Kobe Japanese Restaurant has been around for some time in a nondescript shopping mall on Wasatch Boulevard.
But new chef and owner Mike Fukumitsu is creating a significantly better name for Kobe with his fresh enthusiasm and phenomenal ramen.
Fukumitsu sharpened his skills as a sushi chef at Kyoto at a time when many Utahns were just learning what sashimi meant. Years later he spent a year in Atsugi, Japan, where he learned the art of scratch-made ramen. Since his return to Utah, he’s transformed Kobe into an unparalleled ramen destination.
Banish the thought of the Top Ramen that sustained you in college for just pennies. Real Japanese ramen starts with toothsome noodles and a time-intensive, flavor-packed meat broth. To that, add dried seaweed (nori), green onions, bean sprouts, narutomaki, hard-boiled eggs and, most important, charshu (roasted pork) or other protein.
You’ll find five kinds of ramen in regular and large sizes at Kobe: shoyu (regular $8.95), tonkotsu (regular $8.50, large $10.95), miso, kimchi and the latest addition, mabo-men (regular $10.25). Each offers a distinct attraction such as spicy kimchi and salty miso, but my favorites are the creamy pork tonkotsu with unctuous charshu as well as the mabo-men with sweet ground pork ankake topped with baby bok choy and offering a spicy kick.
Although the mabo-men ramen doesn’t come with the delightful charshu, you can order it on the side until they run out — which they will. I also added Kobe’s house-infused black garlic oil (50 cents) to my tonkotsu ramen for additional earthy depth.
While ramen is the star at Kobe, don’t ignore the fresh fish options. Mussel shooters (two for $5.95) are a must-have starter for looks and taste. Chopped green-lipped mussels are diced and marinated, topped with topiko and served with a raw quail egg and dot of sriracha on the half-shell. Eaten correctly, the egg yolk bathes the mussels in creamy fattiness while the salty mussels recall their oceanic heritage.
As with any good sushi restaurant, have a discussion with the sushi chef behind the bar. They’ll guide you to what is fresh and also suggest specials they might be preparing with limited fish on-hand. One such example was the sake-steamed clams appetizer ($9.95) to pair with our hot sake (small $6.95, large $10.95). A karei fish ($7.50) is filleted and then deep fried and presented whole at the table along with the crisp fillets.
A long list of maki sushi rolls are available for those seeking the typical offerings. A simple kappa cucumber roll ($4.25) — with a lot more wasabi than we were expecting — and the summer breeze ($12.75) with fresh salmon, lemon slices and tobiko proved that Kobe is a full-scale Japanese restaurant with offerings for everyone.
Orders of beautifully presented sashimi (small $23.95) are served on a lacquered wooden boat — a holdover from the previous owner. Luscious fatty tuna, delicate Boston diver scallops and smooth octopus are just a small sampling of what might be found on Kobe’s menu each day.
The only non-seafood dish I tried was the chicken yakisoba ($8.95) — a poor representation of the dish heavily coated in a too-sweet sauce.
To finish on a sweet note, try the fried ice cream, an unexpected treat with crunchy tempura crumbles topped with a chocolate sauce drizzle.
If you’re in a hurry, the best time to go to Kobe is at lunch or late in the evening as wait times are often 20 minutes or more in the early evenings for one of the 12 tables. Seating at the bar is typically available.
Kobe is still a work in progress as the cold interior décor remains and customers can still attempt the super-spicy Hellfire Challenge, which was featured on “Man vs. Food.”
No matter. The ramen and improved quality of the other menu items are a good sign that Kobe’s aesthetics will eventually rise to the level of the food.
Kobe Japanese Restaurant
Food • HHH
Mood • HH
Service • HH
Noise • bb
The new and improved Kobe Japanese Restaurant on Wasatch Boulevard serves an impressive menu of scratch-made ramens along with an ever-changing list of fresh fish creations.
Location • 3947 Wasatch Blvd., Salt Lake City; 801-277-2928
Online • www.facebook.com/KobeJapaneseRestaurant
Hours • Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday.
Children’s menu • Yes
Prices • $$
Liquor • Beer and wine, includes sake
Corkage • $8
Reservations • Yes
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • No
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • All major