It's eight-thirty on a Saturday evening, and the baseline of noise is high in Osaka Japanese Sushi and Steakhouse. Cheers erupt from the corner as one surprisingly sober diner catches a bite of grilled chicken in his mouth, slung across the grill by a chortling chef; from the next table comes a gasp of delight as four-foot high flames swoosh off of the grill.
Meanwhile, across the dining room, a chef armed with a squirt bottle squeezes a thin arc of sake into the mouth of one grinning diner. Diners at the table take up the fist-pounding count of "One! Two! Three!" until, somewhere around "Eighteen!" the drinker begs off, wiping a wet dribble of sake from the corner of his mouth.
Hibachi is a show, and these grills are the stage. This same combination of Japanese grill cooking and showmanship, similar to the style found around teppanyaki tables, rocketed the Benihana restaurant chain to popularity in the 1960s.
At Osaka, the chefs dance through their paces, like culinary Astaires. Spatulas whirl, knives flash, and whole eggs fly through the air. It's easy to wonder whether these theatrics are all just sleight-of-hand to mask mediocre food, but the chunks of meat and vegetable flitting across the grill, tasting of charcoal smoke, are seared to perfection.
Sushi chefs perform a more demure show on the other side of the restaurant, designed for quieter dining. This side of the restaurant lacks the other side's theatrics, and lacks as well as the diners shouting orders for a third—or a fourth—mai tai. But still, every seat is filled, and bass notes thump up the stairs from the aspiring nightclub on Osaka's lower level.
Simple rolls and sashimi are designed to show off the fresh fish, but some of the more imaginative maki present a muddle of ingredients. Avocado and sun-dried tomato complimented with mango-strawberry-kiwi sauce? One victim of this creative ambition is the 'Beauty on the Beach' roll, a jumble of fruit, egg, and tempura wrapped in bright pink rice paper, plated with a confusing fruity sauce and smears of wasabi cream.
The chefs in the kitchen exhibit as much mastery over their domain as do those on the grill. The delicate flavor of sake in Chilean sea bass, marinated for a full day and then sizzled over charcoal, delights with sauces of mint and honey and salty, savory undertones.
Mochi ice cream is overwrought, drizzled with chocolate sauce and dotted with rainbow-colored sprinkles, burying the faint mango flavor.
While the drinks keep flowing and the music keeps pumping, the real draw at Osaka is the chefs who do what your mother warned you against—they play with your food.
Osaka Japanese Sushi and Steakhouse is open Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-12 a.m., and Sunday and holidays 12:30 p.m.-11 p.m. 14 Green Street, Brookline. MBTA: Green line (C) to Coolidge Corner.