Ari, a sushi and Japanese restaurant, has opened in the Gateway Village just north of Orlando International Airport. Technically, this is a second location for a restaurant in Celebration. But this new Ari has added hibachi, or teppanyaki cooking, to its repertoire. That's the style of cooking where the guests sit around large griddles while the chefs make a lot of really unnecessary banging and clanging sounds with their spatulas, knives and even the salt and pepper shakers. Eventually, a shrimp tail is going to get tossed somewhere it has no business being. I've never quite understood the allure of this type of dining, except for people who don't have any interest in talking to each other during dinner. Frankly, I had hoped the fad would have faded by now, but apparently not.
So when I arrived at the new Ari location ahead of my lunch guest and the greeter asked me if I wanted the hibachi seating, I perhaps answered "No" a bit too emphatically. I hope I didn't frighten her.
Instead, I was shown to a table in the back of the main dining room where the sushi chefs were working behind a fairly dark counter. There was no acknowledgement from the chefs when I walked into the restaurant and when I was led past the counter.
When my guest arrived, we ordered a couple of rolls and one of the lunchtime bento boxes so we could sample some of the kitchen foods. Neither was especially noteworthy.
We ordered the soft shell crab roll and the Ultimate Spicy Tuna Roll. I suppose the word "ultimate" is meant to modify the tuna — it featured tuna inside and outside. It certainly couldn't have been meant to say that it would be ultimately spicy, because it wasn't in the least.
The soft shell crab tasted as though it had been breaded and fried in advance — it was lifeless and surprisingly bland.
Our bento box was built around the pork katsu, a breaded cutlet cut into strips. It came with a small salad with ginger dressing (delicious), gyoza (hard, flavorless dumplings), a mound of white rice, and four pieces of a California roll. California roll, of course, is one of the most uncreative and least appealing sushi offering (does anyone actually order one of these rolls or are they relegated to bento add-ons?). Ari's chefs managed to make it even less satisfying. We might have well been popping rice cakes in our mouths.
Service was detached and uncaring. Seemed like most of the staff would have preferred to be someplace else.
The dining area had a cold, cafeteria-like feel. It didn't help that the large bar area had all the lights turned off, apparently to signal that it was closed and no one was welcome to sit there. The result was to make everyone feel as though closing time were imminent, even in the afternoon.
Maybe things are better in the hibachi room. At least there might be some happy shrimp-tail tossing.
Ari Hibachi & Sushi is at 5475 Gateway Village Circle, Orlando (it faces Semoran Boulevard but cannot be accessed from it). The website has a menu with prices but not the days that it is open. (It is open for lunch Monday through Saturday and for dinner daily.) The phone number is 407-826-0588.