Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Flame on! Though pricey, the fixin’s at Kobeya are fantastic.
Year of the (Fat) Cats

Fortunately, Kobeya’s Americanized Asian fare is not as plastic as the Southlake Town Square surroundings.


Kobeya Steak & Sushi Bar

1230 Main St, Southlake. 817-416-6160. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, Sat-Sun noon-3:30pm. Dinner: Sun-Thu 5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm. All major credit cards are accepted.

espite the many differences between contemporary Japan and America, the two countries share one important thing — an almost scary devotion to capitalism. Like us, the Japanese love sparkling new goods and slick services and consuming them in elaborate, even temple-like places. So while the current boomtown of Southlake appears to be about as far from teeming Tokyo as possible, it’s nonetheless appropriate that the little city’s plastic-smelling “village” of Town Square is where you can find Kobeya Japanese Steak & Sushi Bar. Strolling the streets, past the courthouse and public library, surrounded by coffee shops, kids’ salons (offering pricey mini-manicures and -pedicures), electronic stores, and upscale casual clothing retailers, you may feel as if you’re walking through an alternative universe of the sort that’s simultaneously honored and satirized in some anime flick.

Which might lead you to ask, just how “Japanese” is Kobeya? Steak has always been a Texas mainstay, and sushi has gradually become as American as, say, pizza and Kung Pao chicken. Even though its interior is Eastern chic — replete with long, curved bar, tables outfitted with hibachi grills, and a hanging bowl of dry ice that emits bluish smoke near the entrance — the place feels unmistakably custom-designed for American appetites. Even the much-vaunted Kobe beef steaks that Kobeya serves for $70 a pop are notable mostly for their aura of conspicuous consumption, symbolized by the black-haired Japanese cattle that are massaged daily and fed sake and beer mash to attain their unique tenderness. Savor the taste of luxury, indeed! It’s all so Japanese that it can’t help but be American.

Kobeya, however, does set an undeniably scrumptious, detail-conscious lunch table, down to the bright pink hue and cold crisp snap of the watermelon slices served for dessert. The lunch menu is full of excellent specials that, at around 10 bucks per, probably didn’t come from quite as pampered a source but should nonetheless make you shout: “Ii kamo!” (Rough English translation: “Totally tubular!”)

Service began with an item from the sushi list that most bait shops don’t offer — crab sashimi. But curiosity over what the appearance, texture, and flavor of raw crab meat would be like was not satisfied. The thick strips of genuine crab had been cooked and were presented at room temperature on wood skewers laid across long green leaves. The dish worked in the simple and best — and, unfortunately, long-lost — definition of appetizer. As soon as the flaky, lightly moist crab pieces aroused hunger, they were gone.

A “Power Lunch” special of spicy tuna roll plus two pieces each of salmon, shrimp, and pale yellow egg sushi was exemplary, especially when delivered alongside Kobeya’s cloudy, fragrant miso soup (fish stock with fermented miso paste, seaweed, and soft tofu cubes). The other side option was less exciting: a house salad (demerits for using dispiriting iceberg) whose thick ginger dressing looked alarmingly like Thousand Island. (That light but strangely mouth-warming ginger taste still prevailed.) The vinegar used to clump the rice in the tuna roll and under the sushi pieces lent them an almost porcelain gleam as well as a tart flavor — a nice companion to the hot-pepper poke of the velvety raw tuna.

The bento box special was an even better deal. A bento box is a black lacquered Japanese lunch tray with six deep compartments. The sides — miso soup and ginger salad; a small, golden, deep-fried spring roll; crab rangoon that issued steam when bitten; a ball of steamed rice; and a California roll that stayed together with a beguiling fatty firmness — offered more than ample mid-day refueling. Entrée items for the box include chicken katsu, salmon teriyaki, shrimp tempura, and — a recommended choice — mahi mahi teriyaki, a cut of fish so sublime in its medium-cooked, delicate suppleness, it could’ve given the Kobe beef (available only at dinner) a run for its hefty price.

The only disagreeable element at Kobeya was the service. Our server was having a bad day or chomping at the bit to move on to her next career or something. She brought our lunch before our appetizer order and placed the plates on the table with a gesture that could almost be described as “flinging.” Maybe working in Hometown, U.S.A., was getting to her. At least she hadn’t been replaced by an animatronic double.

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