Wasabi: Bringing Hibachi cooking to Bozeman

Japanese cuisine is somewhat of a rarity in Montana. Even more scarce are quality Japanese restaurants, but Wasabi, a new steakhouse and sushi bar located at 1320 N 19th Ave. in Bozeman, has proven itself to be just that. The food is simple but well-seasoned and its preparation makes it even more delectable. With food flying on and off the grill right in front of you, you don’t want to miss this opportunity.

Watching food being prepared on a hibachi grill, as it is at Wasabi, is like seeing cooking and martial arts being together. The chefs cook, but also interact with customers, pouring sake (a Japanese rice wine) in their mouths, drumming with tools and even testing the customer’s ability to catch food in their mouths.

The process might appear to be all fun and games, but the chefs have undergone serious training to reach this skill level. They use precision and dexterity to toss, flip and cut food while adding flourishes of their tools to complete the art; it takes years to reach this level of mastery.

According to restaurant owner Hongyan Cai, who goes by Tom, the hibachi chefs at Wasabi go through a training program for about five years. This preparation provides them with Hibachi certificates and the qualifications to work at a restaurant like Wasabi. This training is put to good use entertaining customers and, more importantly, tantalizing their taste buds.

The food served at Wasabi is not easily overshadowed, even by the intense cooking which makes it possible. The restaurant serves both hibachi grilled dishes and sushi — I only tried the hibachi, but it was amazing. Using salt, pepper, butter, oil and little else, the chef created the best fried rice and steak I have ever had. The rice was rich with layered flavors, and the juicy, perfectly cooked steak was bursting with flavor.

The hibachi entrées are very filling — each dish is served with salad, soup, rice, noodles, your choice of meat and two shrimp. Cai said one of the most popular dishes is the wasabi special, which features lobster, shrimp, steak and all of the usual sides.

When I asked him why he chose to house his restaurant in Bozeman rather than somewhere else, Cai said he was travelling through Bozeman and liked the people. He thought they would love this type of restaurant and so, here it is. Wasabi only opened three weeks ago, but it has already brought something new and exciting to Bozeman: a chance to witness extreme cooking and taste the results.

Wasabi is located at 1320 N 19th Ave. Their hours are from 11:00 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 11:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 12 – 8:30 p.m. on Sundays. They do not take reservations, but they may in the future. More information is available at www.wasabibozeman.com.