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The Journal Gazette

  • Hot and sour soup from Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

  • Cheese wontons from Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

  • Orange chicken from Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

  • Beef Mei Fun from Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

  • An egg roll from Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

  • Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

  • House Udon from Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

  • Spring rolls from Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

  • The Shrimp Diet Dish from Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven.

Sunday, July 15, 2018 1:00 am

Chinese place well worth trip to New Haven

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Hibachi

★★★ 1/2

Out of a possible five

$

The name was very confusing, but the experience was quite enjoyable.

After a few folks, including a co-worker, touted Hibachi Chinese Restaurant in New Haven, I was intrigued to see what the inexpensive, fast-casual place had to offer.

But what it didn't offer was anything cooked on a hibachi grill.

The grill was there, clearly visible up front behind a glass partition as if it was supposed to be the centerpiece of the little freestanding restaurant right in front of Kroger along Lincoln Highway. But it was simply a storage area with boxes stacked on it.

I was told the grill was in use for about the first five months after the place opened in September but was put on hiatus because it wasn't popular. That cleared up my confusion, but it made me kind of sad because if the hibachi offerings were as tasty as the standard Chinese fare, I would have loved to have tried it.

This isn't a fancy place and most of the business is takeout, but the inside has been nicely remodeled with attractive wood wall coverings and new, modern tables and chairs for dining in.

The food is served in foam containers, and plastic cutlery had to be used except in the case of what was one of the best dishes I had.

The House Udon Soup came in a big decorated plastic bowl and with a Chinese duck spoon. It was full of big, perfectly cooked noodles that maintained their integrity in the hot broth. The broth was not as herbaceous as a Vietnamese pho broth and was a tad sweeter, but it had some of those complexities – anise, perhaps – and just as much depth.

It also had a bevy of fresh and crunchy vegetables – carrots, broccoli, bamboo, cabbage and onions. It also had plenty of beef, chicken and shrimp that was also not overcooked. It was delicious.

Another jewel centered around noodles, these the thin rice variety. The Beef Mei Fun was basically a fried rice made with noodles. It had carrots, celery spears, cabbage and onions, along with the super tender beef, and those white noodles picked up the flavor of the wok just like fried rice. It was lightly seasoned so that hint of smokiness was prominent and was a dish that was hard to stop eating. An even better version is the Singapore Mei Fun, which has the same base with a little yellow curry added to give it heat and another flavor level.

There was great care taken to differentiate the noodle dishes at Hibachi. The Chicken Lo Mein had distinctly different noodles. These brown wheat-flour noodles were thicker and denser so they held up better when heavily sauced and were less springy than the udon.

The sauce drenching these noodles was quite tasty – a little sweeter than the standard stir-fry brown sauce. There was plenty of tender chicken, but it seemed as if whoever cut the meat did not get the cleaver all the way through as there were long pieces clinging together by strands, making it awkward to eat. But that was the only flaw.

I loved that Hibachi offered true egg rolls with egg dough wrappings as well as spring rolls, and both were tasty. The egg rolls were my favorite, in part because so many places don't make them anymore. They had bubbly crisp exteriors and vegetables dotted by tiny flecks of pink barbecued pork. Those little flecks were the only pork the restaurant serves, so if you are looking for it in a stir-fry, you are out of luck.

The thin rice paper-wrapped vegetable spring rolls were no slouches, either, thanks to a heavy dose of zippy black pepper added to the cabbage and carrots inside.

The crab rangoon – which Hibachi calls cheese wontons – was OK, and the egg drop soup was mundane, but the hot and sour was worth the trip to New Haven alone.

This soup was packed with vegetables, including delicious strips of hearty Asian mushrooms, which gave it a deep umami background to go with its spicy-sour broth. I saw cabbage, tofu, onions, carrots and egg in that broth, but there may have been additions I missed.

It would have easily ranked as one of the best I have ever had if not for its broth being a little gelatinous. But I will have it again and try it at lunchtime as I suspect my evening serving might have thickened as the hours passed.

There were three items dubbed as diet dishes at Hibachi, and the steamed shrimp with mixed vegetables was refreshingly unique. Instead of stir-frying the shrimp, broccoli, celery, onions, carrot, water chestnuts and bamboo in a heavy sauce, it was all lightly steamed so the veggies stayed crisp. It included a bowl of a thick, brown, soy sauce-based sauce on the side for you to add as you liked. I used very little because the vegetables were so naturally tasty on their own.

An American favorite that rarely impressed really impressed. The Orange Chicken – among the chef's specials – had more orange essence than most versions of this dish that have an orange peel or two thrown in but not a lot of flavor.

The sticky-sweet sauce had a nice background of peppery spice and the citrus zing hit the palate at the end of each bite. The chicken stayed crispy after being sauced and was properly cooked so the meat inside was still moist and tender.

I liked it much better than the General Tso's, which I wasn't even going to try until an employee asked if I wanted my complimentary order. She then pointed to the bottom of the take-home menu where it showed what free throw-in you get at dinnertime. If you spend more than $20, you get two egg rolls or cheese wontons. For $30 you get fried rice. For $50, it is General Tso's.

It won't take freebies to get me to return to Hibachi Chinese Restaurant, though. It has cemented itself as a place that will be in my regular rotation. And I will do so with an eye on that hibachi grill, hoping the owners give it another shot.

Restaurant: Hibachi Chinese Restaurant

Address: 887 Lincoln Highway W.

Phone: 493-3030

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Chinese

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Egg roll ($2.50 for 2), spring rolls ($2.50 for 4), cheese wontons ($2.50 for 4), hot and sour soup ($2.50 small; $3.95 large), shrimp diet dish ($9.75), chicken lo mein ($5.75; $7.95), mei fun (beef $8.55; Singapore $8.95), house udon ($8.95), orange chicken ($9.75)

Rating breakdown: Food: ★★ 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.