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Time for a Change

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Where were you 27 years ago? Not yet born, about to graduate from college, about to get married, have your first child, first house, first meal at Benihana? Yes, it's been 27 years since Benihana opened its doors in East Memphis, and, since then, generations of Memphians have eaten at this popular restaurant.

But now it's time for a change. Last week, the restaurant chain unveiled "The Next Benihana." While the restaurant's pagoda-like exterior remains the same, the inside of Benihana has undergone an extreme makeover.

The first impression of the new interior is that Benihana has gone Starbucks, which is really no surprise since the design firm WD Partners was consulted. WD's clients include Abercrombie & Fitch, PF Chang's China Bistro, Marble Slab, and, of course, Starbucks.

Blond wood, bamboo green, stained glass, and stainless steel are dominant, which gives individual cooking/dining stations an almost outdoorsy feel. The former waiting area and karaoke stage have been transformed into a modern bar and lounge with slate floors, wood, and stainless-steel accents. The sushi bar is in the lounge, and there's now an expanded sushi menu with express lunch and early-bird dinner specials.

Another change: no more karaoke. The food, the hibachi, the knife-juggling, and the shrimp-tossing are as you remember them.

Benihana is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Benihana, 912 Ridge Lake (683-7390)

For a rare treat, pay a visit to Wally Joe restaurant this weekend.

Wally Joe has gotten its hands on Yukon River King salmon, some of the finest and fattiest salmon in the world.

Yukon River salmon has been absent in the U.S. market for pretty much the past 30 years, when all of the harvest went to the Japanese market. Three years ago, however, the Yukon River King became available in the United States. Of the five species of Pacific salmon, Kings are the largest, with some weighing as much as 100 pounds and with fat reserves that can reach up to 34 percent, making it the richest-tasting salmon available. The season for this salmon is barely two weeks long, and this year it ends on July 10th.

Wally Joe prepares the King Salmon tartare with apple-wood smoked bacon, crispy potatoes, and cucumber tomato sauce or simply grilled with lemon and olive oil and served with Yukon Gold potatoes, asparagus, and truffle corn jus.

Wally Joe, 5040 Sanderlin (818-0821)

The Avenue Carriage Crossing goes to the Rocky Mountains with the newest addition to the shopping center's dining choices: Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill.

This is the second Memphis-area Firebirds Grill for the Colorado-based franchise. Firebirds has set out to offer diners the flavors of the American West, where the "wood fire of the cattle ranch meets the bold flavor of the Desert Southwest."

That translates into wood-grilled salmon, Aspen sirloin (a center-cut, aged Black Angus sirloin lightly seasoned and fired over a wood-burning grill), a slow-cooked rotisserie pork loin that's been marinated for 48 hours with honey, sage, rosemary, and juniper berries, and surf-and-turf combinations including filet, sirloin, baby-back ribs, lobster, shrimp, and salmon.

The look is reminiscent of a Colorado ski lodge -- an open-air kitchen, exposed wood beams, and a stone fireplace in the bar and on the patio.

Firebirds is open Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Happy-hour bar bites and drink specials are available Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the bar and on the patio.

Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill, 4600 Merchants Circle, Suite 101 (850-1603)

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