Even without waitresses in kimonos and dining on cushions, Japanese restaurants evoke serenity.
The Restaurant Hana has done little to make one feel part of a teahouse setting. Aside from the window rock garden collection, little effort had been spent on decoration. There are booths and tables, a little music in the background. But from the initial greeting, you know friendliness and concern are important here.
A young American waitress takes orders and seems present more to help over come the language barrier than to enhance tranquility.
Although the restaurant is not lavishly decorated, esthetic values are a primary concern. Food is served on a beautiful set of ceramic serving pieces, and each dish is prepared with close attention to its color, shape and texture.
The menu lists items Americans expect to find on a Japanese menu, such as teriyaki and sukiyaki, as well as selections that are becoming increasingly popular in this country, sashimi and sushi.
The sashimi is fresh fish served with wasabi -- a green horseradish -- and without rice. The sushi is almost a rice sandwich with bite-size pieces of raw fish and cooked seafood atop rice and wasabi.
The sushi is nothing to be squeamish about. Even young children are surprised by the beauty of the entree. The wooden basket of sushi ($7.50) includes tuna (flown in from Boston) surrounded by portions of salmon, flounder and rockfish. Quickly cooked shrimp is the only non-fresh item. In between fish tastes, cleanse you palate with a paper-thin slice of fresh ginger.
The rest of the family was equally pleased with more familiar selections, which came with soup, salad and rice.
As few appetizers are available, we shared a single order of yakatori ($2.50): pieces of chicken threaded on wooden skewers and quickly broiled. The sauce is a delight to adults, but too firey for young children.
The miso soup had tiny pieces of tofu and scallion circles, more for garnish than nourishment. Soup is served with flowered ceramic spoons in individual lidded bowls that are perfect for ritualistic soup drinking.
For our son, the real fun began when an electric hot plate was plugged in for the table-side production of his entree, beef sukiyaki ($8.50). Our waitress seemed overwhelemed by the task until but the friendly owner-cook appeared to lend assistance and expertise. Under her supervision, the blend of vegetables and paper thin slices of meat came out perfectly.
Although it's not prepared at the table, there is no doubt as to the freshness of the tempura ($7.50). Piping hot, large pieces of shrimp, onions, sweet potato, green pepper and zucchini are perfectly fried in a light butter. Our youngest child, basically a non-vegetable person, instantly became a zucchini afficionado.
Equally successful was the chicken teriyaki ($6.50). Broccoli flowerets accompanied the large portion of bite-sized and quickly brolied pieces of chicken.
Each entree was a convincing contender for overall champion of the evening's dinner. We were left with the sense of having concluded a private feast.
The total bill for four, with tax, tip and a mind-boggling plum wine, came to $45.74.
Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Monday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Closed Sundays. Atmosphere: Friendly serenity. Price Range: Complete dinners range from $5.95 to $12; average under $7. Sushi and sashimi available from $6.50. Reservations: Not necessary. Credit cards: Master Card and Visa. Special features: Booster seats and highchairs; back entrance from parking lot.