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April 2017

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MENUPLEASE AT KOBE: THE TOM JONES OF RESTAURANTS

To look at the impressive faux-Italianate façade on the new restaurant at the corner of Shasta and Market Streets - the Sherven Square complex - you'd think that, well, a Tuscan restaurant was housed there. There's nothing Asian about the terra-cotta colored exterior and the false shutters on second-story windows. The cheesecake portrait of a - what? Teppanyaki warrior? - on the southwest wall that might be at home on a black velvet canvas. Walk inside and it's, "Toto, we're not in Roma any more."

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Clearly a lot of money was poured into the ultra-modern design, though it can't seem to make up its mind as to whether it's industrial chic or ersatz Vegas glitz.

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The cocktail bar-cum-sushi bar is sleek with burnished metal counters and minimalist décor and subtle lighting. Femme de Joie recently perched herself at Kobe‘s bar, waiting for an old friend who wanted to go there for her birthday. A glass of Folie a Deux 2004 Zinfandel (Amador County) was a luscious rich treat; too bad that for $7 the pour was rather skimpy.

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Seating is available at the sushi bar, at the communal teppanyaki tables, or at smaller tables for ordering items from the kitchen. Birthday Girl wanted teppanyaki, so that is where we sat, along with about six other diners. The idea is to watch the show: the setup is not geared toward conversation, which became evident when M. de Joie - seated next to Birthday Girl - could see B.G.'s lips moving but could only catch about every fourth word she said. It was that noisy.

The procedure for teppanyaki goes thusly: You order your choice of meat or fish - New York steak, chicken, salmon, etc. Soup and salad are brought by waitresses, as you watch the chef go through his schtick to prepare the rest of the meal. Onion soup (miso is also available) was a bit oily and had a few rings of onion in a thin broth accented with soy. In a Tom Waitsian moment, the wasabi-ginger dressing beat up the bowl of iceberg lettuce ... the lettuce just wasn't strong enough to defend itself.

Meanwhile, back at the teppanyaki table: the chef had done a baton routine with spatulas, tossed a raw egg around, and emptied large bowls of cold cooked rice and prepped vegetables onto the grill. He piled up onion rings, poured cooking oil inside the tower, and set it on fire. He flipped bite-sized pieces of vegetable at each diner, none of whom actually caught it in their mouths (it is to be hoped someone versed in the Heimlich maneuver is on staff at all times).

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First cooked is the fried rice, which then is scooped up and placed on each diner's plate, followed by grilled assorted vegetables and two shrimp. Then the meat and fish are added to the grill, cooked, seasoned, cut up, and distributed to the diners who ordered them. Two small bowls of sauce are available for dipping, including an addictive lemon-pepper Yum Yum sauce.

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Teppanyaki Scallops

The scallops were perfectly cooked, tender, and moist, possibly the best scallops M. de Joie has ever had. The fried rice, when freshly cooked, was delicious, but as it cooled M. de Joie became acutely aware of how salty it was. M. de Joie adores salty foods like Parmesan cheese, anchovies, potato chips, and smoked fish, but the salt added by the chef on top of soy sauce made the rice mega-sodium-heavy. Mixed vegetables were adequate but seemed to be just filling up space on the plate. There was nothing special about them.

We were seated at 5:30 p.m. By 6:30 the show was over, the other diners at our table had departed, and there was a line out Kobe's door. Waitresses were looking pointedly in B.G. and M. de Joie‘s direction. The menu had listed several interesting desserts, such as panna cotta and blackberry sorbet ($6 each) but no one offered us a dessert menu or suggested we move elsewhere to continue dining. The bill - salmon, scallops, two glasses of wine - came to $55, not including tip. And frankly, M. de Joie was not exactly stuffed.

The lines out the door indicated that Kobe is doing something right to bring the crowds in, but whether it will endure once the novelty factor wears off is yet to be seen. For Femme de Joie, dinner at Kobe is the culinary equivalent of a Tom Jones concert. There's lots of shaking and stirring, a whole lotta showboating, renditions of the greatest hits, and then it's all over and we need to clear the theater for the next show. Move along, please. To be sure, it's entertaining, but you're paying for all that showmanship. The food is secondary.

Kobe Steak and Seafood, 1300 Market Street, Redding, 530-244-1440. Open daily. Sushi bar. Lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended. Sake, wine, and beer. Vegetarian and vegan options. Street parking. Cash and credit/debit cards.

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