Making Teppanyaki Magic

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - April 06, 2005
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Chef Kevin Matsuda has a big following
at Musashi restaurant

Usually when I get more than a dozen e-mails about a particular place it’s because people want to complain — or because they agree heartily with something I’ve said.

But the case of Musashi restaurant at the Hyatt Regency is a little different. Over the past year I’ve had an increasing number of e-mails suggesting that I visit the restaurant to try their teppanyaki dinner specials of prime steak, tiger prawn and scallops, and to meet one of the teppanyaki chefs, Kevin Matsuda.

“You have to go when Kevin is working,” wrote one enthusiastic reader. “He is just wonderful.” Another reader wrote to tell me how her whole family enjoys dinner when Kevin is working, and when I talked to Musashi manager Marjorie, she quietly agreed. “Oh yes, local people always call to find out when Kevin is working. He has quite a following.”

So, I made a somewhat overdue visit to meet Kevin last Friday and discovered one of the best-kept secrets in Honolulu. Teppanyaki can be fun, and in Hawaii it can be more about the show of knives and the occasional burst of flame than it is about the food. With Musashi, the emphasis is on food first and then the entertainment.

“To me,” says Matsuda, smiling broadly, “the most important thing is the food. And then I try to make people happy. I think that when people are happy the food tastes better.”

Watching Matsuda at work, it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about. As skilled at sleight of hand as he is at wielding a knife, he cooks in front of a seated audience of eight to 10 diners at a time at sittings that begin on the hour from 6 to 10 p.m.

Kevin trained as a teppanyaki chef for five years and has been going solo at Musashi for more than eight.

The idea of introducing magic at Musashi was inspired by his sister.

“My sister Sharon used to do tricks during dinner,” he explains, “and I thought that might be something that would appeal to people in the restaurant.”

Diners are simply dazzled by Kevin’s live “lava flows,” foam animals that appear in their hands from nowhere, and by series of tricks that prove time and again that the hand can be quicker than the eye.

Most popular of all is a trick involving a piece of clothing (I promised that I wouldn’t reveal too much) and an unsuspecting diner who brings the house down. “People love that trick, and they often bring back their friends so they can see it,” explains the talented chef.

A touch of magic is at work on the menu prices too — if you’re kamaaina. At various times throughout the year, kamaaina specials include steak and lobster promotions. But the almost unbelievable value (and the one that so many people wrote to me about) is one that runs weekly and includes steak and a choice of tiger prawn or scallops with accompanying veggies, miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, hot tea and dessert. The dinner has a menu price of $40, but is just $21.75 for kamaaina.

Hyatt says that it’s their way of saying thank you to their supportive clientele. The night we were there, a group had driven in from Kaaawa for the third time in less than a year to take advantage of the spectacular dinner, and another group of eight had brought their entire family for dinner.

“We started this after 9/11,” explains Kevin, “and it proved to be popular so we kept it going.” There seems no sign of business slowing down, and no sign of Kevin’s following decreasing either.

Teppanyaki dinner times are set at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. nightly.

But you’ll have to call to find out when Kevin’s on. Expect the phone lines to get very busy! Happy eating!
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