I’ve never been much for pyrotechnics. Far from a model Boy Scout, I could never light a campfire, and my first backyard grill – a hibachi – required copious amounts of lighter fluid. My guests would wait for hours only to be served an anemic, barely scorched burger.
So, I’m particularly awestruck when someone ignites an impressive flame, and it was no surprise that the Hibachi Heaven food truck immediately caught my eye.
I’ve managed to collar my college roommate “Ford McKenzie” for lunch. He’s recently started a job in my neighborhood. I think a street food lunch is a fantastic idea. He’s not so sure. As a compromise, we’ve agreed to meet at a new sandwich shop for lunch. But, when I spot Hibachi Heaven on 52nd Street, I send him an A.P.B., also known as a text. Moment later, I can see Ford – dapperly dressed for casual Friday – just a half-a-block away heading towards me.
“I could sense the excitement in your text,” he tells me. He’s right. My pulse is racing. I try to explain the kind of primal “hunter gatherer” thrill a new food truck inspires, but my words are insufficient. I’m pleased that Ford will get the full food truck experience. He’s just returned from India and sampled a variety of street food. He should be a real natural at this.
Hibachi Heaven is a sleek black truck flanked with Hot Wheels-style flames on each side. An angelic hibachi chef is depicted on the truck door.
The whole concept of a hibachi on a truck has raised some questions in my mind. The word “hibachi” means “fire bowl” in Japanese and a traditional hibachi is a ceramic box or bowl that contains charcoal. I’m half-expecting a Benihana-style chef putting on a food and fireworks display inside the truck.
I suppose the truck is kind of a metaphysical hibachi on wheels. The owners describe the vehicle as “a fire bowl truck filled with delicious food and great service.” Hibachi Heaven boasts the largest grill on a food truck, but then I don’t exactly have a tape measure handy.
The menu is simple but substantial. Entrees are available in a wrap or a bowl and you get a selection of protein, rice, vegetables and sauce. If you are inclined to be creative, you can actually come up with quite a range of options. The protein choices include beef, chicken, shrimp or tofu. Add to that a choice of fried rice or brown rice and a vegetable medley of carrots, cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms and onions. Top it off with a Heavenly Ginger Sauce, Yum Yum Sauce or Wasabi Infused Mayo. It’s a lot of food and probably not the best option for the salad and soda cracker crowd.
Ford steps up to the window, calmly orders a beef wrap with wasabi infused mayo and lays out his cash. I’m a little taken aback by the rationality of the whole scene unfolding in front of me. Where’s the witty repartee? Where’s the “my-order-is-better-than-yours” competitive mind games? Where’s the sense of food porn rapture? Doesn’t he know there’s a whole ritual to this truck food thing? To be fair, he is following the crème de la crème of food truckers, and they are not an easy act to follow. Maybe a more formal apprenticeship is in order?
I pay for my order – a Hibachi Heaven bowl, filled with grilled chicken, fried rice, vegetables and Heavenly Ginger Sauce. I’m about to head for the usual outdoor dining spot when Ford decides to add his own unique twist to the ritual. I’m pointing to the concrete benches, but he’s shaking his head disapprovingly.
“We’re not eating outside,” he says. “Let’s go to the lobby of the Sheraton.”
I should have known that “roughing it” was not exactly his style. I follow Ford up the street and through the revolving doors of the Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Avenue.
“Is this legal?” I whisper.
“Sure,” he says confidently. “It’s a public space.” He heads for a grouping of two cushy chairs, and brushes some paper and debris off a table so that we can use if for our indoor picnic. It turns out the paper and debris actually belongs to somebody who huffily appears to collect his things. Meanwhile, I’m keeping one eye trained on the hotel security desk as we unpack the goods.
Ford’s wrap is the size of a burrito on steroids. The beef smells savory and delicious.
My chicken is rich and meaty with big chunks of chicken, the vegetables are nicely crisp and the Heavenly Ginger sauce adds a nice zing.
Leave it to Ford to take street food and "class it up" a notch. In terms of our “fine dining” experience, it all turns out not to be a problem. We enjoy an uninterrupted, leisurely lunch with a pretty good view of the taxi queue outside the hotel. Ford thinks I worry too much about “the rules” but it would have been embarrassing if Hibachi Heaven had ended in the slammer.
©2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved