- 297 Route 72 W., Manahawkin, NJ, 08050
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
With a flash of fire and a goofy grin, the hibachi chefs at Makoto Japanese Steak House in Manahawkin transform eating into entertainment. The combination of their stunts, gags and contagious smiles will have even the grouchiest diner giggling and, with delicious food as the end result, even the hungriest diner will be satisfied.
"The atmosphere here is very nice and happy," said Chun Tan, owner of Makoto.
More than just hibachi
The menu at Makoto also offers more than just hibachi -- there are pages and pages of classic Japanese dishes, soups and sushi and sashimi combinations. After a long day of work, there's nothing better than sitting down to a stress-free, fun meal, and I was happy to treat my parents on a recent Monday night.
We were placed at a counter surrounding the flat, hibachi grill and immediately greeted by a very hospitable waitress in a kimono. All
of the staff at Makoto proved to be dead set on ensuring every diner is treated like royalty, so that you leave feeling pampered as well as stuffed.
All of the hibachi dinners are served with miso soup, salad, two shrimp, fried rice, lo mein and vegetables. And if that doesn't sound generous enough, the dinners come with a choice of protein: a big slab of chicken, steak or fish. My father chose the chicken and salmon combination dinner ($19.95) while I chose the chicken and steak ($22.50). Vegetarians are not forgotten, and it's possible to substitute the protein with extra vegetables, as my mother did ($15.75).
The miso soup and salad come out almost immediately, so from the moment you sit down until you leave there's something to munch on in front of you. The soup is a traditional clear broth, with scallions and mushrooms floating around almost tranquilly, although I personally like to dash mine up with a splash of soy sauce. The salad was simple iceberg lettuce, shredded purple cabbage and cucumbers, but a slathering of ginger dressing added the right amount of color and spice.
As we finished our soup and salad, our hibachi chef wheeled over his cart of fresh ingredients, ready to begin his culinary acrobatics. Whether it's your first time trying hibachi or your hundredth, watching a chef spin an egg on his spatula, flip it in the air and catch it without the slightest crack will always be awe-inspiring. Yet the best part is watching that same egg be scrambled up into fried rice and served right from the griddle to your plate.
Next came the vegetables: zucchini, mushrooms, onion and carrots. As they sizzled away, tempting us with their savory scent, our chef piled up the rings of a raw onion to create a mound, filled it with oil and then set it on fire.
"Mount Fuji volcano! Ha ha!" he said proudly as the onion volcano blazed away. The theatrics aren't limited to the chef -- he soon had us trying to catch cubes of zucchini in our mouths. Even though most of them ended up on the floor, we were as giggly as toddlers over his antics. He spelled out his appreciation in sesame seeds on the grill -- "I heart u" -- with the heart being formed by a mound of fried rice.
Out came the protein: six giant fresh shrimp, two chicken breasts, a filet of salmon, and a nice-sized steak. He grilled up the shrimp first until they were perfectly browned, then popped them onto our plates. They were big, three-bite shrimp so as we munched away our chef grilled my steak and the chicken breasts.
Depth of flavors
After no more than four minutes on the grill, the steak went straight to my plate and was the perfect medium-rare I had requested. I
mixed it into my steaming fried rice and vegetables and was again impressed at how fresh and flavorful it all tasted when right from the grill. The seasoning on everything is simple, often just soy sauce, oil and sesame seeds, yet the depth of flavors is intense.
The chicken and lo mein were the last arrivals to the mound of food on my plate and, just as I was beginning to struggle to divide my attention between digging into my meal and delighting in our chef¹s stunts, he cleaned up, said thank you and left. As much as hibachi strives for entertainment it doesn¹t seek to overshadow why you came: to eat.
As fun and filling as the hibachi was, I couldn¹t resist ordering a Makoto Wasabi roll ($8.95) to share with my sushi-addict father. Inside were generous strips of raw tuna, raw salmon and cucumber while outside, wasabi covered the sticky rice and seaweed. Surprisingly, the sprinkling of wasabi did not overwhelm the delicate flavors of the fresh fish but rather brought them to the forefront.
Just as I need a taste of sushi every time I enter a Japanese restaurant, I need ice cream tempura, also known as fried ice cream ($4). It's a big ball of French vanilla ice cream, wrapped in a thick layer of fried tempura batter, and served with swirls of whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The warm batter is sometimes soft like a piece of pound cake and sometimes crunchy like a vanilla cookie, but always delicious.
The total bill came out to $78 and, for the quantity of food and fun we had, it was a bargain. The atmosphere at Makoto is casual enough to dress as you please but the theatrics are dramatic and exciting enough to make it worthy of any special occasion. And with heaping plates of fresh-grilled fare and well-stuffed sushi, you're sure to enjoy a stress-free, satisfying meal.
Doug and Carole Terry of Little Egg Harbor watch the grill's flame at Makoto in Manahawkin. Photo by Robert Ward