Last night we ate at Hana. I rarely go near Crossgates Mall, but we both get our hair cut in Colonie on Central Avenue (by a guy who has been our stylist since 1985 when he worked downtown) so we were kind of in the vicinity. I never would have thought of the place -- not sure I even knew it was there -- but Bob was treating.
We eat out a lot, always have. It's a shared common interest. Both of us (especially me, but him too sometimes) like to cook, but it can't compete with our love for fine dining establishments. Our preferences run to nicer places, patronizing fast food joints only when we are treating the dogs to lunch out.
I do have a restaurant tag here, but rarely review places. Usually I only link with a comment of "ate at the wonderful X, a favorite spot," or something like that. Bob and I have discussed collaborating to write restaurant reviews many times -- years ago, a print guide and more recently, a blog, but have never gotten around to it.
This is one time when I feel compelled to whip up a review. The best word I can come up with to describe the experience: Mediocre. First ding, the parking lot was a sheet of ice. There was maybe a teaspoon of salt sprinkled near the door, which -- second ding -- we discovered was locked. There were no signs or directions indicating the entrance was on the other side of the building only. But, Bob drove around after we couldn't open the door. The parking lot was less slippery near the unlocked door on the other side of the lobby.
It's a big place, almost showy, Bob said it was a steakhouse before becoming a Japanese restaurant. The majority of patrons were in large groups sitting around cooking tables. We sat in what seemed to be the only section for regular tables.
The menu is large, maybe 2/3 sushi, 1/3 other items. Most of our favorite (shared) Japanese appetizers were listed, so we chose two: vegetable tempura and chicken karaage. Third ding. The tempura was primarily disks of what I think were potatoes and possibly squash, no carrots, no onions and only one broccoli floret. They weren't crisp enough and the coating was tasteless. The chicken was exactly like popcorn chicken off a bar food menu. The plum dipping sauce was nothing special.
The service overall was hurried but efficient and not unpleasant. We both ordered hibachi chicken. That's uninspired, but we figured it's a hibachi place. They come with a two shrimp appetizer each. I told the waiter I was allergic to shrimp, and asked if I could have more vegetables or chicken (heaven forbid I asked for a spring roll) and fourth ding, he said they don't allow substitutions. He acted as if cooking my food away from seafood was doing me a favor.
Fifth ding, the dinners came out before we finished the appetizers, and Bob's was not what he ordered. He told the waiter he'd ordered hibachi, and the response was sixth ding, 1) didn't you really order teriyaki 2) isn't there a chance you will take it anyway? The meals themselves were nothing special. They reminded me of Asian food that is sold frozen in the supermarket. Seventh ding.
Every so often, the music was interrupted. I cannot remember what it was exactly, but something is vaguely telling me Carly Simon singing "You're So Vain" was one song. The interruption was the large groups of people reacting, loudly, to the antics at the cooking tables. One or two of the outbursts may have been rounds of Happy Birthday No Copyright Violation Hana Style. Eighth ding.
I told Bob it must be a chain. He thinks it is privately owned, but he also thinks it was the target of those ads a few years ago (or are they still on? No clue). Koto was making fun of inauthentic hibachi table techniques and marketed the Koto experience. I have been there and it is way better than Hana, but I say go to Shogun. No cooking tables at all, oh well. Fabulous food and atmosphere and downtown location