Kobe beef is often prized as one of the best meats in the world. As such, I feel that it deserves its own post rather than embedding it in one of my travel posts 🙂
On the second to my last day in Japan I decided to go for kobe beef and had my hotel make a reservation at Wakkoqu, a restaurant in Kobe that specializes in kobe beef teppanyaki. I opted for this restaurant as it was more known to the foreigners so I could get the “tourist” experience, plus the price seemed more student-friendly (at least the lunch pricing). I was glad that I made a reservation beforehand, as upon arrival I found out that they do not take walk-ins even if the restaurant was not full. The clerks at my hotel found it strange that I wanted to make a reservation, and tried to explain that I could just walk into any restaurant, but I told them that this one was different as it was a famous restaurant. Needless to say, I was very happy that I took the precaution to do so, otherwise I would have wasted an entire day just going all the way to Kobe for nothing 🙂
Note: In Japan, if you wish to visit higher-end restaurants, it is always better to go for lunches rather than dinners. Restaurants often offer more reasonably-priced lunch sets that allow you to experience their dishes without having to bleed your wallets dry.
The restaurant itself was medium in size, and was quite warm due to the heat from the grills. Seeing my luggage and English name, the staff assumed that I spoke English only. Given that most of their customers are foreigners, I noted that they did have better command of English than the average locals as well.
I went for the Wakkoqu course, which, at ¥5,280, was definitely expensive but much more affordable than its other sets. My meal started off with a puréed potato soup. It was lukewarm as the large surface area of the bowl quickly took away the temperature of the soup. The taste itself was smooth and mild, and retained the rustic country potato flavour. I did not find the soup remarkable in any way. The portion was also a bit small in my opinion, but I guess that is just the poor student in me talking…
The 大根 (daikon/radish), cabbage and the cucumber were pickled lightly with just salt, which provided a nice contrast to the flavour-laden meat to come. However, these fermented veggies were really just standard pickles, lol~
At this point I was the chef’s primary customer, but we still had very little interactions. I know from the way how he took the order from the young couple from Hong Kong that he spoke English quite well, but I suspected that he was still uncomfortable with the language. So, I gathered up my courage and told him that I understood Japanese, which immediately opened him up. He told me that his family lives in Vancouver, and that he visits them regularly. He also asked about my family and, like the others, inquired about my language skills. All the time we were talking, he was still very attentive to the food on the grill and made sure they were cooked well.
The beef was served with a few pairing choices. In order of the chef’s recommendation of tasting: sea salt, mustard+soy sauce, pepper and garlic slices. I never cook with salt, with organic soy cream as my only sodium-based flavoring agent at home, so the sea salt, even at its most minimal, shocked me upon first bite. The chef emphasized that the salt should be taken in a very small amount, but even using only one grain of it overwhelmed me. I tried all combinations and preferred the fried garlic slices the best. However, the powerful garlic did detract away from the natural taste of the beef, so I saved them for the rice and mostly enjoyed the steak just as they were 🙂 Because of its high fat content, the beef was exceptionally tender and juicy~
The side dishes followed: green peppers, tofu, konjac gel, eggplant, mountain yams and bean sprouts. During this time, I also asked for him to explain the difference between sirloin and tenderloin. Apparently, tenderloin is a better cut as it has no tendons and is taken from a specific part at the back of the cattle.
My meal was about to reach its conclusion when I, feeling unsatisfied and curious, asked if I could make a single order of 100 grams of the tenderloin. I saw that there were two cuts of beef on the menu and wanted to try the tenderloin as well >.< It was embarrassing to say the least, but as this was a rare opportunity I decided to be bold and went for the request. The chef was a bit taken by surprise that I still had room, and was skeptical of my stomach capacity. (Oh, if only he knew that I would have asked for at least 250 grams had it not been that the price was just too out of range for this poor little student…)
“Huh? You can still eat?”
“Um, yeah, I’m a bit of an 大食い(oogui/big eater)… Oh, gosh, this is so embarrassing!” [Little me burying my face in my hands]
He chuckled in a very understanding way and assured me that it was alright before going to the back to retrieve the meat. He came back with this little beauty:
The steak pieces were considerably bigger than the previous sirloin, but they still had an exquisite texture and dissolved partially in my mouth. The fat was specifically saved last by the chef – they literally melt!
The chef made sure to check that I was full (oi~) before telling me that dessert was about to be served. (I actually could have eaten more, but my budget did not allow me T.T) My meal ended with a dessert of vanilla ice and coffee. The ice itself was only mildly sweet as it was not made with heavy cream and loaded with sugar. The sugar came before the coffee, and I mistook it as sprinkles for the ice, so I garnished the latter with it, lol~
The meal made quite a dent in my wallet, but the experience itself was well worth it. My only regret was that I did not tell the chef that it was my birthday, otherwise I might have gotten something special from this funny and friendly man who was assigned to me… Actually, I had forgotten about this fact entirely – I did not even realize it was my birthday until later that night my friend reminded me. I wonder if this makes me a bit of a 天然ボケ (tennenboke/naturally clumsy and absentminded)? >o<
Update: 02/03/2015: I found my chef on youtube!