3884 Morse Rd. Columbus OH 43219 (614) 428-8880
You know what’s great about Columbus? Yeah: Comfest, the zoo, the Buckeyes, Wexner center, pizza cut in squares, Franklin Park Conservatory, Olentangy Indian Caverns, 24-hour bowling and fried bologna sandwiches. But, what’s really great about Columbus is the fact that you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Japanese steakhouse. It has to be the only place in the world with a citizen to Japanese steakhouse ratio of 10:1.
It’s obvious why there are so many Japanese steak restaurants in Columbus. People love to throw food. They love to watch other people throw food. They even love to watch other people watch people throw food. That results in about three levels of entertainment, all of which are on full display by the artisan grillsmen at Kobe, Columbus’ newest Japanese steakhouse restaurant.
The cultural genealogy of the phenomenon is still unclear, but it is true that Americans love running water in and around the areas in which they eat East Asian foods. Kobe has slick, modern fountains sprinkled throughout the décor. Behind the maitre’d stands a sheet of running water, the base of which is gently and perpetually churned to a gentle roil. The sound of moving water blends with mid-volume house music, which is actually House music, and the stage is set for the unique blend of movie-like zen-peace-and-tranquility and noisy chaos that is Japanese steakhouse dining in Columbus, Ohio.
The tables are the grills are the tables, just like it should be at a Japanese steak place. Actually, every two tables are placed grill-side in, so that the seating areas bracket the chef/performers as they toss shrimp tails into each other’s shirt pockets, juggle eggs on spatulas and build onion volcanoes that spew soy-ginger lava all over sizzling squash and zucchini.
Newcomers are seated at unmanned grill-tables and given a chance to get situated and to beverage up. Kobe has a domestic Nigori Unfiltered Sake that makes a sensational accompaniment to most of Kobe’s appetizer and sushi menus. Once shaken, the demi-sec rice wine has a rich creamy softness that begs for the briny freshness of good raw fish. It will, however, work equally as well with the warm, crispy calamari, which is cut into onion-ring sized hoops, and it pairs with the Butterfish (miso-marinated Black Cod) as though the guy who invented fish, rice and wine created all three for just this purpose.
The raw fish in question is, of course, sushi. Kobe has exampled some of the freshest available fish in its wide array of sushi and sashimi. The Kobe special roll itself contains at least five different kinds of soft, sweet, briny sea-creature wrapped carefully around a traditional Nori-roll. It is truly astounding that Kobe offers such a creation at such a low price-point, as it is with their entire sushi menu. The only explanation for such a phenomenon is that Kobe is running a constant loss-leader by even offering sushi at all. Thereby, Kobe is really performing a public service by offering the highest quality fresh, raw fish to consumers at the same price they could expect to pay for frozen, processed fish elsewhere. If Kobe didn’t have a bar (governed, of course, by state regulations that afford them extraordinary profit margins), there likely wouldn’t be any room for them to offer such a high quality delicacy as their sushi. But, thank goodness, they’ve got bar that’s ready and willing to pour the best to the best, no matter what his or her fancy may be—at Easton, that is a must.
When the first round of plates is cleared from the stage, the entertainment begins in earnest. The server wheels a cart to the table, laden with fresh veggies, liquor and squirty bottles, steaks, lobsters, scallops, chickens and crocks of many-colored sauces. Soon after, a young man in chef-wear follows. He meticulously checks knives for sharpness, while he tosses spatulas from hand to hand and bounces everything off the hot surface of the flat-top grill. It’s noisy, spectacular and probably dangerous for the chef… good times!
A raucous sizzle demands the attention of every diner flanking the grill as the chef primes the surface with oil and rinses it with water. Then, the show begins. Nimbly the meats and seafood are cut into bite-sized pieces as they begin to cook in front of eager diners. The egg for the fried rice must be tossed from flat spatula to atop the chef’s hat to the back his hand before it is broken, mid-air, by the blade of the same spatula that once cradled it. Then, as it morphs from gooey to solid, the chef blends the egg and the frying rice while simultaneously deconstructing the strips of fresh vegetables into tiny cubes, turning the steak so it cooks to an even medium (or however the particular diner prefers) and constructing a 1:6000 scale replica of Mt. Vesuvius from fresh Vidalia onion segments.
Once the entrees have been juggled, tossed and balanced in every imaginable way, they are served, literally, hot off the grill. Each diner then gets a generous heap of the rice and bite-sized cuts of meat. The squash, onion (which has been rendered from volcano to chunks) and zucchini act as a side, while a mound of flash-grilled mung bean sprouts serves as the garnish. Everything tastes better when dipped in either or both of the sauces that the chef will eagerly replenish at the slightest indication either might be running out. The white sauce is a blend of rice wine vinegar, sour cream and a proprietary blend of secret spices. It coats the proteins and veggies and saturates the rice with a sweet, creamy tang. The brown sauce is sticky and stays to the outside of everything while it imparts the familiar soy-based flavors every red-blooded American associates with the pan-Asian paradigm. Both sauces together create a wonderfully confounding onslaught of deliciousness.
A few minutes repose will be necessary for even the most skilled and seasoned eaters, since the cuisine at Kobe demands to be eaten in its entirety. Actually, it strongly suggests that diners consume it in its entirety. Those with very strong will power could potentially stop themselves from devouring every last morsel placed in front of them, but it would require every ounce of self-restraint a diner can muster. So, as unlikely as it is that there will be room for dessert, Kobe has a giant, moist chocolate layer cake that both finishes the meal off perfectly and reiterates that, as Japanese as the meal seemed, the Japanese steak restaurant is a uniquely American experience.