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
After a week of detoxing, we needed sushi. Edomasa!!
Nothing huge or fancy, just some tea to drink, and eel handrolls, roe sushi, a little California roll, and half a dozen assorted nigiri to split between two people.
Some people come to Vegas to gamble in the casinos. I took a culinary gamble at Tokyo Japanese Restaurant and hit the jackpot.
Glitz and bling doesn’t dazzle me. Feeling the soul of a chef in the food does. And this unassuming restaurant off the strip overwhelmed me with good vibes and good food.
For those without cars, expect to pay $20+ each way for a cab to the Commercial Center from just about anywhere on the the strip. For those with cars, lucky you, there is heaps of parking. The vast parking lot encircled by a small collection of ethnic restaurants is disconcerting, but patience and courage will pay off.
The men behind the counter will shout their greetings upon your entrance and the women in kimonos will bring you hot tea, a hot towel, and a small bowl of edamame to start you off. Included with the platter of wasabi and ginger (which you will hardly need, because the food is seasoned adequately) is a little marinated cucumber salad.
Everything we ate was delicious. Hamachi belly and smelt roe nigiri, freshwater eel roll, spicy tuna roll, and live ama ebi shrimp that the sushi chef pulled from the tank to order. I’ve had the ama ebi shrimp before, but the bodies we ate had been separated from the moving heads. This time, they were still attached and very much alive. One jumped off the plate and another struggled after I’d bitten the body. I admit, this one made me squirm a little.
They also served us a sizzling platter of king oyster mushrooms, and a fillet of broiled hamachi, which the kitchen sent out. From others’ reviews, I see that the mushroom dish is not an unusual nibble to get from the kitchen. Everyone appreciates that little gesture!
We had another sushi roll coated heavily with smelt roe. So much roe! And finally, the ama ebi shrimp appeared again, tempura fried and all lined up.
Expecting a large bill, we were stunned to have dined in Las Vegas for just $45, feeding two. The fact that every other business in town is driven to separate you from your money as quickly as possible, this was such a refreshing change.
There are tatami rooms for fancier folk, small group booths in the common dining area, and the counter. We ate at the counter, chatted with the other diners, who all seemed to be locals rather than tourists like us, and everyone insisted that *this* was the place to come for sushi.
Sure, there was no douchey bartender with a faux-hawk shaking mediocre $13 cocktails by bouncing them off his shoulders, and I do acknowledge that this seems to be a quality in high demand at most places on the strip, so if that’s what you like, you won’t find it here.
Thankfully, I like a little quiet, and I like dining in well-lit spaces where I can actually see my food and see other happy diners.
If there is one place in this city I will go out of my way to recommend to my friends, and say it is worth the effort, it is here.
Photos by Ted Mills.
Tokyo Japanese Restaurant