Restaurant Review: Ninja Grill
Upon reflection, hibachi places were doing a BYO (build-your-own) schtick before it was cool. Sure, it’s a ubiquitous eating format now: BYO Asian, Mexican, Italian and organic eats are commonplace – all of them with ordering processes where customers point and pick ingredients.
But hibachi joints were always kinda doing the same thing, right? Maybe it wasn’t cafeteria-style, but you still assembled your dinner by selecting a handful of ingredients from the menu.
Ninja Grill on Lane Avenue has streamlined the whole hibachi BYO process, with little checklists for ingredients in your own, customized hibachi masterpiece. It applies that approach to poke as well. We’ll get to that, but let’s start with hibachi.
As is the BYO custom, the first choice will be for a protein. The range includes vegetarian options, sea creatures (squid, tilapia, salmon and scallops), and classic land options (chicken and beef). And there’s imitation crab, too, whatever category you’d like to place that in.
The proteins will set your price, then you can make the rest of your choices with reckless abandon: starches, a healthy selection of vegetables, and sauces.
So, let’s warm up with something ubiquitous: Chicken ($7.95). Chunks are chopped from tenders (so, white meat), and tumble around nicely in a mix of other customized choices that included rice noodles, mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrot, and most importantly: broccoli. The little broccoli heads soak up the sauce and release it in flavorful bursts with every bite, in this case, a classic sweet and savory teriyaki sauce.
A couple of other protein choices also fared well. The Steak ($8.95), also chunked-up, is lean, and not chemically tenderized, so it comes across as real food.
The upscale Giant Scallops ($13.95) are pricier than the other options, but hardly pricey in general, and not pricy for scallops. The big, velvety bites melt in the mouth and team nicely with the straight-shooting house Hibachi sauce.
And yes, there is Yum Yum sauce, too. That’s a requirement at a hibachi spot. Somehow, a concoction that is basically mayo, ketchup, garlic and rice vinegar is so much more than the sum of its parts. That said, you can adventure into other sauce options: Ginger Wasabi and Sweet and Sour are both options. But if you forego the Yum Yum, you’ll end up jealous of your friend who opted-in.
You can do the same sort of BYO thing with Poke (in a bowl or burrito, $7.75). You choose from similar bases, with greens as an additional option here. There are classic proteins: ahi tuna, salmon, shrimp, along with chicken and tofu. You team it with mix-ins that range from vegetables to oranges and mango, then sauces and toppings. It’s almost like building a sundae.
While there’s probably a palatable way to use the orange and mango with options like seaweed and onion crisps, we opted for a more comforting combo on rice: satiny smooth tuna, with cucumber and carrot, bound with a miso glaze, avocado, and a nice seaweed salad, topped off with sesame seeds and tempura crisps as finishers. Nicely balanced, and a sense of personal accomplishment in putting it together.
That’s the beauty of BYO, right?
Rounding out the menu are a host of other options. There’s tempura, some rice dishes, and traditional appetizers that include Egg Rolls and Crab Rangoon ($4.50). The latter is a little sweeter than personal preference, but otherwise does its job as a crunchy distraction.
All in, Ninja Grill is a good addition to the campus food scene at 9 E. Lane Ave.
For more information, visit ninjagrillusa.com.
All photos by Susan Post