My husband had a life in Japan without me before he had a life in Japan with me. He worked for a year in Kita-senju while we both conducted our romance at a distance by exchanging what I'm sure were hundreds of cassette tapes of ourselves talking. During that time, he socialized on occasion with students and got to know a few of them fairly well.
When we both moved to Japan together (after about a year in California and our wedding), one of his students who worked for a major car company took us both out to an expensive teppanyaki restaurant in a major hotel in Ikebukuro. This particular place specialized in steak much to my husbands delight and my complete indifference. The steak was grilled in little cubes and served with individually cooked slices of garlic and onion. I remember their scraping down the grill between rounds of tiny servings and artfully pouring oil over it with what resembled a tiny, fine-spouted coffee pot.
The chefs cooked everything with great care and to perfection and it was reflected in the price. My husband recalls that his student paid 22,000 yen (about $190) the first time around. We went back a few times on our own dime and it cost between $100-$140 and I wasn't exactly tucking in.
These days, we'd never spend that sort of money on a meal but that was when we were still willing to pay a premium to have a variety of cultural experiences. I did take something more than a lighter wallet (and a dissatisfied stomach) away from these meals. The way in which they prepared the garlic in particular stuck with me and I do my best to follow a similar technique to this day when I make steak for my husband.
I know I talk a lot about eating cheaply but every meal isn't about cheap chicken and ground meat. My husband goes to Costco every 6 weeks or so and buys a few packages of their relatively (about an inch) thick steaks. While it costs about 600 yen ($5.15) for an 8-10 ounce steak and that's no "cheap" meal, it's still about half of what you'd pay for about half as much steak at a Japanese shop or restaurant. You can't really hope to do better when it comes to having steak in Tokyo.
These steaks keep well in the freezer when we wrap them individually first in plastic wrap and then in foil. After an overnight thaw, they're ready for a turn in the frying pan. The element I carry over from the teppanyaki is the garlic preparation.
As preparation, take about 5 fat garlic cloves and remove the tips and the paper then slice them as thinly to make garlic chips. I also clean an onion and slice off two medium-sized slices.
Heat a large (empty) frying pan over medium heat until it is thoroughly hot then add just enough olive oil to coat it. (Note that Japanese chefs do not use olive oil. I believe they use soybean oil.) You don't want to overdo the oil because it'll saturate the garlic and make it soggy and be absorbed by the onions. Heating the pan first ensures that the smallest amount of oil will coat the bottom since the oil flows more freely when warmed.
Place the onions on the hottest part of the pan and scatter the garlic such that each individual slice is separated from the other. Here is where you have to exercise great care. Keep an eye on the garlic chips and turn them over when they are delicately brown around the edges. You'll have to turn each chip over at a different time since they will likely be different thicknesses and be on hotter or cooler parts of the pan. Cook the onions until they are caramelized on one side and turn them over.
Be very careful when you cook the garlic slices so as not to burn them in the least. Garlic becomes bitter if it is burned so it's always better to err on the side of making it too pale than too dark. Since the garlic essentially makes the meal (the chips are eaten with each bite of steak), you don't want to spoil it.
When the garlic is just browned on both sides, you can either remove it from the pan or you can push it off to the side so that it stays warm but no longer cooks. My husband prefers it warm so I push it out of the way and position the pan on the burner such that there is no direct heat under the side with the garlic. You then add the steak to the hottest part of the pan and finish cooking the onions. The nice thing about this is that the garlic has already flavored the oil in the pan so the steak is cooking in naturally flavored oil.
When the steak is done, remove the chips and blot them with a paper towel if they're a bit too oily. My husband loves this particular meal with a can of Kirin happoshu.