Even if you've never been there, you probably know what Bonsai Japanese Steakhouse does.

It's a restaurant, which means that your food is cooked in front of you on a big, hot grill by a chef who usually aims not only to cook your meal to order, but also to entertain you: spinning and juggling utensils and bottles, flipping food into diners' mouths and, of course, making the flaming onion volcano.

If you've been to any restaurant of this kind, you know the drill. So rather than outline the whole experience all over again, I'll concentrate on what stood out when we visited the Sandy Bonsai for dinner on a recent weeknight.

First, Bonsai was exceedingly family friendly. The hostess who seated us brought a highchair for our 2-year-old and lidded cups and kid-rigged chopsticks for the younger kids. Our bowls of simple, aromatic onion soup were served alongside a bowl of ice, in case the kids' broth needed an instant cool-down — an especially thoughtful touch, I thought. And, of course, all that flame and spatula-flipping is thrilling to kids.

The place also is more intimate, and therefore more quiet, than others of its type. There's mellow Japanese music playing in the background, and instead of a single cavernous dining area there are several smaller spaces, which helps keep the noise level down without impeding conversation.

The pricing is low-to-average for this type of restaurant, with kids' meals ranging from about six to nine bucks and adult meals up to $36 — and that's for the lobster tail and king crab legs. The chicken, steak and shrimp combinations most of us go for range from $17 to $20, and that includes soup, salad, veggies and steamed rice. Fried rice is extra, which I didn't like much as that's one of my favorite parts of a teppanyaki meal.

It was worth it, though. I always tell people that, from a food standpoint, I visit this type of restaurant for three reasons: the fried rice, the grilled veggies and the beautiful sear that this type of cooking puts on meat.

Our chef, though entertaining and certainly a deft juggler, kept the silliness to a minimum. He concentrated on getting us our food hot, fresh and perfect, and nothing I tasted was a problem. The kids mostly got New York steak, cooked medium-rare so it was tender and juicy. My oldest daughter tried, and loved, the beef sukiyaki with its long slices of beef, sweet sauce and sprinkling of sesame seeds.

And all of the girls tried, and mostly liked, both the cool California roll and the fresh, silky-textured yellowtail sashimi.

My husband and I had the dinner for two, which included the soup, chewy beef teriyaki and crisp chicken wings as appetizers. We also got filet mignon, shrimp, chicken, fried rice and veggies, plus ice cream for dessert (we gave it to the kids, of course).

I loved the filet mignon, which was super-tender, and I was surprised how much I liked the chicken, with its rich brown sear. We shared our steaming, flavorful shrimp around the table, though of course the crowning shrimp moment of the night was our chef flipping bits into our open mouths.

On that score, I miss as often as I catch it, and so do the kids. But my husband has a perfect shrimp-catching record, which just goes to show you that dining out can reveal new aspects of people you know.

Appetizers $3.95-$6.75; sushi, sashimi and rolls $3.50-$56.95; entrees $9.25-$35.95, dinner for two $51.95, sides $1.95-$2.75, dessert $2-$3.75, kids' meals $6.95-$9.25.

Rating: ***

Where: 875 E. 9400 South, Sandy (other location in Holladay)

Hours: Monday-Friday, 4:30-10 p.m.

Saturday, 4-10 p.m.

Sunday, 4-9 p.m.

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 352-9288

Wheelchair access: Easy

Also: Sushi bar closed Sundays


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: [email protected]