Fun with Knives and Fire 

Kobe Japanese Steak and Sushi serves dinner as entertainment.

In the middle of a dexterous performance at Kobe Japanese Steak and Sushi, my wife asked head chef Ian Jong Soo Sun how long he’s been doing this. He paused for a second, as if remembering back to that day in the distant past when he first took up the steel and the blade. Then he smiled and said, “I don’t know. What do you think—five, ten minutes?”

If you’ve been to a Japanese steak house, this will no doubt seem like the standard routine. You know exactly what to expect and Kobe delivers it. But in several respects the dining experience at Kobe exceeds expectations.

The service is prompt, friendly and knowledgeable. While waiting for the teppanyaki show to begin, we ordered some sushi as an appetizer. When I requested the yellowtail, the server explained that if it was tuna that we wanted, then we’d be pleased to know that the fatty tuna had arrived fresh within the hour. It was the best sushi I’ve had in Richmond, but what I found remarkable was the fact that not only did the server know the menu inside and out, she also knew exactly what was going on in the kitchen.

The flash frying over extremely high heat and the simple seasoning of teppan-style cooking let the natural flavors of the food come through. This means that the quality of the product really matters, and at Kobe everything is of the highest quality. The filet mignon was seared to a perfect medium rare and literally melted in my mouth. The shrimp were fresh and sweet, as was the lobster tail. The tuna steak, seared rare and finished with a light sesame glaze, was the deep red of sashimi-grade ahi.

Full combination dinners range in price from $13.85 for hibachi tender steak and chicken to $29.85 for hibachi filet mignon and lobster, and they include clear onion soup, tossed salad with miso dressing, shrimp appetizer, grilled vegetables and steamed rice. I recommend substituting the fried rice for $2 more.

All of this wonderful entertainment takes place in the basement of a beautifully renovated brick warehouse half a block off Cary Street in Shockoe Slip. The decor is pleasant with a good sense of open space for a basement room. The blue-and-white cloudy sky ceiling definitely works in this regard, as does the softly lilting traditional Japanese music. On the main level, things are a bit more modern but equally pleasant. Here the ceiling has been painted into a starry night sky, and ambient electronic music blends into the atmosphere without overpowering it.

The main floor also boasts an elegant wood-and-glass sushi bar. Prices range from $3.50 to $6 for individual items, up to $9.50 for specialty rolls and $20 for full dinner platters, which are definitely meant for sharing. Everything we tried was beautifully presented, pleasing both the eye and the palate. There’s also an extensive specialty drink menu with plenty of Japanese beers.

So the next time you’re thinking about going out for dinner and a show, head down to
19 S. 13th St.
Lunch: Monday- Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.Dinner: Daily 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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