Seafire: Deliciously Exceeding the Limits of Hibachi
Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: Photography by Geoff L. Johnson
Rene Teran has brought hibachi into the twenty-first century. The publisher of Savannah’s Well FED, professional chef and restaurant consultant Teran has turned hibachi on its head on Hilton Head Island with a complete renovation and reinvention of the genre as managing partner of his new restaurant, Seafire, on Palmetto Bay Road.
Taking up the venture with principal partner and longtime island resident Tom Shimada, Teran has transformed the dark feudal tones of the classic hibachi experience into a more hip, chic vibe at Seafire. “What started as possibly tearing down one wall or just redoing the floors turned into a huge endeavor where we said, if we’re going to do it, let’s just do it right,” he said. “We tore out all the floors, the ceiling, the walls, the dividers, the lighting. We basically brought it down to its bones.” Now, the space has cool tones, warm textures, sparkling lighting and a modern, inviting ambience. With completely resurfaced and re-tiled hibachi tables, whether sampling from their new menu, their classic hibachi, or renowned sushi chef Shige’s offerings, an evening at Seafire holds a great deal of promise.
Teran has found his Southern culinary soulmate in executive chef Megan Wallace. A Savannahian since the age of nine, she grew up in a less-than culinary-focused home, formed an unlikely passion for food, took that passion to culinary school, and is excited about Teran’s vision for Seafire and her place there. “Making something from nothing is what inspires me about cooking,” she said. Wallace interviewed for her position during the demolition phase of the project. Fortunately, she could see Teran’s vision and enthusiastically jumped onboard. She is looking forward to making something truly great from virtually nothing.
The pair has created a first-of-its-kind modern hibachi and small plate menu that Teran said reflects his own eclectic upbringing and particular journey with food. “I am an Asian-Hispanic who grew up in the South. I’m proud of my Southern roots and love Southern food, but my culinary journey began in a Japanese restaurant, Benihana.” Seafire is certainly hibachi; it is also very much something else. Like many well-regarded restaurants today, the Seafire menu touches on different cuisines from a carefully curated selection of tastes, regions and styles.
“We are trying something that I believe has never been done before,” Teran said. “While we’re still keeping the hibachi and we’re still keeping the sushi, we are sourcing a lot more local ingredients—a lot more fresh local seafood—and we’re changing the flavor profiles. We’re using less soy sauce and introducing different types of sauces all made in-house. All of our seafood is local, so the menu will reflect whatever happens to be fresh-caught. We have a great relationship with Russo’s Seafood in Savannah and the Bluffton Oyster Company. It’s really about having those relationships and conversations on a regular basis. We’re also sourcing local produce, and we’re experimenting with some Carolina rice varieties for the fried rice as well.”
Their new Small Plates menu is what brings all the culinary stylings together at Seafire. “We have tempura-fried chicken and waffles with ginger-orange butter and a homemade syrup,” Teran said. “We’re doing a take on shrimp and grits with Asian vegetables. We’re doing Wagyu Bulgogi sliders and Asian deviled eggs. We have some local clams, and our dips are edamame hummus, pimento cheese and olive tapenade. The new menu is the bridge between our fresh concept and the hibachi and sushi, which is somewhat more limited; the Small Plates menu can really reflect what we’re doing here.”
Teran and Wallace have elevated the quality of their ingredients across the menu. Diners may not be able to pinpoint why their meal rates toward exceptional; however, the Seafire team knows it is because of the decisions they made well before dinner was served: carefully sourced produce, higher grade meats, slowly brined poultry, the short distance from sea to table for their seafood, high grade soy bean oil and fresh garlic butter. “It’s not even that we source all fresh and local,” Teran said. “I’m not trying to be a farm-to-table restaurant, although we may be more farm-to-table than some that even say they are. For me, it’s simply the way to get the best possible food.”
The hibachi experience at Seafire is most definitely exceptional, with much of the credit going to head hibachi chef Abraham and his highly skilled team. Teran was pleased to retain several of the expert hibachi chefs whom guests have come to know and respect. “There’s a great deal of skill involved in trying to manage the preparation of the food on the table in such a short amount of time—to entertain the people and to know all the tricks,” Teran said. Striving to elevate this experience as well, all the hibachi chefs have been given additional training in thermodynamics in the cooking process and how ingredients interact with each other. “What’s really exciting is that hibachi chefs are learning techniques from professional chefs in our kitchen, and then they are able to translate those skills on to the hibachi grills.”
Teran, Wallace, the hibachi team, the sushi team, general manager Brian Torres and restaurant manager Christina Scott work together like a finely tuned instrument, creating a modern dining experience that just happens to have exceptional hibachi, sushi, Southern, regional, international, creative cuisine, all in a stylishly modern venue. Half-priced Happy Hour drinks in their very current bar, where the artwork is local and available for purchase is an excellent way to start the evening. Twenty-first century hibachi holds a great deal of promise.
Seafire Modern Hibachi Grill & Bar is located at 9 Palmetto Bay Road, Hilton Head Island. For more information or to make reservations, please call (843) 785-4955 or visit seafirehhi.com. Artwork currently on display at Seafire is by photographer Geoff L. Johnson and painter Christopher D’Antonio.