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It’s a party, so make noise if you want to

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When the mornings have grown windier and chillier and the whiff of winter starts to peek over the Sandias, you need a place to take your friends or family to unwind. The spot should be cozy yet energetic to perk up your spirits – where someone else cooks, letting you watch and bask. Ultimately you eat the spoils of their labor, glasses held high to exclamations of “Kanpai!” (cheers!) by all: that place is Hayashi Japanese Hibachi & Sushi Bar on San Mateo.

Hayashi started as a crowd-pleasing venture out of Lubbock, Texas; when the convivial cooking atmosphere proved to be popular, locations two and three were opened in Amarillo and Albuquerque. Here they’ve made great use of a former Bennigan’s space both in updated d├ęcor and overhauled menu.

There are two conditions that should seat you at one of the Hibachi cooking tables: if you thrive on energetic surroundings, or large groups from family events to birthday bashes. Start with the sake menu and either commence sipping from the tiny cup or skip all formalities and have a Sake Bomb. Never heard of it? Balance a shot of sake on a glass of beer then pound the table so it falls in. Drink it down to cheers – other tables will crane their necks to see what is happening to cause such a commotion.

Once your chef is on duty, the show will begin. Order up a Hibachi Dinner ($12-$28) for each person, from simple veggies to the full-on filet mignon treatment. You’ll also receive soup, shrimp appetizer, grilled noodles and a simple salad with delightfully strong ginger dressing. The meats are cooked with flair, cheers and occasional deft tosses into the air for a gentle touchdown back onto the flat-top grill.

On the other side of the menu (and, quite possibly, the dining room), you can order the more delicate sushi variations from straight-up sashimi to rolls stuffed with over-the-top ingredients. We actually liked the Crazy Cajun roll ($13.99) for the crunchy fried oysters and jalapeno kick, while the more unadorned sushi suffered in freshness and portion control. A full sashimi sampler ($20.99) nets a sizable fish bounty, none outstanding. Note to certain sushi spots in town: A piece of sushi should fit in a normal person’s mouth. Bigger is not better. A few Japanese businessmen ambled by our table on their way out, mentioning their opinion of the food: “OK.”

Hayashi Japanese Hibachi & Sushi Bar
LOCATION: 6321 San Mateo Blvd NE (near Academy) 312-9749;
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; Noon-9 p.m. Saturday; Noon-8 p.m. Sunday

Appetizers seem to be a better proposition, with tempura shrimp ($7) and broiled Beef Negimaki ($7) with scallions. Overall, the experience confounded us – for a hyperactive group this is a fun dining spot. For the small party looking for great sushi, there are better places.

In earlier evening hours the space can seem sparsely occupied, but the crowd gets noticeably thicker after 8 p.m., raising the ambient noise level in the process. We wrapped up both conversation and leftovers with perfect timing.