For many Americans, the words Japanese barbecue conjures up the specter of the 1970s, when the likes of Benihana dominated the Japanese-American culinary scene. While these were ostensibly exotic dining experiences primarily reserved for suburban family outings (and now apparently the domain of hip hop artists and cocaine smuggling), the reality is the food wasn’t much different than your average mid-priced steak chain, if your average mid-priced steak chain had your food prepared tableside by Ginsu-wielding maniacs paid for their superhuman wrist dexterity and a penchant for bad jokes.
Teppanyaki isn’t actually all that exotic. In fact, it’s not even authentically Japanese. It was initially developed after World War II, primarily for the palates of American servicemen wandering the streets of downtown Kobe in search of some tangible reminder of home - in this case, grilled beef. And as a gift of thanks, Japan can now play home to the likes of… er… Shake Shack and Taco Bell. Surely, that’s a stunning example of international diplomacy.
Nor is Japanese barbecue limited to teppanyaki. Yakiniku takes the tableside dining concept one step further by allowing you to cook your own food over a gas powered brazier. Think of it as a grilled, protein heavy version of hot pot—only with smaller tapas-style plates meant to be shared. It’s become increasingly popular, particularly as the trend towards communal dishes no longer seem quite so... creepy. And one of the leaders of that trend has been Gyu-Kaku, a Yokohama based chain with over 600 worldwide locations, including 60 in the U.S.
Gyu-Kaku has maintained a local presence in Brookline and Harvard Square for several years now, and doesn’t seem all that novel anymore. That may be due to its chief draw for many; a premium all you can eat special. Which is what they’ll be serving on the menu at their recently opened Dorchester location in the South Bay Center.
If the idea of a premium all you can eat menu strikes you as a contradiction, Gyu-Kaku isn’t exactly the Old Country Buffet. Items include filet mignon, duck breast, beef tongue, aged wagyu beef, miso butter salmon and beef harami—with accompanying prices and a 90 minute time limit.
And if the menu seems beef-centric, that’s because it is. While Japanese barbecue has historically been focused on steak, the nation has had a… let’s say, curious relationship with beef. Vegetarian diners may unfortunately find themselves limited to soups, salads and appetizers, while pescatarians may also find their dietary choices restrained.
Gyu-Kaku won’t be the only Japanese export to find its way to South Bay, however. Also opening in the complex shortly will be New York-based ramen mainstay Totto Ramen. But those of you still craving Benihana needn’t worry. You can still find one nearby... in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Gyu-Kaku is located in the South Bay Center at 23 District Ave in Dorchester. Hours are Monday - Saturday from 11:30 am - 10:30 pm and Sundays from 11:30 am - 9:30 pm. For more information, visit www.gyu-kaku.com/southboston