Like last year, the first thing we did upon returning to Santa Barbara is get dinner at Kobachi. A birthday dinner, in fact, for Pauline. We got a lot of the old favorites, but tried a couple new things.
Top: cold sake, mame aju nanban, chicken tsukune.
Above: Gobo chips, salmon roe nigiri, and raw oysters.
Now for the cool new stuff. An item I’ve had a couple times before, but never had a good photo is the crispy shima ebi. It’s a big bowl of little shrimps, battered and fried, and lightly dusted with curry powder. This is not a snack for one person, but a hefty portion to be shared with several people. Amazingly, it only costs about $6.
Also new to the standard menu is a beef dish, recommended by Yoko. It’s seared beef that’s served cold with a fruit sauce. There was not enough to go around.
When Ken-san heard there was a birthday girl in the midst, he prepared a few custom dishes which we were not expecting at all, and they were lovely. One was a selection of sushi rolls, but rather than using nori, these were wrapped in grape leaves. In the rolls was snapper sashimi and it was topped with cheese, apricots, pecans and lime slices. Like nothing I’ve ever had before.
The second custom creation from the chef was also great. It was salmon sashimi with dried apricot, fresh figs, salmon roe and a curry cream sauce. A great reminder that figs were in season and to get down to the market to buy loads.
Finally, a little strawberry ice cream and fresh fig. It’s a small picture because it’s a very small serving! We couldn’t eat more anyway, we were utterly stuffed by this feast. Abel still managed to lick a plate or two!
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
Cindy’s in town! We all trooped over to Kobachi for her first night visiting.
First, what’s new. Beer on tap! For my birthday I received a copy of Oishinbo’s Izakaya Pub Food and the first story is about a master beer pourer in Tokyo. The main character has been talking up the perfectly poured beer to his friends, but upon receiving a glass he can immediately tell it was not done by the Master. It turns out the highest honor the master beer pourer could bestow upon a guest (speciality black edamame) was mis-interpreted as rotten beans, but since the beer pourer would never assume the guest would be so ill-educated as to not know about the beans, he quit.
Long story short, a perfectly poured beer has at least one inch of foam on top, and during the time of drinking it, there always remains a solid layer of foam covering the beer. This way, the effervesence of the beer stays in the beverage, and the flavors do not escape. The new tap at Kobachi pours the beer in two ways; first as the liquid, while a second tap tops off the beer with a fine foam. Okay, so they cheated a little by not pouring by hand. BUT, Ken-san insisted that HE pour the beer, so they maintain the tradition of being honored with having someone pour our beers.
Top row: freshly poured Asahi beer, seaweed salad, vegetable tempura.
2nd row: mame aji nanban, shiitake nigiri, tsukune renkon shiitake-an.
3rd row: renkon chips, hamachi kama, seared tuna in sauce (this dish is not on the menu).
4th row: aburi saba, and mixed sashimi with sweet miso sauce.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
It should be fairly obvious by now that my most frequented restaurant in town is Kobachi. And why not. I live close by, the food is good, there’s so much to choose from on the menu, and the small portions mean I can dabble and order lots of little plates.
I came here for my birthday dinner, as I did the year before. Except this year I thought it would be a good idea to make a reservation for it and speak with the chef beforehand on a set menu to eliminate confusion over orders and prices for those who need to watch their dollars. I knew there would be a couple vegetarians – or pescatarians – attending, plus vegetables make the meal healthier and a little less expensive, so I requested Ken-san focus on vegetables and fish, with just a little beef, pork and chicken.
It worked out splendidly, and everyone at Kobachi put forth a wonderful meal that was stress-free for all attending. My friends also did me proud by 1. rsvp-ing and actually showing up. And 2. Showing up *on time*! Really, this is Santa Barbara, and when everyone on the rsvp list shows up, on time, it’s a minor miracle. I’m really blessed to have good and cool friends.
There were 20 of us, taking over the new expanded space with the murals. The Kobachi staff decorated the space with long tables, birthday table cloths and plates, and sprinkled everything with confetti. FUN! They also provided a gift of a few snacks, a bottle of shochu and oolong tea. It is my favorite drink there and now I could share it with all my friends.
Upon arrival, a buffet table had been laid out, with empty bowls containing a slip of paper with the name of the dish written on it. It felt like Christmas, knowing there would be a lot of presents to open shortly, and everyone was excited. I wasn’t able to take photos of everything, being distracted by talking to friends, but Ted Mills got most of the dishes, even if he had to get a photo of a small portion off his own plate. Generally, the portions were approximately like receiving a double order, but there were a few when there was one item per person, such as sushi rolls or oysters. Want to see the feast? Here goes!
First, are some salads. Seaweed salad, a mixed salad of cucumber, tomato and seaweed, and hjjiki – warm black seaweed salad.
Cold fish dishes included a plaste of salmon sashimi with a tangy carpaccio sauce, and tuna in a dark smokey sesame oil sauce. Also, slow cooked vegetables and mushrooms served warm.
Four fillets of aburi saba then made an entrance, and all the fine slices were quickly scooped up and consumed…a lot by me!
Rolls included a seared salmon with avocado and asparagus, a smelt roe roll, and some other roll that I did not eat, or get photos of. There was one grilled beef dish that delighted a few meat eaters, but it was also very filling! We also had grilled eggplant nigiri.
There was one fat oyster for every person attending, and platter of sauteed vegetables.
One dish I never quite identified (lower left) was piled with cooked marinated vegetables and I believe it was a sweet-sour chicken. If only I could remember the name, but I’m fairly certain I did not have the opportunity to eat it, or I’d remember more details. There was also a big tofu dish, but this plate was massacred by hungry friends before we could get a photo of it. Oops.
Now, we are happy and drunk. No chance getting a photo of the aji miso yaki. The picture on the plate is rather unappetizing looking, but trust me, it was yummy. These were snapped up in a hurry, I’m not sure I tried any myself!
One more round of sushi, with a piece of shiitake nigiri for everyone and it was time for dessert. My parents showed up partway through the meal with two homemade cakes, and a few more chairs (the restaurant had completely run out!). Their cakes were an almond cake, and an eggwhite pavlova. Yoko, my favorite waitress there, brought a cheesecake! Thank you, Yoko!
After blowing out the candles, we feasted on cake, chattered more, and then it was time to settle up the bill. I’m happy to say the folks at Kobachi got a nice tip. It was a great birthday dinner!
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
Finally back home, after a business trip to Las Vegas and a flight home from hell. We reward ourselves with a dinner at Kobachi, this time thoroughly scrubbing the menu for new items and ordering them.
What’s new, operations:
It’s temporarily closed for Monday, lunch and dinner service. Before it was just lunch service that wasn’t available. I think it’s a seasonal thing. Hopefully when the days get longer, Monday nights will be available again. It’s certainly not for lack of business overall, because of this next item…
Expanded dining room! They’ve absorbed the adjacent business space, knocked open a doorway, and decorated the new space with a small tatami area, tables and vibrant Japanese murals.
What’s new, food:
The menu has expanded even more, and some prices have gone up a notch, a few items have come down, or split into a smaller portion for a lower price.
Here’s our sampling of the new items:
* Maguro natto tartare. This is not for everyone. In fact, this is not for most. Natto is an acquired taste. Serving it with tuna and quail egg helps. Asking for a bowl of hot rice is even better. If you’re the type that yearns for natto, you will be happy. If you want to experiment, go for it. Half the staff will be happy you tried one of their favorite items, the other half will think you’re brave.
* gobo chips. So very more-ish.
* Age takoyaki – octopus in a batter, fried into balls, topped with bonito flake and served with assorted sauces. I’ve never been to Japan, but this is supposed to be classic street food. We enjoyed it.
* Aji miso yaki – broiled mackerel with a sweet miso glaze. YUM. Three fillet portions, very good to share.
* Steamed chin gen sai – bok choy in a thin sesame soy sauce, served cold. Crisp tender, delish.
* Nama kaki – raw oysters with a thin soy sauce. These oysters come from Washington state and are big, tender and juicy.
* Finally, a portion of simmered beef tongue. This was not on the menu yet, the chef was kind enough to give us a sneak preview. It is more similar to lengua style tongue like in Mexican dishes, very tender. It’s quite different in texture to the tan shio Kobachi’s been serving since it opened, which is much more chewy.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
My food friend Michael, of Big Sur Bakery fame, came through town briefly. So I had to have one last dive into Kobachi awesomeness with him before I disappeared into gambling hell that is Las Vegas.
Michael’s restaurant only has a beer and wine license, so this was a good opportunity to sample soju for cocktails. Not that Kobachi does actual cocktails, but my favorite shochu and oolong was a starter, and he did seem to enjoy it. But now, the food.
Top row: seaweed salad – always a good start. Then a bowl of gobo chips, this is new to the menu. Oddly enough, I’m not a fan of gobo in my sushi, but I do love them fried with a little sprinkling of salt. Then, some uni sushi. I do like the uni shooter, but my father made a good point about them one night – they don’t last long. Cuz, you know, it’s a shooter. And this is Santa Barbara uni, so Michael’s sample of it needed to be savored. It was, unsurprisingly, very good.
Second row: shiitake and eggplant nigiri. Everyone is pleasantly surprised by the shiitake nigiri. There is a very subtle spice in it that adds a little heat. I know I shouldn’t tell others how they should eat, but for the sushi here, I always hint that no additional soy and wasabi is necessary. Ken-san knows how to flavor his sushi the first time around.
Yako imo is another new item on the menu, it is simply baked yams and butter. It’s very comforting to eat, and well priced, perhaps $3 for two small yams, split with the melted butter. And then, gindara saikyo yaki – broiled black cod with a sweet miso glaze.
Anyone not already aquainted with izakaya gets the aburi saba. Hmm, I take that back. Everyone gets aburi saba. Always good.
Above left: baked mochi in sauce. This is another new item to the menu. The sauce has a smokey flavor to it. Most of my friends only know mochi these days as a topping on frozen yoghurt, which is a shame, because it has many other uses in savory situations. I love the look from people when they taste mochi in a new way. This dish was enjoyed to its last drop. Middle: nasu dengaku – broiled eggplant with a red miso glaze. Another vegetarian favorite, but I always eat it too eagerly and burn my tongue. It is HOT and JUICY. Right: a simple toro roll. This one came from Ken-san, very enjoyable.
The more I delve into the rituals and traditions of izakaya, the more I realize I do a lot of things wrong. Like having my sashimi last. Really, is it supposed to be first, and something rice and filling last? When I have omakase, that’s the progression. But when I’m ordering, I take a final reading on how stuffed we are, and then fill that last niche of stomach space with something memorable, like melty sashimi. If I’m doing it wrong, the folks at Kobachi are kind enough to indulge me. Here, I had halibut, blue fin tuna and hamachi. The yellowtail was like eating fresh seafood butter, just melting away in our mouths.
We had a very simple dessert, of a little sponge cake, a green tea truffle and a cherry and called it a night. My friend loved it.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
When friends visit from out of town, especially friends from the Bay Area who have plenty of access to wonderful food, the only place that provide a wonderful, memorable experience just by its very existance is Kobachi.
Mattpaul and Lisa were passing through for a couple days and this was Stop Number One.
We started the evening with a glass of shochu with oolong, and a flight of sake, letting Yoko pick the sake selection.
A few courses where Ted Mills took the photos:
Top: Shiitake nigiri, uni shooter.
Finally, we shared an assortment of sashimi, and let the chef choose. We are not completely sure all that we ordered, but there was definitely toro filet and belly, uni, and two other kinds of fish. The belly was particularly melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Not everyone was an uni fiend, but that did mean more for those who were.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
It was *supposed* to be a late night snack, just 3 dishes or so. But everyone there was so nice and and we ran into friends who came to a group happy hour a couple weeks earlier, and that put us in an everything’s-great mood. PLUS, I told them we were leaving for vacation until after Labor Day. And yummy treats came forth.
Kaki Fry – panko fried oysters and homemade tartar sauce. Then, Aburi sabi, of course.
Chicken tsukune – chicken meatballs with homemade sweet soy. Mmm, delicious. The chicken had a lovely smokey flavor that Ted described as yakitori style and Yoko nodded knowingly.
And once the surprise sashimi came out, the floodgates opened and the kitchen went omakase style. First, they brought an item we’d considered ordering, but didn’t. And now we had it. Crispy curry calamari – crispy fried calamari strips, lightly dusted with curry salt. Then, a custom item (hello!), that was eel on top of a bowl of white rice that had been steamed with a sauce similar to that which comes with the eel. A wonderful comforting dish for late night snacks. Yoko said chef Ken brought in his personal rice cooker to make this dish, so I’m feeling honored to have been able to try it.
The ama ebi prawn made its appearance again, deep fried and served with a little additional sashimi and salmon roe. I nibbled a few legs and feelers, but let Ted have a go at this one as it was brand new for him.
Oh so good! Probably the best bon voyage meal I’ve ever had, and completely unexpected. With that, I am off to Burning Man, for a week of trail mix, pringles, beef jerky and soy milk. BYE!!
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
Drew’s in his last few days in California, before heading off to Chicago. He and Steve moved some items to mine that weren’t going to make the cross-country journey and their reward for the work was izakaya at Kobachi.
While the boys has Sapporo beer, I had my shochu. Finally I was able to see the bottle, and confirm it is indeed my beloved soju when eating Korean food.
We ordered the aburi saba almost upon sitting in our chairs. It’s a favorite of Drew’s, and the best item to order for noobs. Everyone enjoyed it.
To test Steve’s culinary boundaries, we each got an uni shooter.
Bam on the left. Bam on the right. Down the hatch, and call it a night.
Except we didn’t call it a night. We ordered the hanpen katsu - fish fillets stuffed with cheese and edamame, wrapped with nori, breaded and fried. Served with a hot mustard and soy dipping sauce.
The tan shio is another item that isn’t for the gastronomically squeamish, as it is beef tongue in thick slices, grilled and salted, served with sesame oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. It’s not to everyone’s liking, as both Drew and Steve indicated they enjoyed tongue when it’s Mexican lengua in tacos. Hmph.
The tsukune renkon shiitake-an is often what I order for first timers, as it is a far departure from popular Japanese fare in America. Ground chicken wrapped with lotus root and fried. Served in a sauce thick with mushrooms. Sometimes it’s a winner with the crowd, something not so much. Tonight was one of the not so much nights. It was hard to beat the uni shooter from earlier in the night, I suppose.
Finally, an order of pork kaku-ni, the tender pork belly in sweet soy sauce. Always a hit, and usually with leftovers. Tonight was no exception.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining
I won’t even do a food review of the San Diego Comic Book Convention because it was so atrocious it really doesn’t count as food, although whatever it was, it certainly was expensive. Captive audience, I guess, if you’re stuck in long queues for panels and previews of the latest sci-fi flicks.
I, however, was hindered by no such boundaries and fled the convention center in search of better sustinance, and I ended up at Kiyo’s, in the Gaslamp district of downtown San Diego.
The restaurant was peaceful and quiet, as most comic fans seemed to be rioting at closer by bars and grills, or cheaper fast food chain sandwich shops. The half dozen patrons here were still Comic Con attendees, and there was much in common for those people to talk about. Even the chef behind the counter offered a few words.
There aren’t set bentos, but a range of mix and match items, at several price levels. I ordered the yakitori from the A menu, stir-fried noodles, meat and vegetables, and the yakizakana – broiled mackerel with salt, from the B menu. The combination price was $11.45. Items from this menu also include some salad, fruit, miso soup and rice.
From the a la carte menu was a hamachi sushi roll, and a spicy tuna handroll. I know, they look a little lonely in the large bowl, and I should have replated the items for a better presentation, but we were more interested in hurrying up and getting the food in our mouths.
And the food was fine. I loved my mackerel! Mmm.
So much for trying to eat at Edomasa this evening. I even had some notes of friends recommendations. Soon, I hope. Soon!
Instead, it was a Kobachi evening.
Top row, left: iced green tea, ordered by both Drew and Laura. I had hot green tea.
Middle row, left: a plate of BBQ beef ribs. Very tasty, but I was the only person at the table that would eat the gristle and pick the bones clean. It even threw off the waiter, who initially hesitated on clearing the plate as he thought we weren’t finished. Then he saw the gnaw marks. Wasteful Americans!
Bottom row, left: Pork kaku-ni, the tender cooked pork belly. Delicious and fatty, we couldn’t finish it and took a piece home.
The surprise of the night was dessert, it came to the table after we’d settled up the bill. Normally it’s a little mochi ice cream, or a little black sesame flan, but today we got some yummy jelly roll and a melt-it-in-your-mouth dessert I can only describe as a chocolate mousse yorkshire pudding. Want more, please!
Side note: a recent visitor of Japanese descent translated “kobachi.” It means “small dish.” Makes sense.
Kobachi Izakaya Dining