A few weeks ago I went to a Japanese restaurant on Erie Boulevard East called The Secret Garden. I wasn’t planning on going there but I saw it, was in the mood for Japanese food, and decided to stop by.

When I walked in, I wasn’t quite sure where to go. The layout was kind of confusing, so I followed this group of younger folks, one of whom held the door open for me, and found that I had ended up in the wrong place; luckily, I finally found where I wanted to be. This guy immediately came over and sat me at a table. I looked at the dinner specials and saw that salmon teriyaki was on there at what was an extremely low price, and since that’s my favorite meal at Japanese restaurants I knew I was going to order that.

I waited close to 10 minutes to order. It’s rare that I’ll wait that long to have someone take my order but it was late on a Wednesday night and I hadn’t eaten in awhile, and as I said the price was right. When the guy took my order I asked if I could have fried rice and he said they didn’t do fried rice. I said fried rice was on the big menu and he said yes, but they only did it if you wanted it as a full meal. That was disappointing, but so be it; I’d go with the white rice.

The guy immediately brought me these little dishes of… stuff. Truthfully, I didn’t know what any of it was, and I’m not the most adventurous eater. I did try the non-red one, which was crunchy and okay as far as taste, but I couldn’t see myself actually eating it.

Yes, that's the spoon

Of course, one of my issues was how I was going to eat my meal when it came. I only had the choice of a spoon or chopsticks. I’ll admit that I’m not proficient with chopsticks, even though I lived in Japan for 3 years; I was very young then. There are things I can eat well with chopsticks; salmon teriyaki isn’t one of them, and unless I’m eating rice out of a bowl, I don’t want chopsticks then either. So, when my food finally came, I ate it with a spoon.

How was it? Truthfully, I’ve had better. In a way, I felt like the first time I had Japanese food when I first moved to New York in that it was lightly flavored, whereas I’m used to a fuller flavored meal. It was one of those times when I knew if I asked for more teriyaki sauce that it wouldn’t have helped. Not that I had an opportunity to ask for more, since once my meal was set down, I didn’t see anyone come by so I could ask for anything until I was done with the meal, and I really could have used another soda. One could see the issue if the place had been packed but it wasn’t, though it was probably half full, and they only had 2 people on for the night that I noticed.

All in all I’d have to say that the entire experience was partially disappointing. The salmon was cooked fine, but since the flavor was weak, and I couldn’t get fried rice, it was just okay. I didn’t like the stuff they set out, and I couldn’t find an appetizer that I wanted to order either. And having to wait so long for someone to come check on me when I was actually sitting at the table right in front of the counter was bad customer service; I’m hoping it had more to do with the fact that there were only 2 people on than something else I also had on my mind at the time…

I have to say it’s meals and times like this that makes me appreciate just how good Ichiban is. If the expense for eating there on my own wasn’t so high, I’d have just gone there instead and been closer to home as well. But I like trying new places to see if I can find a diamond in the rough; sorry, but not this time.

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