By Bernie Whitmore
If asked for a place that embodies the spirit of Worcester, I’d suggest Kelley Square ~ where seven main roads converge in a state of blissful anarchy. To drive through this intersection is to take part in rebelling against all control. Each of us carries our own emotions into the square. Once we’ve seized the perfect opportunity and break on through to the other side, we can’t help but feel fondness for something so… chaotic.
That is how we like it best ~ in our rearview mirrors.
But what would happen if Kelley Square became the destination? Unimpressed with the cosmic repercussions, Takara Restaurant is out to make it so with sushi, seafood and steak. They have a few regular restaurant tables and a small bar. The real attraction is the large flattop hibachis used to prepare teppanyaki entrees (think Benihana). Mindful of the entertainment value of such real estate, they’ve opened up a wall of windows looking out towards the traffic mayhem.
A friend and I got corner seats at the center hibachi and loads of personal attention. We ordered Sapporo beer in sleek silver 22-ounce cans. Our server wouldn’t stand for either of us lifting a can, so she did all the pouring. While I browsed the regular entrée menu, my friend filled out a sushi order.
Soon we were set up with small bowls containing sliced pickled ginger, a large dab of wasabi paste and soy sauce ~ the usual sushi kit. Then the first part of our order, Tuna and Yellowtail Sushi, were presented. The fresh slices of rich fish were draped over soft sticky rice. Traditional California Maki came out next ~ the avocado and crab were a cooling contrast to the Spicy Scallop Maki rolls that followed.
About this time I could feel the first waves of heat coming off the grill. This signaled the clearing of our sushi course and the beginning of our entrees. The first course was a bowl of steaming mushroom soup. Sliced mushrooms were suspended in a simple yet remarkably tasty broth. Our waitress was quite proud of it and beamed with pleasure when we approved.
Soup was followed by salads of chopped iceberg lettuce drenched in zesty ginger dressing. This also marked the arrival of hibachi chef Joe, a knife-slinging, spatula-juggling bundle of energy in a tall red chef’s hat. As he prepared the grill for cooking, he also tested his growing command of the English language on us. When necessary, our waitress translated his native Vietnamese to our Worcesterese.
Joe was impressive in his ability, quickly preparing grilled shrimp, zucchini and onions. He even recreated flaming Mount Fuji with stacks of onion rings.
Entrées come with steamed rice or, for an extra two bucks, fried rice with chicken. I opted for the upgrade, immensely pleasing our waitress and giving Joe the opportunity to show us how to make a ‘Japanese omelet.’ He went on to expertly grill my scallop entrée and my friend’s steak, which he neatly sliced into cubes ~ ideal for chopsticks.
Hibachi cooking, also called teppanyaki, involves a quick-searing with garlic butter and a dash or two of salt and pepper. My sea scallops had been sliced in thirds so they cooked very fast with a spicy golden-brown crust.
As much as I’d like to credit Takara Restaurant as pioneers in the Canal District, they seem too busy for such introspection. They’re in the business of delighting customers with delicious Japanese-Steakhouse-American cuisine, good value and obsessively personal service.
10-14 Millbury Street (Kelley Square), Worcester