Normally, when seeking out new experiences, I jet off to a different region of the United States or an altogether different country. I forget that where I live – Appleton, Wisconsin – harbors opportunities for exploration. My birthday last week reminded me to pause from planning ahead to my next outrageous, off-the-beaten path adventure and pursue all the avenues for exploration here at home.
To celebrate my birthday, my normally eating-out averse husband suggested we hit the town for a celebratory dinner. At first, I had difficulty summoning any enthusiasm, which puzzled me. I ran through the list of options in my head – Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebees, Italian and American restaurants, typical Wisconsin fast food complete with deep-fried cheese curds – all made me shrug and say, “Hmm…I guess those could be okay.” Then I remembered a restaurant in downtown Appleton, only a block from where I work, which I had visited one time with friends and enjoyed tremendously. At last, a spark of excitement! The place that stood out amid the hum-drum of standardized chain restaurants? Katsu-Ya of Japan.
Katsu-Ya defies all stereotypes of Japanese restaurants. Far from being a swanky sushi bar that leaves the culinary conservatives uncomfortable and still hungry as a bear, Katsu-Ya serves hibachi. In a playful and dramatic dining atmosphere, the hibachi chef entertains guests as he masterfully cooks up the meal right in front of you. The table wraps around the flat, gas-powered griddle where the chef dices, chops, and sautees your food, all while building flaming onion towers and recruiting this birthday girl to catch freshly cooked shrimp in her mouth. Technically, this griddle-style Japanese cooking is called teppanyaki. The hibachi is traditionally a round heating device, not the long flat griddle found in most hibachi restaurants, but throughout the United States, hibachi has become the accepted label for teppanyaki.
The entertainment value aside (which my husband enjoyed even more than the meal), the food is flavorful and filling. You will certainly not leave hungry. If you crave sushi or sashimi, you can order small plates of delectable creations. I tried the smoked salmon sushi roll and savored the subtle interplay of textures and flavors. However, the real star of the meal are the meats and vegetables grilled on the hibachi and dipped in a variety of dipping sauces. I am no food critic, but you will not be disappointed. To put this in perspective, the actor and star of RENT, Anthony Rapp, wrote on Twitter that Katsu-Ya here in humble Appleton, Wisconsin served the best sushi he has had outside of Tokyo, Japan. That is quite a statement. I do not remember the last time I left a restaurant so satisfied. Even my frugal husband, who normally spends the rest of the evening complaining about the cost of our meals, was content. Not one word about the cost.
And honestly, $38 for a hibachi meal for two that included the main meal, oolong tea, soup, salad, and a dessert – what is there to complain about? A truly great value for a night out that included a filling meal and a dose of dramatic entertainment. Next time I catch the bug to get outside my comfort zone and try something new, I’ll look within my own neighborhood.