Erieite Appetite: Aoyama Japanese Steak House & Lounge

Quality: 5

Price: Moderately expensive

Though Aoyama Japanese Steak House & Lounge is more of a mainstream restaurant in Erie, it is one of a kind.

The New York-inspired restaurant creates an authentic Japanese dining experience by offering its clientele hibachi cooking. If you like to see how your food is prepared, hibachi dining is for you. Aoyama chefs will prepare your meal, and entertain you too, while you sit at a built-in grill table.

Located at 970 Millcreek Mall, Aoyama can easily be reached by taking public transportation, but for my purposes, I drove with my friends on a Saturday afternoon.

Upon arrival, the kimono-dressed hostess asked if we wanted hibachi or dining seats. Since we had experienced some form of hibachi cooking prior to Aoyama, we chose regular dining. Walking to our table, I noticed the interior atmosphere of Aoyama is extremely ornate with dim lighting, a rock wall waterfall, pagoda statues, and bamboo plants. We were sat near a sushi bar where Japanese chefs were artistically preparing a variety of seafood dishes.

Being a novice to authentic Japanese food, I was unsure of what to order off Aoyama’s elaborate menu of sushi rolls, teriyaki dinner entrees, cold and hot appetizers, soups and salads. I knew, however, it was imperative to order some form of sushi, so I chose the popular California roll, an inside-out sushi roll made of rice, seaweed, cucumber, crab and avocado.

To complement my sushi dish, I ordered Agedashi Tofu, gently fried bean curd and green tea. As an appetizer, my friends ordered Edamame, soy bean pods served with salt, and the chicken and steak, and steak and tilapia teriyaki entrees.

Aoyama’s green tea was deliciously smooth to sip and came in a small tea pot and cup. For $2, I was able to enjoy an unlimited amount of tea brewed to my preferred taste.

Shortly after we ordered, my friends were delivered miso soup and salad to go along with their dinner entrees. Somewhat oily, my friends did not favor the miso soup which is composed of soy beans, tofu, seaweed and scallions. However, they found the fresh garden salad favorable.

Not more than five minutes passed when our server delivered my fried tofu and California rolls. Eight hot, soft and lightly fried tofu squares were prepared on a white rectangular plate with a sweet dipping sauce. Trying tofu for the second time ever, I was equally satisfied as I was with my initial tasting.

In attempts to improve my chop-stick skills, I placed a California roll in my tofu dipping sauce and then into my mouth where the avocado, crab, rice and seaweed flavors danced across my taste buds.

It was then that I understood why the California roll has grown in popularity across the country. The combination of ingredients was perfectly flavorful, not to mention filling.

While I was busy enjoying my meal, my friends’ meals were delivered. They unselfishly allowed me to try some of their chicken, steak and tilapia. Marinated in teriyaki sauce, each was mouthwatering and juicy.

All of us were so content with our meals and the entire Aoyama atmosphere, we lingered in the restaurant longer than usual, waiting for the other to make the first exiting move.

By the time we left, my lunch cost approximately $12, but the good service and food was worth the price.