcakes & Kimchi food blog
Or in the case of Nabe, which is a stew, each person has their own hot pot (or a partitioned pot like at Ichiriki). Typically the cooked food is then enjoyed with a dipping sauce such as Ponzu and Gomatare (sesame sauce), while of course there’s other dipping sauces that vary by restaurant, along with a bowl of rice, of course.
Ichiriki Shabu Shabu “Hot Pot”. Image courtesy of Cupcakes & Kimchi food blog
Another variation on hot pot is Yakiniku, more often found around Honolulu with Korean restaurants. Similar to Nabemono, except with Yakiniku, a centralized communal grill is used to cook the food vs. being immersed in a broth. Grilling heat sources may vary from gas to charcoal to electric, and they often have elaborate smoke ventilation systems to help save the patrons from smelling like an ash pit upon leaving.
Korean style Yakiniku at Camellia Buffet Yakiniku
Then there’s Teppanyaki, popularized in the U.S. by none other than Benihana, while Tanaka of Tokyo is also well known on Oahu. This is less D-I-Y, yet still often interactive, as the patrons converse with the chef while he or she slices ‘n dices away, flipping ingredients in and out their chef’s hat and onto diners plates, making smoking “volcanoes” out of stacked onion slices, and performing parlor tricks on the guests. All while grilling away on a scorching hot flat top station surrounded by the seated diners.
Magic & Flying Knives at Musashi Teppanyaki Restaurant in the Hyatt Regency & Spa Waikiki (since closed)
Part buffet, part Teppanyaki, I also really dig Mongolian Barbecue. Back in the 70’s when I was “small keed”, Marine Corps Base Hawaii (Kaneohe) had an awesome Mongolian Barbecue restaurant. There, instead of being served a given set of veggies and meats, you go down a buffet line to pick and choose what you want, then you take it to the “Mongolian BBQ Master” at the end of the line who grills your goods a specialized scorchin’ hot Mongolian Barbecue flat top thing-a-ma-jing that looks an oversized nut & bolt washer. Your grilled Mongolian Barbecue is then served with the starch (rice/potato/pasta) of your choice. LOVE that!
Mongolian Barbecue. Image courtesy of meetup.com
Throughout the US and originally Europe, Tableside Preparations by a skilled waiter are popular as ever, including classics such as Caesar Salad, Steak Diane, Chateaubriand and Bananas Foster.
Tableside Chateaubriand for two at Michel’s in the Colony Surf, Waikiki
There’s certainly varying levels in quality and execution when it comes to tableside preparations. For instance, at one restaurant, we ordered a tableside Caesar that was priced around $10, which you KNOW they’re gonna’ cut corners somewhere. Sure enough, instead of making the entire deal from scratch, they used bottled Worcestershire sauce (vs. turning anchovies into a paste) and pre-made (from scratch) Caesar dressing. Ack! Ironically, it turned out pretty darned good! Must have been the wooden bowl, as well as the “psychological effect” of watching our server prepare it. A-ha!
Tableside Chateaubriand for two at Michel’s in the Colony Surf, Waikiki
Shorebird Waikiki offers D-I-Y Grilling, where you choose your cut of steak or burgers and veggies and fire ’em up yourself on a flamin’ hot grill. Never tried it, but it sounds like fun.
Then there’s the Cooked-to-Order Egg Station. And the Cut-to-Order Prime Rib. Oh yeah, thick as possible. Lots of fat, please. No ends for me. I want it “moo’ing” pink rare. Add some Jus and a heap of Horseradish, and don’t bother me for the next 30 minutes. Mmm, mmm, mmm.
Or how about Subway, when you tell the “Sandwich Artist” how to make your sub? That counts as “interactive”, right?
Swiss & Cheddar Cheese Fondue. Image courtesy of Host the Toast
Speaking of dipping food in a hot pot, one style that’s all but absent currently in Hawaii’s culinary scene is classic Fondue, a communal melted cheese hot pot. Lots of places offer chocolate melting fountain dipped strawberries and other sweets for dessert, but I don’t see much going with cheese Fondue served the classic way. I know back in the 70’s Fondue was all the rage, and that it’s slowly gaining popularity again on the mainland with restaurants such as Melting Pot, yet not so much here yet.
Being that Oahu translates to “Melting Pot”, that’d be the perfect name for a hip new Fondue restaurant here. Simply name it Oahu. That’s it. Perfect!
Now let’s visit some of those crazy new interactive restaurant concepts around the world, where we MUST start with Japan, because they be crazy.
Nude Sushi anyone?…
My only question is what must run through the minds of the “body sushi” models. They must be thinking, “you go one millimeter closer to my kootch, and I’ll stick those chopsticks in your eye, buddy. LOL!!!!
Next, up, eat one of these “Quadruple Bypass” Burgers at Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, Nevada, and you get your own “private nurse” to wheel you out to your car in a wheelchair…
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, not only does Heart Attack Grill serve cardiac-arresting burgers by scantily clad “nurses” to their “patients”, they also serve fries fried in lard, whole milk shakes and unfiltered cigarettes. Seriously! Just stick a fork in me, why don’t ya’! Not surprisingly, two fairly young men who were known regulars and spokespersons at Heart Attack Grill have already died, with one suffering a fatal heart attack at a bus stop soon after leaving the notorious restaurant. See, if they had drank Green Tea instead that milk shake, and walked to their car instead of being wheelchaired out, they may still be with us. Seriously.
Next, up, according to Trendhunter.com, “Bagger’s, a unique German restaurant, has eliminated all need for human interaction. Now you can enjoy your meal without pesky waiters — the only one left to blame for a screwed up order is you. The Nuremberg restaurant allows customers to order their meals via touchscreen right at their table. Estimated arrival times are communicated and the food and drinks glide down spiral rails when finished.”…
Bagger’s “waiterless” restaurant in Nuremburg, Germany. Copy and image courtesy of trendhunter.com
For you ladies, while they don’t serve Manicotti and Manicures (which does have a nice ring to it!), you can get a “toe start” on your pedicure as you enjoy Japanese noodles at Pub Paradise in Japan.
According to trendhunter.com, “The Pub Paradise restaurant is a spa dining experience for women. They have heated water with mineral salts for those at the bar seats to soak their feet in while they enjoy their meal. They also have “rock” flooring that touches on pressure points in the feet to improve circulation and promote health. As well, they offer reclined dining at floor level so you can get off your feet and legs completely to enjoy your meal. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Pampering your feet while enjoying a good meal with your girlfriends should be a dining standard.”
Japan’s Pub Paradise pampers women’s feet while dining. Image courtesy of trendhunter.com
Dang, if I did that for my dinner date, I’d instantly become her GOD. Little more to the left. Lower. Higher. Yes! Yes! Oh, YES!
Pampering your feet not enough? Well then take care of your tush too at Taiwan’s Modern Toilet Restaurant…
“Excuse me, may I have another roll of toilet paper and a can of Lilac Air Freshener? Thank you.” Imagine a cheese Fondue “hot pot” served out of that. What a visual. There’s lots more gross asian restaurants at this Jetsetta.com link. Check it out!
Ah, this is a MUCH better visual when I’m dining…
According to trendhunter.com, “Five meters below the Indian Ocean sits the “first-ever undersea restaurant in the world.” This restaurant, built and introduced by Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa, “is part of a US $5 million dollar re-build of Rangalifinolhu Island, one of the twin islands that make up Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa.”
Implications – The food you will taste in this submersed restaurant is a fantastic blend of western style food that have been given a twist of Maldivian flavor. If you were also looking to sip on some fine vino with your meal, they also have an exciting wine concept which will please pallets with beverages from the Champagne house Louis Roederer. Good food and an adventurous environment — what more could you ask for?”
Duty Free Waikiki should have thought of doing that with their aquarium, instead of putting that silly T-shirt store under it. It would probably still be there if they did that. They’ve since took the aquarium out, claiming it too expensive to maintain. A restaurant serving expensive bottles of wine would have covered that.
From under the sea, aim for the stars and have your Dinner in the Sky…
Dinner in the Sky at. Image courtesy of toxel.com
Dinner in the Sky is Belgian based novelty restaurant which uses a crane to hoist its diners, table, and waiting staff 150 feet into the air. It accommodates 22 guests, with 3 staff in the center. Forbes magazine called it one of the world’s ten most unusual restaurants. Dinner in the Sky has mobile services available in 15 nations, and has operated in various cities including Paris and Las Vegas.
Back home, a member on the Hawaii Threads discussion board said there used to be a Chinese 24-hour restaurant in a small hotel in Waikiki, near the Ilikai and Wailana restaurant that served Jook with D-I-Y toppings. They’d bring a big pot of plain Jook, a.k.a. Congee, which is a Chinese rice porridge soup, along with a wide variety of toppings, including chicken, pork, beef, various hot sauces, shoyu, mushrooms, shredded lettuce, cucumber and other vegetables, crushed peanuts, etc to pick and choose from. Mix it in the Jook and have at it.
Another HT member also mentioned them frozen yogurt shops popping up all over, where you pick ‘n choose your own toppings.
Where you CAN’T pick and choose, yet is very much interactive in every sense of the word is a lunch or dinner with the Angry Korean Lady at Ah Lang…
Won, the “Angry Korean Lady” of Ah Lang Korean Restaurant
As you may have read my review, as well as the numerous other reveiws on Yelp, the experience dining at Ah Lang is as much about “dealing” with Won the “Angry Korean Lady” as it is enjoying her wonderful, authentic Korean eats. Here at Ah Lang, you make your own water, and you kiss Won’s ass by bringing her favorite booze, which is either Michelob Ultra, or any expensive Wine or Shoju. Just kidding on expensive. As long as the wine isn’t Yellowtail, which she claims makes her sick.
Then you have to hope she even likes you, or chances are, she’ll just ignore you until you walk out. We’ve witnessed her actually do that! Unbelievable!
Angry Korean Lady‘s signature Chive Jun… OMG, the BOMB!
If she does like you, then sit back and enjoy eating some of the best Korean food you can get this side of Kim Jong Un’s chubby cheeks, while sippin’ on Shoju with the Angry Korean Lady. Won ended up liking me so much, that she hand-fed me one of her luscious steamed Mandoo herself! How you like that?! Hand-fed me! Now THAT my friends is what you call INTERACTIVE!
On the domestic front while growing up, I used to dig when my sister Keanu would prepare us a D-I-Y Taco Station at the dinner table, which was often. She’d fry-up the flour tortillas, and set them out on a plate with the various taco fillings (we’re talkin’ THE WORKS), where you make your own. Winnah, that one!
There’s a whole lot more interactive and “unusual dining experiences” out there, just a Google search away to explore.
What’s your favorite interactive D-I-Y dining experience(s)? Anything unusual you’ve tried?