Munch goes to Hibachi Express

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Reliable Friend of Munch is sort of like a postal carrier in better times, when the U.S. Postal Service was not being threatened with elimination from the federal budget. Neither snow nor hail nor sleet nor roaming packs of wild golden retrievers would keep her from good food, which is why RFOM and Munch have tromped through a foot of snow to get Chinese takeout.

Yes, RFOM is a no-excuses kind of gal. Munch has heard ALL KINDS of excuses when extending a lunch invitation. "Sorry, my wife is in labor with our first child," claimed Whiny Business Reporter Friend of Munch. "I'm getting married that day. You're supposed to be there," said Tall Friend of Munch. "I'm in the ER! I just accidentally sliced off my finger," said Accident Friend of Munch. "Just cauterize it yourself and let's hit the road! Free Japanese food, dude," replies Munch.

Which is why RFOM was the perfect candidate for a last-minute trip to Hibachi Express, a somewhat paradoxical Japanese restaurant that recently opened in Little Italy's business district. It's a takeout joint with a surprisingly nice dining room (but no real silverware). And during our visit, the cashier and the cook chattered rapidly in Mandarin (RFOM grew up in China), further adding to the mystery.

Typical of a takeout joint, you order at the counter. And in less than 10 minutes, our first course was out in front of our faces, ready to be devoured. (It helped, too, that we were the restaurant's only customers).

The green salad ($4) was a healthy portion of iceberg lettuce topped with grape tomatoes and a scrumptious ginger dressing. And the seaweed salad ($5) was mysteriously delicious, too, a pile of thin slices of slightly crunchy seaweed that smelled like the ocean dressed in sesame oil. Munch moved onto the appetizer special, gyoza ($4), ground pork with scallions stuffed in soft dumpling skins. They were a little charred on the bottom but the savory filling inside made up for it.

Our monstrous entrees came out next. RFOM's teriyaki scallops with broccoli ($9.50) came with a ginormous side of rice and nearly a dozen silver dollar-sized mollusks drenched in a salty-sweet sauce. They were perfectly chewy, in Munch's humble estimation. Munch ordered the hibachi steak with mushrooms ($9.50) but was accidentally served the chicken version ($7). The waiter swiftly brought out a Styrofoam bowl full of the tiny steak bits and white rice, leaving Munch with two heaping entrees. The steak was delightful, delicately spiced and dressed with a nice soy-based sauce. So, too, were the accompanying ginger carrots. The chicken was a little less inspired, chunks of white meat coated with a ginger sauce.

In all, though, we got out of there with two massive boxes of leftovers to spare for about $35, in part because Munch thinks that the waiter may have miscalculated our bill. For the price, it was decent, healthy fare that was prepared swiftly, perfect for the recently married, the frequently hospitalized accident-prone and for new dads.

To WBRFOM, congratulations on the baby.


Munch can be reached at Munch@post-gazette.com , on Twitter @PGMunch and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/munchPG .


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