Dinner and a show
The legend of Tulsa’s edgiest hibachi chef
Tokyo Garden at 4020 S. Memorial Dr.
Let’s be clear about something: Tokyo Garden has never been the coolest Japanese restaurant in town. When your first screenplay gets adapted into a major motion picture starring Casey Affleck and Anna Kendrick, you and your crew head downtown. Somewhere fancy and with an umlaut in the name, where the bartender has an ivy league degree in craft cocktails. A place with tarragon butter.
At 41st and Memorial, Tokyo Garden is far away from the places in town everyone’s buzzing about, though there are intelligent, well-appointed people who think Tokyo Garden is the only restaurant in Tulsa that matters. People who, when they want to celebrate, have one item at the top of their agenda: assemble a crew and hit Tokyo Garden.
Over the last few years, I’ve done a half dozen or so Tokyo Garden sessions. The most memorable was in March 2015 when our server—who went by the stage name “Sexy Boy”—spent his two hours at our table roasting the dudes and flirting with the ladies, mashing up food tricks with racy innuendos. Along with the standard, hackneyed hibachi gags (i.e. the Japanese butterfly: butter flipped through the air across the table. Butter. Fly.), he worked a constant theme into his routine.
“All the ladies love Sexy Boy. Watch Sexy Boy work his magic,” he chanted. “Fellas, look out.”
Sexy Boy was merely a hibachi chef the way Iggy Pop was merely a musician. He was a provocateur, an artist, a shaman. Sexy Boy was danger and electricity. He was hilarious, and he had us rolling.
Recently, I returned to Tokyo Garden with a new party crew. We hoped to see Sexy Boy bring the noise. Between the dining room and the waiting area, a tiny stream runs under a miniature bridge; and in this stream there are hundreds of coins. Some of those coins represent wishes, and some of those wishes actually come true.
As luck would have it he was assigned to our table, but something was different. There was no sexy talk and he never once referred to himself as “Sexy Boy,” but I was certain of the man standing before us.
At the beginning of the show he introduced us to his “sexy son,” a small squeeze bottle that squirts cooking oil out of the hole. His act had the same basic qualities—a unique brand of mischief, antagonism, and irreverence. When we asked for chopsticks, he snapped back, “Tomorrow!” After pausing for laughs he motioned to his assistant who brought us chopsticks and re-upped our sake. He seemed to be PG-13 Sexy Boy. But PG-13 Sexy Boy is still good times.
As we gulped down Sapporos and crushed our fried rice and hibachi meats, something was eating at us. There was no electricity here, no danger. He was not trying to drive a romantic wedge between the men and the women. It was unsettling. So, naturally, after about four sake bombs each, we began interrogating him.
“Aren’t you Sexy Boy?”
Our chef scoffed at our insolence and dodged the question every time, changing the subject, or tossing back a jab—“You have a big mouth. Open your big mouth!” Then he spatula-flipped a grilled shrimp into each of our gaping maws. The only hint of his alter ego was a sly smile as he sliced and diced our steaks and scallops. He was not going to reveal anything about the man behind the grill.
Perhaps Sexy Boy is less Iggy Pop and more David Bowie, expirimenting with personas and adapting his routine to an ever-changing public. The David Bowies and the Sexy Boys of this world aren’t here to read between the lines for you. a
4020 S. Memorial Dr.
5 p.m.–9:30 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 5 p.m.–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–9 p.m. Sun.