Ultimate interactive dining experience

Chefs flipping spatulas, the aroma of savory foods and the sound of laughter fill the tight premises of Arigato Japanese Steakhouse. Even just walking into the restaurant can arouse the senses.

One immediately notices that this is a traditional Japanese restaurant. The women wear traditional kimonos; the decor of the restaurant is modern but peaceful, with soothing Japanese music and a view of a lake out back. One thing that makes Arigato unique is the group seating: With eight people to a table, as many as three or four parties can be seated together, allowing for random conversation and new acquaintances.

What really makes the meal fun is the chef. They flip spatulas over their shoulders and behind their backs, much like a talented bartender would with bottles. While cooking the vegetables, some chefs make volcanoes out of onions, placing the subsequent layers of onion on top of each other and lighting the middle on fire. The chef livens up the customers at the table by making fun of them and pretending to throw food at them. For his finale, he throws shrimp tails in the air and catches them in his chef hat, generating much applause from the table.

Despite the presentation and obvious ability of the chefs, the food is average. Although the soup and salad are good, the rest of the meal left much to be desired.

The main course was disappointing. The rice had little flavor and only tasted burnt. All one could taste in the chicken and shrimp was lemon. The steak and shrimp sauces provided added a little flavor but was only mediocre. The shrimp sauce is suggested for all seafoo;. it adds a tangy flavor and is useful for toning down the lemon flavor. The steak sauce is suggested for the meats and rice and tastes a little like soy sauce.

At Arigato, the early bird does catch the worm.

The early-bird special, between the hours of 5-6 p.m., is a great deal with prices starting at $7.99 and go up to $13.99. It is a three-course meal consisting of Shoyu onion soup, followed by fresh salad greens with oriental dressing. All of the meals are served with mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, zucchini, onions and fried rice. There is also a variety of specialty Japanese drinks on the menu, with fancy names such as Ho Tei Dream and Tokyo Rose

Arigato also offers a variety of appetizers, tempura, main courses and desserts. There is something for everyone.

According to Vice President of Operations and Marketing Danielle DelBello, Arigato’s history is quite eventful. Her father, Dale DelBello, started the restaurant in 1971 in Buffalo, N.Y. A few years later he decided to expand to Rochester, N.Y., Syracuse, N.Y., and Florida, opening up locations in St. Petersburg and Orlando. He decided to sell his company, which didn’t work out well.

“He sold all of them to a company called Samurai – and they ran them into the ground,” DelBello said.

So Dale bought them all back, closed the locations up north and in Orlando, kept the location in St. Petersburg and opened two new locations in Tampa and Clearwater, which have always been family owned and operated.

The fun atmosphere and friendly chefs make Arigato a great place to come with a big group or for a special occasion. Reservations are highly recommended.

Grade: B+

Arigato Japanese Steakhouse is located on 13755 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood. The phone number is (813) 960-5050