The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

maki
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The other day (I was in Zürich) I had a craving for Japanese food for lunch, so I went to my favorite reasonably priced Japanese restaurant...which, to my dismay, was closed for Easter holidays. Soo...since it was nearby, I went to the fairly new (opened last year) Wagamama.

I think I've been to Wagamama in London before, but must have buried the experience in my mind. I ordered a chicken katsu curry, and my lunchmate ordered a chicken ramen.

The chicken ramen was nothing like ramen. The soup was dashi based, which is all wrong, but beyond that, it was just bland and bad. The dashi didn't even taste right in any way. The noodles were just undercooked and bad.

But the ramen was nothing compared to the awfulness of the chicken katsu curry. I understand that they are trying for 'healthy' versions of Japanese favorites, but you just do not make a fake, oddly sweet, curry sauce that has so much cornstarch in it that it's sort of gelatinous and stays in intact, greyish, quivering lumps on your spoon. I was really starving, but I left more than half of it - I mostly had the plain rice, and the katsu bits (too salty, utterly flavorless chicken, but at least crispy) that I could scrape the sauce off of.

The so-called hijiki salad was not too bad. The duck 'gyoza' was so different from what gyoza should be, that they were perversely edible. Sort of like expecting to get Swedish meatballs at Ikea and being served chopped liver instead, if that makes sense. However, the idea that neophytes might think that was real gyoza is quite disturbing.

Anyway. I've gotten over my antipathy towards 'Asian Fusion' cooking, but I do at least want food to Taste Good. Not this plasticky fake crap. Wagamama restaurants look really great and all, but the best interior design in the world will not kill the bad aftertaste of g-awful food.

(Note, I ranted about this on Twitter - sorry if you follow me there and are hearing this again! But reallly it was that bad.)

So, I'm placing Wagamama firmly into my Fake Japanese/Asian Restaurant Hall of Shame. Unfortunately, there are other 'Asian' restaurants that belong there. What are your nominations? What to you makes a so-called Japanese or Asian restaurant just wrong?

(My other big Fake Asian Restaurant Hall of Shame member is Yo! Sushi. What's the deal with London and fake Japanese? Oy.)

(See also Loretta's comment here)

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pii_bii
Bento-ing from: Newcastle-upon-Tyne
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I don't have another nomination - I simply want to second your opinion! My awful Wagamama experience was in Newcastle's branch (not that I suppose it matters, as it's all the same quality across the board!) where I was served an awful luke-warm veggie ramen, which I had waited about 20 minutes too long for. The broth, which like you said was kind of dashi based, was also bitter, full of burnt garlic and black bits from the burnt veggies. It has to be said, I don't think I have ever left so much of a restaurant meal uneaten in my life. Urgh. I am stil haunted by the memory. Still, me and the other half only went because we had a voucher. We dropped the voucher and ran, as I was fuming and just wanted out. 10 minutes later, we worked out that the voucher nowhere near covered the cost of the slop we had just eaten... ha ha! Revenge! Take that, Wagamama! (I deduced that the 'ma-ma' in the name must come from 'so-so'... although 'so-so' is a little kind!)

Jiza
Bento-ing from: Madrid › Spain
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

There is a restaurant here called wagaboo, I think it's the same as wagamama or at least a copy!
I truly like wagaboo, but I only order the "italian" food they have on the menu :)

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maki
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Wagamama

Actually, there is a word wagamama (我がまま)which means 'to get your own way' or 'be selfish' 'demanding' etc. Wagamama certainly isn't MY way...don't know whose way it is though!

Pat
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Ajisen Ramen (Irvine, CA, USA) opened a few months ago. I've been there twice, hated it twice. It's supposedly a Japan-based ramen restaurant, and here are my reasons for nominating it, in order of importance:
- there wasn't a single Japanese soul working there (not a big deal, just an observation)
- it's Chinese-owned and operated (it's my biased opinion that they tend to be less polite/attentive to customers)
- service is not so good. During my first time there, the table next to us spilled a glass full of water right before they left. A waitress saw it, asked another girl to clean it up, she gave a look like "hey I don't wanna clean it". So anyway, I was eating and by the time I finished, the water spill was still not mopped up. That really pissed me off because I used to waitress and I see that as Rule #1. The second time I was there for an early dinner, restaurant was half full. Service was fine for us, but there was a couple that came in after us, sat next to us. No one came to take their drink/food order. Next thing I know, they just walked out.
- ramen sucks. I had the kind that looks like Hakata ramen (creamy broth made with pork bone soup). I could not taste the savoriness of the PORK, it just tasted like BONE soup. Oh, did I mention there was cabbage in the ramen? yea hah, cabbage.

Back to Shin-Sen-Gumi, I go.

BarbJ
Bento-ing from: Cupertino › California › USA
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

There are lots of sushi and Japanese restaurants around here in Silicon Valley, so the odds of getting a bad one is actually better than getting a really good one. A lot of adequate ones tho. Still looking for a really good one.

Wish I could name names, but I have a bad memory for that. Can't name a particular one right now, but so many of them have such weird rolls! They cater to the local dot com lunch crowd, so you get things like "Apple Roll" and "Sun Roll" and "Microsoft Roll", etc. In general, these rolls are TOO BIG. Watching people trying to bite through a giant sushi roll is not a pretty site. Plus so many of them don't have any raw fish in them, like they think raw fish will scare people away.
Hey, if you are going to a SUSHI place, don't you expect to have raw fish?!? And don't get me started on the yellow plastic silly-putty tamagoyaki. Just so bad!

It seems the more popular Japanese food becomes here the worse it gets.

I am focusing mostly on sushi as I eat that more often, some pet peeves of mine in general-

long grain rice used for sushi (?!?) this is the worst for me
mushy rice, gluey rice, rice that falls apart as it's too dry, just bad rice in general
frozen fish
burned teriyaki (nothing smells worse)
doughy tempura
dried out shrimp or rubbery or both
giant rolls (said that before, but a big problem for me)
fake crab priced like real crab ( I enjoy the taste of fake crab, just don't charge me like it's real)
strange tea, especially flavored ones
lukewarm tea

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Balifly
Bento-ing from: Vancouver › British Columbia › Canada
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

There are at least three level of " Japanese restaurants " in Vancouver.
1. Owned by Japanese and cooked by Japanese chef.
2. Owned by non Japanese, cooked by Japanese chef.
3. Owned by non Japanese, cooked by non Japanese " chef ".
Needles to say, the staffing can also be an issue sometimes :)
Here is a good read http://www.torontoobserver.ca/2008/10/26/a-high-demand-for-authentic-sus...

Some times you just have to go native, because you never know where that "home" in "home cooking" really is.
I better not tell you about the Grand Opening of a certain Chinese restaurant I attended in Puerto Vallarta :(

Balifly

Stephanie
Bento-ing from: San Lorenzo › California › USA
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I second the annoyance with giant sushi. It does seem to be a problem in the area, but it is just not pleasant to eat/watch people eat. 4-5 bites for a single piece of sushi is ridiculous, I would rather have smaller pieces with either less in them or have them be less "decorative" (I have seen smaller decorative sushi, so I really don't understand this).

Jiza
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

that's a very important issue. I think the main problem is not the non-japanese owned restaurants, but that people want to eat sushi because it's cool rather than because they really like it. I mean I've been to thousands of chinese restaurants and most of them had sushi on the menu. You know, cucumber rolls and such things. And people eat them (which is great, I'm not judging it), but they tend to misunderstand that it's not 'real' japanese food. I mean ok, it's business but that way people will not tell the difference. I mean I prefer to go to a real japanese restaurant even if it's more expensive and have real sushi and taste it.
I eat sushi and japanese food because I love it, not because it's fashion.

I HATE those fashionable, trendy and very expensive restaurants that always have futomaki on the menu. There is one here called Spott which is super expensive and it's right in front of a real japanese-owned restaurant here called Kawara. I hate to go to Spott with my work friends and hear them say "let's have some sushi" when it's one of those "fusion restaurants" that serve foods from all the world adapted to spanish taste, which IMO is rather silly. Then we'll pay like 15 € for 6 futomakis which aren't even japanese-made and they don't even have japanese ingredients except for the rice and the nori. Specially when we have a much cheaper japanese restaurant right in front of the door. Urgh.

Anyway I guess that when japanese food stops being fashionable, those fake restaurants will eventually disappear.

NELM
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

WHATT??? >.O
Ajisen ramen is AMAZING.
AUGHHHH, THE CABBAGE IN THE SOUP MAKES IT TASTE LIGHTER!!
I LIKE THE CABBAGE!
and yes, ajisen was created by CHINESE PEOPLE using japanese style!!
and yes, i know.
chinese people are racist.
i know. i live with them. T.T
BUT STILL.
THE RAMEN.
the soup is rich and REALLY FLAVORFUL, and even though the chasu is real fatty, the lean parts are soft, and melts in your mouth.
the noodle has good texture, and is not to chewy, not too mushy.
I LOVE AJISEN!!
lawl.
but what belongs on this hall of shame is that japanese restaurant in mammoth.
it was TERRIBLE AND EXPENSIVE!!!
O_O

Pat
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Hmmm...what did you order? Maybe I'll try that if I end up there again. I didn't think it was exactly chinese-style ramen, because I didn't see the common Mabo Ramen on the menu. I did eat all the cabbage;it didn't bother me as much as the broth's lack of flavor. My second time there I ordered a spicy ramen, thinking it's gotta be flavorful this time. It sure was spicy, but still lack that good base in the soup. It's hard to describe, but I would suggest you try Shin-Sen-Gumi (in Fountain Valley or Gardena, CA) just for comparison, if you haven't already, with garlicky gyoza and finish w/ creme brulee.

single bento boy
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

There are two places I know of in Connecticut that claim to be Japanese but one is run by Chinese and the other is Taiwanese. In New Hampshire there is a sushi place where they are Chinese. In all three places the people are just too nice to be on the wall of shame, but it does gall me that they think we won't be able to tell the difference because all asians look the same.

bronwyncarlisle
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

In Dunedin (New Zealand) nearly all of the sushi places are Korean. Quality varies greatly but most of them are OK - not that I've had any sushi in Japan to compare them with. Yoshio at work doesn't think much of them though. We have two Japanese restaurants, one of which he approves, the other he says is "too much like home cooking". Which is probably not bad from our point of view.

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MitarashiDango
Bento-ing from: Melbourne › Australia
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Speaking of Wagamama, the Melbourne branch at QV shopping centre had closed down quite some time ago.. I once thought of trying it but when I see people eating rissoto with chopsticks - nah. I do that at home, but in a restaurant?

Back on topic, there's this sushi outlet called "Sushi Tower" which I assume is owned by Chinese. Their Okonomiyaki was absolutely tasteless. I tried without the sauce and mayo - expecting some umami or natural flavor of dashi and the vegetables in it; but I was very disappointed. The dough was floury and have soooo little vegetables in it :c I felt conned. Their sushi tastes okay... or maybe it's because I ate it when my stomach was very empty and rushing for my morning class. Yakitori? Horrible. 'nough said.

Even so, why did I end up having their food that often? It's the best alternative available at the station when I'm hungry on my way home or to uni. The other options are chips, heavily-buttered sandwiches, churros, lollies and ice-cream. Certainly not for someone who is trying to lose her flobs D:

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Smalerie
Bento-ing from: Boston › Massachusetts
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I agree. I went to the Wagamama in Cambridge MA because I heard so many wonderful things about it. What I ended up with was over salty and overpriced food. Seriously, I couldn't get over how much they were charging me for a bowl of noodles that I could get one T stop over for several dollars less! Not to mention, the cheaper place is much much better. I've never gone back there since that first time. Sure, the electronic ordering system is neat, but I don't want to pay through the nose for it!

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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Funny--here in San Diego, California, USA, a large proportion of the sushi places are Korean owned...they range from 'ick' to mediocre to really-pretty-good, but I thought it was a funny parallel between your town and mine;)

grey
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Hey you're based in melbourne too!

So where do you recommend for decent and affordable Japanese food? And where would you go to get Japanese groceries?

Jiza
Bento-ing from: Madrid › Spain
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

There are lots of japanese restaurants in Madrid. Most of them are Chinese-owned but I went to some of them which were good, I guess. The real japanese ones are: Kawara, which is cheap but... sometimes people get sick because the fish is not always that fresh, so we don't go there anymore. There is also another one called Musashi which is the best IMO, and it's run by a japanese family.

Also, we have another one called Miyama which is owned by spanish people but the cooks are japanese. It's expensive but it's GOOOOD. :D

Mandachan
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Well..there are tons of japanese fusion type resturants and trendy sushi places here.

All of them, are mostly mediocre. Hardly any of them actually serve anything besides sushi. Nippon Buffet is about the only one you can actually get some other japanese foods - but the resturant itself is owned by a japanese couple. (the only one, in fact, that i've found in Pensacola). They even have Shabu Shabu which i've been meaning to try....

The worst place for sushi here is a place called Tokyo Steakhouse. The Hibatchi, on the other hand, is awesome. But the sushi was not so great. It seemed to be geared towards americans who are eating sushi because it's cool rather then cause they wanna eat raw fish.

On the other hand, I haven't found one place that really serves ramen like I see in Maki's pictures. It kinda makes me sad =(

MitarashiDango
Bento-ing from: Melbourne › Australia
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Yup ^^

I don't eat out that often, but for decent and affordable Japanese food, Uzu at Caulfield (near Monash Uni) is the best I can get so far. The chef's Japanese and so are some of the waitresses. However, their portions are quite small for large eaters..

I live in the city, so I just go to Great Eastern Grocery store at Russel St (Chinatown). You could try these places too.

the Herder
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

What are the thoughts on Benihana? There are a few here in London but I have never been because it looks too much like a chain and for some reason I have assumed that it would be awful. I have a fear of chain or theme restaurants. Ditto the Hare and Tortoise chain - has anyone tried either of these restaurants? Am I being unfair?

Bad sushi is incredibly popular here in London for some reason, with horrible prepared boxes of dry miserable sushi sold at sandwich shops and in supermarkets. There is a take-out chain called The Japanese Canteen that is very popular but I think serves up very poor salmon/chicken teriyaki and katsu dons.

The best Japanese restaurant I have been to in London was Tajima Tei on Leather Lane (its nowhere near a tourist route!), I will also pop into the Japan Centre restaurant after my shopping to get my Oyakodon fix. Anybody got any other recomendations?

maki
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Benihana

Well, I have not been to a Benihana in more than a decade. But, although it was founded by a Japanese man (Rocky Aoki), it's not really Japanese. It's Japanese-inspired, you could say. But it's unique unto itself. I guess that the teppanyaki stuff is what it is, they use decent food, the theatrical 'chefs' can be mildly entertaining (I used to know a guy who was a Benihana chef...he hated it, and only stayed until he got his green card, and ran) and it's popular.

The one unfortunate thing that Benihana did was to make thousands of Americans think that it was authentic Japanese food they were getting. They also bastardized bits of Japanese culture to fit their needs - e.g. they used to make the waitstaff sing a song they called the Japanese Happy Birthday Song to anyone having a birthday there. (I don't know if they still do this - as I said, I haven't been to a Benihana in ages.) The actual song was called Tokyo Ondo (東京音頭), which is a folk song of sorts sung and danced at summer street festivals and the like, and has absolutely nothing to do with birthdays. (FWIW, in Japan what do they sing at birthday parties, if they sing at all? Happy Birthday!) One of the more frequent recipe requests I get is for 'Japanese salad dressing', by which they really mean the salad dressing that was popularized by Benihana (maybe even invented by them), which has stuff like grated apple and carrot in it. I have never made an effort to investigate how to make that salad dressing, because 1. I hate it (it looks like barf to me) and 2. it's not Japanese at all.

As I write this I guess I have more disdain for Benihana than I thought I did. But to me, Benihana is very much of the past. By the '90s Benihana was no longer relevant in New York, and I don't think it's relevant anymore anywhere else. I didn't even know they had branches in London...but if some section of the London eating public has embraced crap like Wagamama and Yo! Sushi, why not I guess...

anon.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I eat j-food in London quite a lot and have never heard of Benihana! However I've just googled it and I think I am quite happy to say I wouldn't eat anywhere which charged £3 for miso soup, and omg! The "Shogun's Dinner" is surf'n'turf! Wow.

The Hare and Tortoise (at least in the Brunswick) is fabulous but it's not only Japanese food, there's malaysian, indonesian, chinese etc. I had their sashimi salad the other day and it was so much better than anticipated. Strange thing is that they do torikatsu curry but no tonkatsu!

"The Japanese Canteen" is expensive, the food is *alllright*, it's not amazing but it's kind of in the name - I've been there twice and been undercharged each time! Their 'sesame spinach' however is the strangest thing I've ever eaten.

There's a few Taro restaraunts too - I love them and you can see nice Mr. Taro in the original branch (on saying that I have only ever eaten curryrice there). (hello I like talking about food and could easily on for much longer but I'd best stop)

Anna
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I can't believe your badmouthing wagamama, I love that place, it's my favorite restaurant. Granted I have never had the chicken katsu curry, but I have had the chicken gyoza's, shrimp gyoza's, yakitori and other things. The ebi raisukaree is awesome, and I absolutely love their side dishes. Granted I'm no japanese person so I have no idea whether they are authentic or not. Also, I've only been to restaurants in London, maybe the standard isn't the same in zurich. My boyfriend almost always has the chicken katsu and the sauce does not look like what you just described... I don't know, but now I feel bad, because I love your site, but I also love wagamama :(

maki
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I'm sorry you feel bad. But I can only say what I thought...and, I usually don't do bad reviews of restaurants at all (just look around Just Hungry)...but really, the food that didn't just disappoint, it pissed me off. The curry sauce they used just was _not_ curry sauce as I know it (and I do mean Japanese-style curry, not Indian style or Thai style etc) Maybe one day we can have a 'proper Japanese curry' together and you can see what I mean... ^_^

I wouldn't mind as much I guess if they didn't pretend to be Japanese, but just some sort of Asianesque place. I just want people to know that, IMHO, Wagamama is not real Japanese food. It's a pale shadow.

MitarashiDango
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Adding on to my comment about Tower Sushi, why are their yakitori as large as middle-eastern kebabs? Why do I also see dimsims instead of gyoza?
And I just remembered how LARGE their teriyaki chicken sushi are..

That kind of explains why I'd rather grab their seaweed salad sushi..

Loretta
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I was one of Wagamama's first customers (it was a branch in Holborn) and remember how the dining hall filled up more and more at lunchtimes as word got around. Wagamama began because the founder was inspired by the movie Tampopo and, originally, Wagamama did make a genuine attempt to make Japanese food... to a degree (it was always a fusion of Asian styles).
I knew a lady who used to manage the branch on Lexington street and here is where I first tried edamame (just before it got introduced as a menu item) and genmai cha and yakisoba.
As you can imagine, this was some time ago (1992) and my familiarity with Japanese food has increased a great deal since then. However, standards at Wagamama have slipped horrendously in the meantime. It's been a consistent, bit by bit process since those early days, and as someone who has eaten there perhaps once or twice a year for the past 10 years or so (I used to eat there far more regularly in the early 90s) I've REALLY noticed the deterioration. Where once the Lexington street branch served a selection of Japanese teas in teapots made with water at the correct temperature, now a pinch of tea leaves are placed in a cup and boiling water squirted onto them - this is a terrible shame as the tea used is not at all bad quality (on my last visit I went to make enquiries about how they could possibly make such an awful dishwater concoction and got a sample of the tea leaves used).
The tea example is, I think, typical of what has happened across the chain. Those responsible for cooking the ingredients really have no idea about what they're supposed to with them, the days when branch managers had a genuine interest in Japanese food seem to have long gone.

Wagamama was a useful stepping stone for me, like training wheels on a bicycle. I got interested in REAL Japanese food through the faux dishes presented by this restaurant/chain. But that was in the days where there was an actual connection to Japanese food. Those days are long gone. A shame really. Sorry Anna, but Wagamama isn't at all what it used to be. It's fine to like the food, but there's no point in kidding yourself that the dishes have any semblance to Japanese food. But real Japanese food obviously isn't what people in London actually want. There used to be a real Ramen place at the time when Wagamama opened (it was called Noto on Bread Street, EC4), Noto died whilst Wagamama has thrived.

maki
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Wow, that is a great summary of Wagamama Loretta. I didn't know that they were different when they started. It's sad to see that they've deteriorated.

Thanks for posting it!

Loretta
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London

Since the other two restaurants in my London "Hall of Shame Triptych" have been already mentioned (Yo! Sushi & Wagamama) I thought I should complete it with the remaining one:

Soba Noodle Bar, Soho St (used to be on Poland Street)

Whilst it never offered genuine ramen, it wasn't too bad to begin with. But, perhaps to reflect Londoners' actual tastes and their astounding capacity to tolerate and even encourage mediocre food, the portion sizes, whilst remaining the same size, contained less substance and quality ingredients every time I visited. I gave up on this place entirely a few years ago when the once generous hunk of salt salmon that topped a bowl of noodles had wasted away to an all but transparent ham style slither, the broth itself completely insipid.
Soba took little time in mutating into a Wagamama clone dispensing oriental fusion fare with Japanese names. I blame the undemanding locals - why wouldn't a business venture cut corners and maximise profits if it has no affect on the number of customers?

It would be a shame if people go to either Wagamama or Soba because they believe these options to be cheaper than a real Japanese meal. For less than a plate or bowl of noodles at either establishment, one can get a full set menu (rice, main dish, pickles, soup) at Asakusa in Camden.

pii_bii
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I think you are right, Loretta, most people make do with sub-par food because either they don't care or don't know any better, which is sad for people who do care, like yourself.
It is interesting to know that Wagamama used to be better; to be fair I remember a friend saying it was pretty good pan-asian fare only 2 or 3 years ago, so it makes sense that standards have slipped. Many people I know don't have the fervent hatred for Wagamama that I do, in fact my other half didn't mind the curry sauce, it seemed, but he much prefers good ol' S&B roux blocks! It's also interesting that the business was originally inspired by Tampopo; I didn't know that!
I guess this is just an example of cost effectiveness over quality; seeing what the restaurant can get away with serving, not having fully trained or experienced staff (we all have to start somewhere, I know, but some of the staff at my local one seemed away with the fairies!).
I suppose a safe bet is to go to where the majority of japanese-english londoners go, restaurant-wise, as one would assume they have the best idea, broadly speaking. We don't seem to have much of a japanese population here in Newcastle, hence the fact that a lot of supposedly japanese restaurants are chinese or korean run.
Thanks for the education anyway, Loretta! :)

wintersweet
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Yeah, the Ajisen in Fremont, where I live, is excellent, and I've had ramen in Japan. The pork is very good, and the staff is a mix of Japanese, Chinese, and others. (The people who are in charge are Japanese, if it matters.) The service is very attentive, and the broth is pretty good--anyway, my friend from Kagoshima likes it!

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wintersweet
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Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I wouldn't count out a Taiwanese-run place just because it was run by Taiwanese people or assume they were trying to fool anyone. There are plenty of excellent Japanese cuisine restaurants in Taipei run by Taiwanese chefs, many of whom have trained in Japan and speak Japanese. One of the best Japanese meals I've ever had in my life was in Taipei. :)

(Then again, there is plenty of mediocre "Japanese" food in my area being served up by English-, Korean-, Taiwanese- and Mandarin-speaking owners, having never been to Japan and apparently operating out of identical operating manuals. :P)

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Freedomfighter826
Joined: 7 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 4 years 29 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

well, I could care less what the ethnicity of the owner/chef is...i mean..you can be non-Japanese and know how to cook Japanese food. I've had food at Japanese run, Japanese restaurants that did not taste good at all..
There is a restaurant near my house that is a Korean restaurant. I used to really like this place, until one day the place got new management. They decided to make it cool and hip (before they came it seemed like a nice little ma and pa type set up) by making it all Japanese instead of Korean. They still make Korean food...but now it just does not taste right. I had to make a point to ask for the Korean menu, and then the girl looked at me really wierd.. I haven't been there in a long time. I also really have no problem with fusion food...if its well done and tastes good. I think it's neat actually. If a chef can be creative with whatever is on hand and make a really unique, awesome tasting dish, that chef is a genius in my book. I guess good fusion food to me shows that a chef is creative with food. Utilizing two different cultures way of cooking to make one dish. That's awesome :D As for crappy japanese places...there's this place near my home called AKITA....it's just not a good place. The katsu curry dish is really disappointing..It was like soupy, didn't even taste like curry...it was just not right. The wait staff really stunk too (not literally...)

bunny
Bento-ing from: Vancouver › British Columbia › Canada
Joined: 28 Apr 2009
User offline. Last seen 4 years 27 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I have to say this to start - I love food & I love this blog.

There are both good and bad in Vancouver, but none as bad as one in my Mom's hometown. It is in the Okanagan, in a pretty small town, though I won't mention the name. This restaurant is managed and staffed with only Japanese employees and it is the worst food I have ever had. Citizenry means very little when it comes to culinary skill. A bad cook is a bad cook and a good cook is a good cook, no matter where they hail from.

Anyway, the restaurant actually served instant "Ichiban" yakisoba in the bento special. The fish was third-rate (at best) and the tempura veggies were raw in the centre. I thought maybe they were just having an off day, so the next time I was in town I gave it another try. Not a good idea. Although I was spared, two of my friends got food poisoning that day. Never again.

Cinnamonkey
Bento-ing from: Frankfurt am Main › Germany
Joined: 29 Apr 2009
User offline. Last seen 5 years 22 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

Wow, I feel all of your pain. I recently relocated to Germany and am trying to find a Japanese restaurant to fill the void. After living in Okinawa for some 17 years and having found some good Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas and Washington state, it's natural that I want some home style Japanese cooking. I'm a budding cook. So, I have many years to hone my cooking skills before I can compare my cooking with my favorite and authentic Japanese restaurants.

I had a terrible experience at SuperKato in Frankfurt, Germany. Although the owners and chefs were Japanese, it's like others have said, they became sub-par or worst after gaining some popularity among the German citizens. My husband and I felt extremely disappointed by the 18 or so positive Qype reviews on SuperKato. Nothing at the restaurant was high quality. The rice was soaked with vinegar. The fish wasn't fresh. The so-called "Japanese supermarket" coinciding with the restaurant inside was nothing but a bunch of over-priced food items, not all of which came from Japan. I guess we were fooled by ignorant reviewers who didn't actually know what real Japanese food was. It won't be the last bad Japanese restaurant I go to. Obviously, it's going to take a bit of trial and error before my husband and I find an authentic one we love.

It also makes me laugh to see that there are some 60+ "sushi" restaurants in the Frankfurt area as if the only thing Japanese eat is sushi... I want my udon. I want my katsu curry. I want my unagidon. I want my veggie and shrimp tempura. I want my okonomiyaki. I want lunch boxes with nori salad, some pickled veggies, and other familiar sides. It's really sad when the bento at your local supermarket in Japan is 20x better than these so-called Japanese restaurants.

Oh well, I guess this just gives me more incentive to find good recipes and cook my favorites.

acompofelice
Bento-ing from: Houston › Texas › USA
Joined: 10 Feb 2009
User offline. Last seen 5 years 6 weeks ago.
Benihana

In Houston, there are quite a few very good Japanese restaurants, but Benihana isn't one of them. The "thrill" of the hibachi tables is child's' play, and their sushi leaves much to be desired. There is a place called Soma that is very good, and although a bit trendy and fusion, the sushi is awesome. Flown in fresh everyday and handled by trained and educated Japanese sushi chefs. I highly recommend it.

pii_bii
Bento-ing from: Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Joined: 6 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 3 years 28 weeks ago.
Re: Benihana

There's something that baffles me about a couple of teppan-yaki restaurants in Newcastle, and from what you say here it sounds inspired by Benihana and the like...
At some point during your meal, the chefs encourage everyone to be involved in some bizarre ritual where they show their skill by way of flipping an egg into their chef's hats. It's all very weird, and it's not my sort of thing, although I know a lot of the diners get a kick out of it... Now, is this something that teppan-yaki chefs have been doing for centuries? It seems unlikely to me, in the heat of a tiny grill shop, where stressed salarymen are sat shoulder-to-shoulder, trying to grab a much-needed meal, that the chef breaks the efficiency and enjoyment of the place by crying: 'Hey everyone, watch me throw an egg into my hat!'...but hey, I'll feel really silly if I'm wrong!

Now, Nippon-Kan, which was my first Japanese cuisine experience, was a very beautiful teppan-yaki restaurant set in the Hampshire countryside on a golf course. The owners were Japanese, and their clients and customers mainly very well-to-do people... no eggs in hats there, unsurprisingly!

Re: Benihana
pii_bii wrote:

At some point during your meal, the chefs encourage everyone to be involved in some bizarre ritual where they show their skill by way of flipping an egg into their chef's hats. It's all very weird, and it's not my sort of thing, although I know a lot of the diners get a kick out of it... Now, is this something that teppan-yaki chefs have been doing for centuries?

Teppanyaki chefs haven't been doing anything for centuries, since it's a very modern style of cooking only dating from about 1945 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teppanyaki ).

BarbJ
Bento-ing from: Cupertino › California › USA
Joined: 8 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 1 year 24 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

For the first time in 48 years of eating, I finally went to a Benihana's. My daughter just turned 19 and wanted to go. I've got to say, I was not impressed. The rest of our party thought it was great! Our chef, "Victor" was OK, but idk, tossing food into your hat doesn't seem high on my list of culinary skills, but maybe that's just me.

Everything was grilled with a garlic butter knob which doesn't seem very Japanese to me, also everything was grilled the same way and even with the garlic butter, was very bland. They also serve a salad with iceberg lettuce and carrot shavings with another rather bland dressing that mostly just tasted oily.

I had a steak which was cooked adequately but I really wanted some salt with it. No salt on the table, the cook is the only one allowed to touch the salt shaker. I felt like stupid asking him for the salt, ( which was dumb, I should have just asked) so my rediculously expensive steak was also very bland.

Over all my impression was way a way over rated "entertainment" experience coupled with bland, way over priced food. I can safely say I will never go back.

Kar*
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

One of the Wagamama branches over here in Melbourne just closed. Thanks the heavens for that! The food was terrible and even though it was located in the middle of the city near university and apartments full of Asian students, i've hardly seen any of them in there. I'd rather eat instant ramen at home than whatever they tried to pass of as food there.

pii_bii
Bento-ing from: Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Joined: 6 Jan 2009
User offline. Last seen 3 years 28 weeks ago.
Re: Benihana

Oh, the egg and hat thing DOES come from Benihana. To be fair 'centuries' was me being a bit flippant, it's not like people in the west have been using hot plates for 'centuries' either, is it?

marnen
Bento-ing from: Albany › New York › USA
Joined: 11 Jun 2009
User offline. Last seen 2 years 36 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame
wintersweet wrote:

I wouldn't count out a Taiwanese-run place just because it was run by Taiwanese people or assume they were trying to fool anyone.

Agreed. While Chinese-run restaurants often do a bad job at Japanese food, there are many that do it very well. One of my favorite sushi restaurants (Sushi Village, Poughkeepsie, New York) is run by Chinese. The sushi is excellent and not too expensive.

Korean chefs also often do great things with Japanese food, especially sushi (which is as indigenous to Korea as it is to Japan, after all).

I wouldn't count out a restaurant just because of ethnicity.

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marnen
Bento-ing from: Albany › New York › USA
Joined: 11 Jun 2009
User offline. Last seen 2 years 36 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame
BarbJ wrote:

For the first time in 48 years of eating, I finally went to a Benihana's. My daughter just turned 19 and wanted to go. I've got to say, I was not impressed.

I've only been to an actual Benihana once (in Philadelphia about 20 years ago). I don't remember the food being that good either. However, that is definitely not true of teppanyaki cooking in general. I strongly recommend that you try a good teppanyaki restaurant before you take your Benihana experience as typical of teppanyaki.

In the NY metro area, there's a nice minichain (3 or 4 locations) called Gasho which does very nice teppanyaki in a beautiful setting. I don't know what's in the Bay Area, but given the number of Asian restaurants out there, I expect you have some options.

Quote:

I had a steak which was cooked adequately but I really wanted some salt with it. No salt on the table, the cook is the only one allowed to touch the salt shaker.

Common practice in Japanese and Chinese cuisine, as I understand.

Quote:

I felt like stupid asking him for the salt, ( which was dumb, I should have just asked) so my rediculously expensive steak was also very bland.

That should absolutely not have been! Properly done teppanyaki steak usually involves a marinade. There is no excuse for bland teppanyaki food.

Quote:

Over all my impression was way a way over rated "entertainment" experience coupled with bland, way over priced food. I can safely say I will never go back.

I don't blame you. If you try another teppanyaki place, I will be interested to know what you think.

umaimon
Bento-ing from: Orange County › California › USA
Joined: 24 Jun 2009
User offline. Last seen 5 years 16 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

When I was in Providence, Rhode Island, there were only two Japanese restaurants within walking distance from the university campus, and neither were owned by Japanese people. Anyway, one of those places spelled miso shiru, "miso shiro" on their menu, as well as a whole bunch of other hilarious typos. All I can remember about the other restaurant was that its tempura was a huge pile of fried dough, with small pieces of like, broccoli or chicken inside it. Tempura's not supposed to be so heavily battered, so it was pretty shocking. It totally would have made a good candidate for thisiswhyyourefat.com, though. Also, my university campus dining services was terrible with their sushi. They were mainly prepackaged vegetarian rolls that were shipped there by some company, and they must have been frozen or refrigerated for days. The rice was hard and crumbly, and I never bought that sushi again.

kumachan
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

There is a Wagamama here in Sydney in a building that houses a branch of the Kinokuniya Bookshop and a ramen restaurant, Ichibanboshi, which is located alongside the bookshop. Come mealtime, there are people on waiting lists trying to get into Ichibanboshi, but most times, you could shoot a cannon in Wagamama one floor below and not hit anyone.

Japanese restaurants in Sydney have gone down in the past 10 or so years. The biggest contributing factor is that the resident floating Japanese population numbers have decreased, so the overall level of discernment amongst the customers who eat at Japanese restaurants has gone down accordingly. In many parts of Sydney, a lot of the clientele in Japanese restaurants is Chinese, which I mention just as an observation. The so called sushi shops that spring up around Sydney, like their counterparts around the world, are anything but Japanese. the content and appearance would not pass muster in Japan, and forget about trying to speak Japanese there to the staff, as well as at a lot of so called Japanese restaurants - Annyong haseyo and Nihao are the more likely phrases to greet the waitstaff, should you so wish.

As for foodstuffs, a lot of packaging looks Japanese, with Japanese printed all over the packaging too, but look closely, and often you will find it is produced by a company in China, taiwan, Hong Kong, or even Korea.

Supermarkets in Sydney run by non-Japanese stocking asian grocery items have large and sometimes expanding Japanese sections. Watch out for expiry dates when you shop there.

And the tea is nearly always Uji-cha, none of the quality Shizuoka-cha.

A chain of half way decent Japanese eateries has oipened over the last couple of years in Sydney, with names for their restaurants like Makoto, Masuya, Miso and so on. At the Makoto Sushi branch in Chatswood, soon after it opened, the owner was overheard by my partner, telling an employee to put some mayonnaise on thesalmon as it was making its rounds on the conveyer belt. The reason was because the salmon would have otherwise gone dry.

That's the state of play with regard to Japanese food in Sydney.

Ignorance might be bliss, but caveat emptor - Buyer Beware!

anon2.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

WTF? Chinese restaurants serving cucumber rolls? They probably aren't serving real Chinese food either.

オタク
Bento-ing from: › North Carolina › USA
Joined: 21 Sep 2009
User offline. Last seen 4 years 31 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I don't remember the name of the place, but I stopped at a local supposedly Japanese place to get some miso soup on the way home from shopping. So I walk in and notice that there are no Asians in the place. I asked if they served any miso soup, the cashier said they did. So I asked "What kind?". She didn't know. So I asked what color it was. She didn't know. I asked about allergy info. She didn't know. I asked if she could go check, she acted like it was a dreaded chore. She brought me the container and had me read it. It was in Japanese, and I only know 4 Kanji so it took me a while to figure out that it was red miso. Of course you'd think they would have known having made it before and all. I decided not to get the soup because I didn't know if there were any of my allergies in it. So I ask for some green tea, her response: "Huh??". They only carry iced black tea.

I left.

I ended up eating a curry at a friends Chinese restaurant. He's a local, and his wife was born in China.

ーオタク

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yamikuronue
Bento-ing from: Manchester › UK
Joined: 25 Sep 2009
User offline. Last seen 3 years 3 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

To my mind, Benihana's is Benihana's, not Japanese anything. It's basically western food cooked in a vaguely Japanese method. I have a lot of fun when I go, and I do like the food, but it is WAY overpriced.

"Stop having the boring tuna; stop having the boring life" - Vince Offer

yamikuronue
Bento-ing from: Manchester › UK
Joined: 25 Sep 2009
User offline. Last seen 3 years 3 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

I'm a little disappointed in the racism in this thread - "If it's owned by non-Japanese it can't be any good" seems to be a common sentiment. Here in America, anyone can learn to cook anything these days. A white person who learned from a Japanese chef would do more authentic cuisine than a Japanese-American who banks on their looking Asian to throw together anything and call it "authentic". Around here, there's almost no Japanese people; most of the asians around here are Korean or Vietnamese - does that mean I shouldn't bother trying to go to any Asian places except Pho Vietnam and the one Korean sandwich shop?

"Stop having the boring tuna; stop having the boring life" - Vince Offer

Peter H. Coffin
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame
yamikuronue wrote:

I'm a little disappointed in the racism in this thread - "If it's owned by non-Japanese it can't be any good" seems to be a common sentiment. Here in America, anyone can learn to cook anything these days.

While that's true, it's important to remember than "possible" is not the same as "likely". And, when you're hungry and looking for a place to eat, "likely" is a much more reliable way to bet. Further, what my standards for "good Japanese food" may be, they're likely to be MUCH looser than someone who grew up eating Japanese food in Japan, or even someone who grew up eating the food made by someone who grew up eating Japanese food in Japan. So I'm perfectly okay with the common assessment that "Japanese chef means more likely authentic and appropriate preparation".

Jiza
Bento-ing from: Madrid › Spain
Joined: 13 Feb 2009
User offline. Last seen 2 years 48 weeks ago.
Re: The fake Japanese/Asian restaurant Hall of Shame

It's not racism it's just that I hate that they are selling me food labeled as "real" japanese food and it's not. I don't mind going to a restaurant that serves maki rolls, what i mind is that they sell them as the real flavor of japan when it's obviously not.

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