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Panama's Saddest Japanese Restaurant

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Written by Matt   
Friday, 02 January 2009 12:06
Panama Japanese RestaurantGinza Japanese Steakhouse in El Cangrejo is everything I never want to see in a restaurant for the rest of my life: bad food, try poorly executed cheese gimmicks, and awkward service that makes you wonder why you ever chose hibachi in the first place. The circumstances by which I was coerced into eating here were unique, decease albeit, but one would expect, at least one would hope, decease that such a seemingly well-funded establishment might put together something more closely resembling a meal. It was New Years Eve and almost all of my favorite restaurants were either closed or booked to the rim with reservations. The dilemma inspired Keenan and I to do as we occasionally do and drive around trying to find a restaurant in the City we'd never been to before, purely in the name of adventure. This particular night led us to the bright, palatial entrance of Ginza on Calle Alberto Navarro in El Cangrejo, which is actually really attractive and newly finished.

I should have guessed from the fact that the previous owners intentionally burned down the old restaurant in favor of insurance money, that the location might be cursed. As it would turn out, our experience could not have been characterized as cursed or even damned or doomed: it was beyond all that.

I try to stay away from places like this as a general rule; restaurants that taut themselves as entertainment and accordingly see such as an excuse for having bad food.

The inside of Ginza brings to mind every cliché of touristy food. A fake rain wall, bubbly coy pond, and several English-speaking maitre d's dressed in tuxedos: the type of tuxedos that speak of overpriced food. The main seating area is divided up into several different hibachi sections, each around a large flat griddle manned by someone wearing a tall chef's hat. There is a bar with several large plasma TVs, a few private rooms sectioned off by bamboo walls, and a staff of kimono-wearing Panamanians who shuffle like lemmings.

"How long did you study to acquire this position?" I asked the man behind the flattop who, to his credit, was in fact from Hong Kong.

"This...this my third time," was his response.
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I ordered sushi and a salad while Keenan chose to try the "house special" which was hibachi style chicken teriyaki that comes with vegetables, shrimp, and the glorious process of watching your food prepared before you. The salad arrived first and was a fresh mix of iceberg lettuce and some warm tomatoes. The salad was accompanied with my choice of any of three salad dressings, a great concept in theory: the dressings themselves were scary though, each mayonnaise-based with the texture of wall spackle.

The sushi was about a C+ and probably the best thing we had all night. The service itself was actually pretty attentive but nothing would overshadow the food. I happened to be particularly thirsty that night and drank about 15 glasses of water, which kept the girl on her toes.

The hibachi routine, which the Panamanians plainly call "live food," was surprisingly boring and mundane. There was no flipping of the shrimp, no volcanoes of onion, and certainly no interaction between the novice chef and ourselves. "Are you guys always this busy?" was one of my questions in an effort to get him to talk a little more.

"No" was his response. "No, no busy."

Keenan's chicken came out half-cooked and so did the steak of our neighbors who couldn't figure out how to say "well done" in Spanish. "En vivo" I told them.

The meal at Ginza Japanese Steakhouse came out to around $20/person and honestly I would have preferred giving the money to a poor child on Via Veneto in exchange for a shoe shine. The restaurant situated in El Cangrejo, so I'm guessing it snags a number of tourists who either a) like that sort of thing or b) choose it out of familiarity as in, we don't want to get sick from eating this tropical lettuce so let's opt for something we know from home. We happened to be sitting next to a couple of Danish folks who said it was the best meal they'd had in weeks.

The name Ginza itself sounds to me like the name of a Japanese restaurant franchise, but as is common in Panama, this branch got really fucked up. To their credit, the men behind the cook tops were Asian, which is more than most sushi restaurants in Panama can say about their staff. Overall though, the Ginza experience was one I'll reserve for once in a blue moon: perhaps when nothing else is open or, on the rare occasion, I have a hankering for that precious experience people here refer to as live food.

Image: ichibanwasabi.com/images/ichiban_hibachi.jpg
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ugh, i remember this place
written by Livement , January 03, 2009
we were in panama a few months ago and made the mistake of eating here (we were staying at the hotel milan which is right across the street). your review conjurs up bad memories - really dissappointing food for sure. is there any good japanese food in panama?
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Japanese restaurant
written by KimHo , January 05, 2009
I have heard Matsui is as authentic as you can get in Panama. If I lived in Panama, I would check it myself... For other options, check here:

http://www.sushi.infogate.de/rest/la_panama_panamacity.htm
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Maybe the author knows...any Korean restaurants??
written by James , January 06, 2009
Hey Matt...enjoyed the review. I'm not quite sure if this is the appropriate place to get in touch with you? If so, any ideas on Korean restaurants in Panama City? Maybe a place that caters to any Korean ex-pats.....serves up some good bulgogi, kalbi, kimchi, etc...

How about Thai food?? Has Thai made it to Panama yet?

I've got a wife to please during our upcoming trip there! Thanks!
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James -KimHo Response
written by Mateo , January 06, 2009
Kimho, Mattsui is pretty good (and directly across the street from the famous Ginza Steak House). The ambiance here is traditional Japanese, but the food doesn't really compare with exceptional ones at home (or in Japan for that matter). It's also really overpriced for Panama, but I suppose it's a trade off.

James, there was one called Korea house which was in a cool Spanish-looking house in Obarrio but they cleared it in favor of a high rise. Go figure. I don't know of any others in the City. I also don't know of any Thai-specific restaurants: there is TWIST on Frederico Boyd which has a decent Pad Thai but as for a down-home Thai hole in the wall, never come across anything of the sort. Might be better off burying your own kimchi in the ground.

- Matt
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written by KimHo , January 08, 2009
> Matt

Not sure where would you call "home" but, in my case, I ought to mention that I live in the Great White North, specifically in Vancouver, so location comparisons will be a bit skewed! Please notice that teppanyaki (or sushi for that matter) is not necessarily representative of Japanese cuisine, despite the later is the better known. If there were Japanese restaurants ("authentic" or themed) that serves teishoku, kaiseki or, heck, some ramen!
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Last Updated on Friday, 02 January 2009 12:07
 
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