As you may have been able to tell, I am quite excited to be in Japan because of all the delicious food. After brainstorming several possible cities to visit this past weekend, I decided it was time to treat myself to a meal in Kobe. I had a couple of places in mind, one of them a 3 star Michelin restaurant, others highly praised Kobe beef steakhouses.
The only problem was that reservations were necessary for many of these places. Since I was a little nervous to make my first reservation, I had to online reviewing essential Japanese reservation-making terms online beforehand. My first attempt for the Michelin restaurant was unsuccessful (they were unsurprisingly completely booked), but my second try at a steakhouse named Ishida was a success! Since the only time that I could reserve was an hour from when I had finished the call, the moment it ended I jumped out of bed, changed, and sprinted out the door to the train station.
After a couple train rides and some sprinting, I arrived at the steps of the steak house- just 5 minutes before my reservation was to be cancelled. There was small fear in the back of my mind that somehow my reservation hadn’t gone through, but I was relieved to find the host ready for me when I arrived. I stepped into the restaurant and was immediately embraced by the homey yet refined exquisiteness of the place. I sat in one of the ten seats that faced the large, flat cooking surface. After looking over the menu, I opted for the highest ranking beef (A5*) course (9 items) and a glass of white wine. Go big or go home! I hadn’t been this excited for a meal in a long time.
There was only one chef behind the counter, so I waited for him to finish serving the customers next to me before it was my turn. While I waited, I was given a refreshing meat sashimi appetizer drizzled with a teriyaki glaze. After savoring the thin slices of cool beef, the waiter brought out a colorful salad.
Soon it was my time to watch the cooking show. The chef presented my meat piece on a wooden platform and then proceeded to place a portion of it on the hot cooking surface. Using a large knife, he masterfully cut away the fat (to be used for sauteing the veggies later), and divided the meat into small pieces.
My mouth watered at the sound of the first sizzle. I went with the chef’s recommendation of medium rare, and watched as he lightly seasoned the meat with a dash of salt, and then pressed each side to the hot surface for a beautifully browned piece of meat with a bright pink center.
As the meat cooked, it was doled out onto my plate where three small piles of spices lay. With each piece, I had the choice of gently dipping it into either salt, flavored salt, pepper, shoyu sauce, ponzu sauce, or mustard. After tasting each, I found my favorites to be the two sauces and pepper.
Once most of the meat was cooked, the chef proceeded to handle the veggies next. Eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and konnyaku (a firm jelly made from potato) were fried in the fat trimmings.
After, the remaining meat and fat were placed on the grill and tossed with a large handful of beansprouts. To complete the meal, I had a bowl of rice, some fried garlic slices, a small dish of pickled veggies, and miso soup. I thanked the chef for his incredible preparation once he finished with my food and then I was left to enjoy the rest of the meal- sipping wine, dipping meat, savoring the soup, and enjoying all of the different flavors and textures.
People say that kobe beef is “sooooo tender and sooo amazing….” and it’s hard to know if what they are saying is true until you taste it for yourself. I found the tenderness is incomparable to anything else I had tasted before. The juice and flavor was at a whole different level.
When I had finished every last morsel of food, I was full, satisfied, and still in awe at the whole experience- from making the reservation, seeing the food being cooked, to savoring every last bite.
Once the dishes were cleared, I was given the choice between tea and coffee, and received a nice scoop of lemon ginger sorbet to complete the meal. I cannot express enough how exciting and wonderful this experience was. If you ever have the chance to go to Kobe, I highly recommend treating yourself to one good meal of Kobe beef as it will become a memory to last a lifetime.
*A little bit about meat rankings from the American Wagyu Association:
- Yield grades (A,B,C)- “determined by an estimated cutability percentage that is calculated by an equation which includes four carcass measurements”
- Grade A – 72% and above
- Grade B – 69% and above
- Grade C – under 69%
- Quality grades (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)- “determined in terms of beef marbling, meat colour and brightness, firmness and texture of meat, colour, lustre and quality of fat”
- Poor — 1
- Below Average — 2
- Average — 3-4
- Good — 5-7
- Excellent — 8-12
Hungry For More? Check out some of my other favorite restaurants I’ve visited in Japan!