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Friday, April 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily

FOOD AND DRINK

Hot summer hibachi in downtown Madison
Grilled street food gets a snazzy new name

The square's Hibachi Grill cart retains most of the items from the Wei's Food to Go menu, so if you want to stick with fried rice, go ahead.
The square's Hibachi Grill cart retains most of the items from the Wei's Food to Go menu, so if you want to stick with fried rice, go ahead.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen
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All of a sudden, it's hibachi. There's the new food cart called Hibachi Hut on the UW Library Mall. And the old standby food cart Wei's Food to Go on the Capitol Square -- formerly Viet Foods to Go -- has once again changed its name to Hibachi Grill and adjusted its menu accordingly. Why the sudden interest? Is it that Americans' food imaginations turn to grilled meats from June-August?

What is hibachi anyway? In the USA in the 1970s, it referred to a popular kind of small outdoor charcoal grill; in the case of these two food carts, it's cooking meat and vegetables on a metal grill in a way similar to an Americanized Japanese-style of cooking known as teppanyaki.

The menu at the Hibachi Hut focuses on grilled chicken and steak, also available as grilled teriyaki chicken and grilled teriyaki steak. Or you can simply stick with grilled veggies. The grilled steak and chicken come with grilled seasoned vegetables (onions, broccoli, zucchini, carrots) over white rice in a hefty serving. Both are also available as a wrap/sandwich. (Items cost $5.75-$6.)

The grilled chicken and steak come hot, tender and well seasoned, but the overall dish is uninspired. There's no sauce to marry the ingredients to the rice, so the effect is dry and a little boring. The chicken is good; the vegetables not bad. I kept wishing I could add some sauce, though, or take the chicken home and add it to something with a little more zest. This is uninspired street food; you can do much better on the mall. The portions are certainly fair -- I'll say that for Hibachi Hut. But I'd prefer Zen Sushi, or Santa Fe Trailer, or Buraka.

The square's Hibachi Grill cart retains most of the items from the Wei's Food to Go menu, so if you want to stick with fried rice, go ahead. Also retained from the earlier menu: the refreshing cold rice noodle salad ($5.50), available with barbecued pork or five flavor egg, a wonderfully flavorful hard-boiled egg infused with a rich, tea and soy flavor.

That's a prelude to saying I'd skip the hibachi chicken ($5.75), the cart's only hibachi entree, which is not as tender or as flavorful as Hibachi Hut's, although the portion size is quite similar. The grilled veggies run mostly to onion, with a few spears of broccoli, a couple of spears of zucchini, and few peapods and some carrot shavings. The seasoning is mostly black pepper. It's not awful, but I'd sure rather get the rice noodle salad.

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