- Alex Springer
Working from home during these past few months has filled my mental margins with copious notes. Primarily, these notes concern what I'd like to do once the thought of being in a public building with more than three people no longer fills me with dread. Quite high on the list is getting some good food at a restaurant—oh, how I miss the profound joy that wells up within when a well-dressed stranger brings a meal I didn't cook to a table that I don't own—before seeing a movie in an actual movie theater. Now that Kobe Japanese Restaurant (3763 Center Park Drive, 801-849-1216, facebook.com/KobeJapaneseRestaurant) has expanded to Jordan Landing, within close proximity to so many other restaurants that I love, I feel like this sprawling commercial complex will be seeing much more of me once I re-enter my moviegoing routine—whenever the hell that will be.
Kobe started out when Chef Mike Fukumitsu, a veteran of Salt Lake's Kyoto and bona fide sushi professional, set up shop in Millcreek (3947 S. Wasatch Boulevard, 801-277-2928). Like most of my cultural awareness, Kobe first blipped across my radar after watching an episode of Man vs. Food in which host Adam Richman attempted a spicy tuna roll challenge therein. Kobe has since discontinued this challenge, but its legacy lives on in the Hell Fire Tatemaki ($8), which made my list of spiciest foods in the valley last year. For old time's sake—and to see if the new location was going to pull its punches for the WJ crowd—that's where I started.
When I got this sucker home and opened its container, I could see that it definitely looked the part: an unassuming, nori-wrapped tatemaki roll with tiny blobs of angry red sauce contrasted by the friendly green kaiware sprouts frilling outward at each end. I popped one slice into my mouth, where I immediately recognized the deep, rich pepper flavor. It took a bit longer for the capsaicin wallop to show up and humiliate my sinuses, but rest assured—the fires of hell continue to be well-represented here. I'm positive that my tolerance for extremely spicy food has become a bit strained as of late, but even so, the Hell Fire is a heat that lingers long after you've moved on. I can handle about half the roll before I start blubbering to myself and tap out.
Less extreme sushi enthusiasts also have a lot to play with at Kobe. To counterbalance the heat of the Hell Fire, the Freshie Roll ($13) with its cool shrimp, seared yellowtail, creamy avocado and sliced lemon is a good bet. The freshness from which the roll gets its name is front and center, and it's an excellent chaser that brings you back from the edge. If you're a fan of choosing the rolls with the most creative names, the Pablo Escolar ($13) is a tasty way to go. It's a mix of spicy tuna and seared, buttery escolar with a hit of citrus from sliced lemon and ponzu sauce. Those who enjoy the simple but nuanced flavors of fresh fish and zesty citrus will want to put a hit on this one.
Also rocking the citrus note is the diner favorite known as Summer Breeze ($14). It's a flavorful mix of yellowtail, avocado, mango and jalapeño topped with salmon, lemon, tobiko and a habanero honey sauce. Yes, it's a bit on the spicy side, but after a dose of the Hell Fire tatemaki, you barely notice. The treat with this roll is the mix of mango and avocado with fresh yellowtail and salmon. Yes, pumpkin spice season is upon us, but there's no shame in taking a trip back to summerland.
For those looking forward to sipping hot broth and slurping toothsome ramen noodles, however, Kobe has you covered. Their ramen menu is spare but effective—each variation is a deep, heady meditation into its respective flavors. The shoyu ramen ($10) is a plunge into the rich, dark saltiness of a good soy sauce. It's bedecked with all the trimmings—soft boiled egg, pickled bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and a generous slice of chashu pork belly. This ramen is a celebration of salt in all its deceptively simple glory, and the additional ingredients just slurp up all that goodness—a lot like you'll do once you have a bowl of this in front of you.
For a spicier, more acidic variation, the kimchi ramen ($10) is a tongue trip that fermented cabbage lovers must take. In addition to the traditional ramen entourage, this bowl of bold red broth includes thick leaves of kimchi, which impart both freshness and heat to this fragrant bowl of simmered excellence. Kobe's ramen broth is a perfect antidote for cold weather, and their freshly made noodles are the perfect textural complement.
While I whittle away the quarantine hours and think about the local spaces I'm most excited to share with others, I'm happy to have a reliable place like Kobe so close to a movie theater. With a bit of patience and consideration, I'll be shotgunning sushi rolls and slurping down bowls of hot ramen before taking in a slasher flick in no time.