No Sake For You!

The Sun Chronicle with a unique story on a Mansfield Japanese restaurant getting into some hot water for its free squirts of Sake.

Sake Steak House in Mansfield Crossing has reined in part of its popular “hibachi” dining performances after the restaurant received complaints from the parents of a 19-year-old customer.

Mansfield Police Chief Arthur O’Neill concluded that, in addition to serving an underage customer, the hibachi routine of spraying sake, a Japanese rice wine, into the mouths of customers, violated the state prohibition on offering free drinks and holding a contest or game involving alcohol.

O’Neill sent his complaint to Mansfield selectmen, the town licensing authority, who on Wednesday night announced they would hold a public disciplinary hearing for the restaurant “as soon as possible.”

“I read the report and I am very disturbed by it,” Selectman Jess Aptowitz said. “I think this is very serious.” Spraying sake from squeeze bottles into the mouths of diners, often to the chant of “sake! sake!” has become a popular part of the “hibachi” experience.

“Hibachi,” which in the United States also refers to small portable charcoal grills, in this context describes performance teppanyaki cooking where diners are seated around a chef who flips food and juggles utensils while cooking for them.

In addition to drinking, sake is also used in cooking and is an integral part of hibachi staples like the flaming onion volcano, where the alcohol is set alight.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kevin Shi, manager of Sake, said the incident involving the 19-year-old had been a result of poor judgment on the part of the chef working that night, who has since been let go.

“I think it was a big misunderstanding between the chef and the customer that night,” Shi said. “We have corrected the problem.”

Unlike other states with more liberal alcohol laws, Massachusetts prohibits alcohol promotions, such as happy-hour free drink specials. The state does allow businesses to offer free alcohol in wine tastings. Shi told the Sun Chronicle that since the complaint in late December, Sake Steak House is making sure that any free tastes of sake from chefs are of tiny amounts consistent with a wine tasting.