A sparkling new Japanese hibachi grill restaurant awaits in Brickyard Square in Epping, conviently off Route 101's Exit 7.
Occupying a prominent spot near the entrance to the shopping plaza, Kume and its staff offer everything one could want in a sharp bistro dedicated to fresh food served directly off the grill, with all the flash hibachi chefs can deliver and an attendant waitstaff at your elbow.
We were comfortably impressed as soon as we entered the gleaming, spacious, well-appointed, dark-paneled restaurant, divided solidly between the bar area, with its tables, booth and TVs, and the main dining rooms, featuring three large hibachi seating areas with two grills apiece, and another hibachi in a private room.
We took our seats at the 18-seat grill and immediately were greeted by Aileen, our waitress, offered food menus, drink menus, plates, salad and soup to start our evening. We chose our entrees and appetizers quickly from the vast menu and settled back for the show.
Sushi is a big part of Kume's business, and our Salmon Avocado Roll ($5.50) was nicely presented with proper sauces for dipping and a delicate arrangement on a long, slender plate. The rice was fresh and not clammy as it wrapped the salmon and vegetable, and each piece was large enough to warrant two bites.
A big hit at our table was the Soft-Shelled Crab appetizer ($7.50) which arrived lightly deep-fried and swimming in an outstanding sweet and spicy sauce mixed with egg and spices and herbs. After we said good-bye to the crab, we kept the bowl for sauce for the rice with dinner.
Dinner preparation is where the fun began. Hibachi chef Nathan arrived with huge bowls of noodles, rice, chicken, seafood, steak and sauces — plus hardware to make it all happen — and began cooking up our dinner and those of a family of six seated near us.
"Hey!" "Hey Baby!" "Yeeeaaahhhh, good one!" Nathan hollered as he started the cutlery-flashing, grill-slapping antics of seasoned hibachi chefs, tossing fire-starter onto the grill, arranging piles of noodles and rice on various hot spots, and entertaining the kids by tossing of small chunks of vegetables until they caught them in their mouths — followed by a squirt of water from a plastic bottle to wash it down.
In the middle of the tossing, one small boy inadvertently caught a piece of vegetable on his forehead, balanced nicely on the top rim of his spectacles. An expert catch, even though it missed the kisser.
Hibachi fun turns gourmet as soon as the food hits the plate, where it is steaming and hot. Of course, it could not be any more freshly cooked, and the beauty of it all is that each portion of your meal is delivered with proper pauses between, allowing you to focus on the first several bites of chicken, or fish, or steak before the next portion of your meal arrives a few moments later, and so on.
It is well timed, cooked in flames shooting 5 feet in the air, delivered with all the clanging and chopping and hollering and general expertise that Nathan brought to the grill.
The Swordfish hibachi entree ($17) boasted a large filet, sliced into 1-inch chunks as it took its place on the grill. Nathan — dressed appropriately with chef hat and low-slung leather belt with his knives and tools of the trade — let the swordfish cook slowly, and it is a pleasant dining experience to watch your food cook, turn color, cook on the other side, receive sauce and cook to its zenith — and then be on your plate in less than one moment.
The combination Chicken/Scallop hibachi dinner ($20) was ordered with lo mein ($2 extra) and arrived with each ingredient as each of my rice and seafood came to plate.
Nathan had a large pile of chicken slices and cubes on the grill, and jazzed it up with flames and sauce and hibachi bravado as he served chicken to six of the eight people on our side of the grill.
At least one member of our table applauded as Nathan was finished, bowing away with tools and equipment with a customary flare.
Then we settled back to enjoy the rest of our food, and slowly wind down the experience into a mellow meal. A Tsingtao beer and a Mango Tango cocktail completed our evening, and we were pleasantly surprised when the bill — two drinks, two appetizers and two hibachi entrees — came in under $70 not including gratuity.
Kume is a spirited, high-voltage dining experience, so be prepared. But the freshest way from kitchen to table is directly, and the grill chefs do that in a second. Add the fun of an entertaining hibachi performance and reasonable prices, and it's a winner.