Those looking for a festive dining experience might want to revisit Mannen.
The Japanese eatery has completely overhauled its main dining room and expanded into the former pet shop next door to bring the dining-entertainment combination known as hibachi to town. Chefs prepare the food, with flair, at grills beside the tables.
While Mannen has always had great food—it won Best Japanese Restaurant in Connecticut Magazine's 2009 poll—the ambiance wasn't always up to par. Today the dining room looks sleek and chic. River rocks form a compelling backdrop for the bar and gray bamboo flooring lends a modern feel. Red accents add visual interest.
But the highlight is the hibachi. On Wednesday, all the hibachi tables were full and the vibe in the room was chaotic and fun.
The hibachi room has been open for only a week but is already drawing large crowds. In addition to the traditional grilled meals of steak, chicken, shrimp and lobster tail, the hibachi chefs at Mannen have upped the ante with unusual offerings such as Chilean Sea Bass and salmon as well as a children's menu and lunch specials.
Fortunately for those seeking quiet conversation over sake and sashimi, the owners of Mannen thoughtfully soundproofed the sushi dining room so that the revelry going on past the glass wall can't be heard at all.
The staff has been planning the restaurant's upgrade and renovation for at least a year and working on the new dining room for six months, according to manager Mimi Wei. She mentioned that the restaurant is now 25 percent larger.
And the addition of hibachi has brought in not only familiar customers, but also a stream of new visitors—especially teens and 20-somethings, according to Wei, who love the spectacle of having their food cooked right at their table. Indeed, when we visited, many hibachi guests cheered out loud when their chef performed a great food flip or made flames dance off the grill.
Marla Kay was eating with her family and has been a casual visitor to Mannen for years, she said. She said the hibachi was "a nice addition to the restaurant" and that it was good for families with kids because the novelty is entertaining.
The wall that divided the bar from the sushi dining room is gone, creating a more open, flowing space. It looks like an entirely new restaurant. The owners did a bit at a time, according to Wei, and mostly worked at night so that the restaurant could maintain its regular hours during the day.