Teppanyaki Woo-Woo!

Oh, yeah! PvPonline! I used to read the strip a lot more consistently. I should try and get that set up in Google Reader, I had it when I was reading via Bloglines.

This reminds me of a wacky experience we had at our favorite sushi-teppanyaki joint, Kampai (which is conveniently located close to O’Hare, visitors stranded at the airport!). They have a very large location, with the floaty-boat sushi bar at the left hand end (with its own entrance) and the steakhouse/”hibachi place” restaurant at the right hand. They actually had two full-size dining rooms on the main restaurant side, one of which has now been converted over to a more expensive “Asian Fusion” style restaurant. But about 3 or 4 years ago, my husband David and I managed to eat in both dining rooms in the same evening.

Our friend Steve wasn’t with us for this memorable dining experience; it’s kind of become legendary in the telling and re-telling in our small circle of friends and it’s hard to separate fact from embroidery. But the gist was this: we decided to eat on the steakhouse side and were seated in due course. The restaurant had just done a big remodel on that end of the eatery, and it was all freshly redecorated and repainted, with fancy new fans over each cooking surface to deal with all the smoke and vapors that result from doing stir-fry on big, flat, hot cooktops. There were even silk flowers wound around the brand-new fire retardant-spraying nozzles situated at each corner of each table-sized griddle – and there were probably 8 or more full-size tables in the main room, each seating 8 people.

All the tables were full that night, with chefs cutting and slicing and making salt shakers go clackety-clackety, and doing the flaming volcano/smoking choo-choo trick. They were clearly competing with each other, showing off to see who could get their volcanoes to flame up higher and higher. And that’s where the problem lay, because they weren’t used to the new smoke units. Just because they were actually “hoodless,” without a low-hanging flange around the fans, didn’t mean that the fire-detection sensors were thus farther away from the surface of the cooktops. No, the new units must have been more sensitive, to make up for the increased distance between the peak of each Onion Volcano and the intake grille of the smoke fan.

Fwoosh! Fwoosh! The crowd was loving it at each table as the flames reached eyebrow-endangering heights. Several tables were at roughly the same point in the meal, so there was some serious competition, and the guests were egging them on with shouts, laughter, and yes, people overdoing the jocularity and making with the “woo-woo!”

Which is when the fire alarm went off.

And then the fire-retardant foam sprayed out of the delicately flowered nozzles from the table at Ground Zero, and from several of the other nearby tables around it. It went all over partially sliced, diced, grilled food, including some sad little Onion Volcanoes. And all over the unfortunate chefs, and their guests. Oh, calamity!

We were a couple of tables away, toward the door, so our foam-nozzles never went off, and we were just going through the “fried rice” part where the chef does the tricks with the egg on his spatula.

Everything stopped and we waited to see what would happen next. Nobody ran for the exits or anything, there was just this crowd sound that was a combination of dismay (people whose food and clothing got doused) and hilarity (people whose food and clothing were unscathed).

The fire department came, made us move outside for formality’s sake (it was darn cold) and then waved us back in when they determined there was no fire, once the smoke cleared.

The amazing thing was that the restaurant had enough room in the secondary dining room (which they used for overflow or catered parties, I guess) for everyone to pick up their drinks and move in (although the heat wasn’t turned up and it was really cold at first). The crew brought out fresh set-ups for everybody’s dinner orders and within about 10 or 15 minutes of moving over, the chefs were starting everybody’s dinners. Everyone got free drinks in the meantime. The manager, rather than tearing his hair out and firing the flamebug(s) on the spot, remained calm and philosophical, even laughing at the absurdity of his situation, as he had a huge mess to deal with in his brand-new main dining room. It was all very organized and there was very little chaos.

Everyone left smiling and talking about the experience, and I’m sure lots of people told their friends about how the new dining room at Kampai got… “seasoned.” So they probably made up for it within a week or so. And every time we go back, we make with the “woo-woo” and watch to see how high the volcano flames go.

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