Friday, December 15, 2006

This Week's Restaurant Review: Juban in SF

Every so often, I enjoy eating at a restaurant that involves a little more than just sitting there and being served. I call these places participation restaurants. Fondue restaurants and places where you get to grill your own food are two types that come to mind. The standard modus operandi for eating out can get old. You sit down, order some things off of a menu, and then your server brings the food to you. Granted, it’s a tried and true method with a centuries-old track record of success, but it can get stale just the same. The other night we went to a place called Juban, located in San Francisco’s Japantown. Juban is a Japanese barbecue restaurant where you get to grill your own food at the table. This experience can best be described as “the thrill of the grill and the agony of burnt meat.” To some people, this is a cool experience, while other folks go out to eat so that they don’t have to cook, in which case they won’t like Juban. I personally enjoy cooking, so for me it’s like making dinner at someone else’s house. Besides, they do all the prep work and all you have to do is the grilling part. Juban is what they call a Yakiniku House in Japan. The way it works is that you order a bunch of raw items and then grill them. You end up eating things in small batches after they’re done being grilled. The extensive menu features everything from Beef (Waygu: rich in marbling and very tender); Filet Mignon (marinated in miso sauce); Pork Kalbi (pork garnished with lemon); Kobe Beef (these cows are treated better than most people while they’re being raised, living in small cattle condos and eating only the best produce); Beef Ribeye; Yokussen Kalbi (short ribs); Tan Shio (beef tongue, most definitely an acquired taste); Yaki-Shabu (thinly sliced beef); Liver; Ika (marinated calamari): Garlic Steak (cubed steak marinated in a Shio-Negi garlic sauce); Chicken; Ebi (prawns); Hotate (scallops); Lobster Tail; Veggies (including Shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, onions, carrots and bell peppers), and Ninniku (garlic roasted in butter.) At Juban, they advise you to flip the items that you’re grilling just once, don’t ask me why. Since we were rookies, we burnt a few things until we got the hang of it. Because everything is sliced paper thin, it cooks really fast. Also, if you crowd too many items onto the grill, you can get flare ups. Burning down the restaurant is considered very bad taste in Japan. If you order one of Juban’s dinner combinations, you get soup, salad and steamed rice along with your meal. The salad was mediocre and the egg drop soup forgettable. The meat, poultry and seafood are excellent, however. You can tell the beef especially is of high quality. The only criticism I have about the place is that it’s pretty pricey. Dinner for three with tip was roughly $140.00, and we didn’t even order any wine. I could almost hear my credit card screaming out in pain. But, in a tourist trap like Japantown, what do you expect? I imagine that if we ordered the same meal in the country of Japan itself, it probably would have cost more! Juban is at 1581 Webster Street in San Francisco. Their phone number is: (415) 776-5822. I am told they also have locations in Burlingame and Menlo Park.

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