210 25th Ave. N. 327-9081
5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 4:30-10 p.m. Sun.
Goten Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar
110 21st Ave. S. 321-4537
Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 5-9 p.m. Sun.
”Kobe Steaks? I haven’t been there in a million years! Are they still there?“ Twenty-five years after opening on 25th Avenue North next to Centennial Park, Kobe Steaks is not only still there, but alive and kicking, judging from a recent Thursday night.
Ask any Nashvillian who has lived here more than 25 years, and they will tell you that way back then, Kobe was the place to eat. Kobe may be a homogenized version of an authentic Japanese dining experience, but ethnic restaurants were nearly unheard of in those days, and the curtained seating areas, the floor cushions, and the theater-style cooking were pretty exotic for Nashville in the ’70s. One patron remembers walking down the main halls to her table and being intrigued by the piles of shoes diners had removed before taking their places at the subterranean seating. Another remembers that going there as a child was ”like Christmas! It was such a big deal.“
The individual dining rooms at Kobe are conducive to special occasions, and almost any night of the week the restaurant is hosting large parties celebrating everything from birthdays to proms.
The first time I went to Kobe Steaks in Nashville was shortly after I moved here in 1981. Department heads at the record label where I worked had spent a grueling two days locked up in quarterly meetings, and the outing to Kobe was the grand finale.
We all gathered first in the lounge, which was furnished with wide-seated, velour-covered sectional sofas. I remember thinking it looked like some cheesy bachelor pads I had known. The cocktail waitress brought our drinks, and we munched on those crunchy little pepper sticks while we waited for our entire party to arrive. Once they did, we were led deep into the cavernous bowels of the restaurant until we reached our designated dining area.
We were instructed to take off our shoes and lower ourselves onto the floor cushions. The wooden eating surface was about 12 inches wide all around; in the middle was the grill. A kimono-clad waitress glided into the pod-like area behind the grill, pad in hand. Having been told I was going to a Japanese restaurant, I was expecting sushi. Kobe did not thenand does not nowserve sushi, but neither did any other restaurant in Nashville at that time. Instead, the menu listed several entree options that could be ordered à la carte or as a dinner.
Dinner included soup, salad, shrimp appetizer, rice, and dessert. Our choices were chicken, sirloin, filet, shrimp, scallops, or some combination of each. Momentarily, the server brought each diner a bowl of weak miso soup with a scant few reconstituted mushroom slices floating languidly about; that was followed by a bowl of iceberg lettuce topped with a ladle of onion-flavored dressing. She turned on the grill and warned us not to touch it or place anything on it.
The server’s departure was immediately followed by the arrival of a cook, who wheeled in a cart that carried sauces, condiments, salt and pepper shakers, and the raw contents of our table’s order. With a slight but practiced flourish, he oiled up the grill and began slicing, dicing, chopping, flipping, turning, and tossing the contents of our dinner. All liberally doused in soy sauce, little pieces of shrimp, julienned onion and zucchini, sliced mushrooms, great gobs of sprouts, and chunks of chicken and steak made their way onto our plates.
Every once in a while, the cook would squirt some oil onto the grill, light a match, and flames would shoot three feet into the air, causing his audience to reel back a foot or so. It seemed to give him some small malicious pleasure. Once he was finished cooking, he meticulously cleaned the grill, bowed, and received a round of applause. He wheeled his cart off to another table, and the server brought us bowls of orange sherbet to finish the meal. I remember wondering what all the fuss was about. I also remember waking up several times throughout the night with a raging thirst.
I would never have gone back, had I not been taken there every once in a while as a guestalbeit a reluctant oneat some celebration or another. Still, I had managed to avoid Kobe for years until last month, when my children decided it would be the perfect place to take their father for his birthday. I tried to dissuade them, but to no avail. So there we were at 5:30 on a Thursday night, waiting for the birthday boy in the Kobe cocktail lounge, which was furnished with exactly the same velour-covered bachelor-pad sectional sofas of 19perhaps even 25years ago.
I ordered a beer, the children got soda, and we munched on bowls of peppery snack sticks. Just like the old days, we had to wait until our entire party arrived to be seated; even then, because our puny foursome wasn’t large enough to fill one dining area, we had to wait until about eight more people arrived. At this point, I can spare you the details: Everything else in the entire dining experiencewith the exception of the pricesremained exactly the same as it was back in 1981. I even woke up several times through the night with a raging thirst. As we left the restaurant, I was thankful that birthdays come but once a year.
Still, birthdays are like, umm, noseseverybody’s got one. So two weeks later, my daughter was invited to a friend’s 10th birthday party at Kobe’s thematic sibling, Goten Japanese Steak and Sushi Bar. I decided to go along so that I could comparison-shop.
Having been open only about nine years, Goten doesn’t carry the greasy residue that permeates every corner of Kobe. I’m not sure if there is something inherently cultural about sectional sofa seating, but Goten’s cocktail lounge is much like Kobe’s, including the peppery snack sticks that were delivered with drinks. Once our entire group convened, we were led to a dining area, where we removed our shoes and lowered our rears onto the floor, putting our legs into the pit. It was much more uncomfortable for the grown-ups than the kids, who loved it.
Goten’s saving graceand what distinguishes it from Kobeis the fact that it does also serve sushi, along with appetizers like gyoza and negima-yaki (rolls of beef and scallion). The entrees include the usual meat and seafood offerings, as well as broiled fish, tempura, and udon and soba noodle bowls.
In the spirit of the occasion, we opted for table-side cooking. That experience was exactly like Kobe, including the excessive use of oil and soy saucerendering what could be a healthy meal into one loaded with fat and sodium. Both Kobe and Goten offer children’s hibachi dinners under $10, and there’s no question that kids enjoy the show. If one of yours requests the experience, I’d opt for Goten.
Chicken again? Martha Stamps, acclaimed local chef, caterer, cookbook author, and occasional Scene contributor, offers a creative alternative to dinner staples with Food for Thought, a take-out meal plan she’s operating with husband John Reed. The monthly mail-outs feature weekly specials of three entrees and a dessert. Among the selections in January were shepherd’s pie with lamb ($20), chicken and andouille gumbo ($12/qt.), Italian meat loaf with red gravy ($20 loaf, serves 6-8), mushroom and artichoke lasagna ($20), brown sugar sour cream pound cake ($8 a loaf), and chocolate bread pudding with dried cranberries ($25).
Orders can be made daily, weekly, or monthly in advance. Deliveries are normally made on Mondays and Wednesdays. Stamps says many customers leave a cooler in their garage or on the porch for food deposits. Payment is by check or cash. Get on her mailing list by calling 460-7632, faxing 460-9798, or e-mailing email@example.com.