Last week I was feeling like I was caught in a rut. For almost two weeks I had followed the exact same pattern, both at home and at work, and it was starting to feel a little boring. Kuniko came up with an idea to shake things up.
Saturday we went into Kobe in the morning, and started hitting restaurants and bars that Kuniko had been wanting to visit. Surprisingly, there were quite a few.
Before eating we stopped at the 24 hour post office in Kobe to send off a package to the United States. Once we were free of the burden on the package, it was time to start snacking!
We started early with a bar that opens at 9 am, and we sipped white wine with an apple and Camembert cheese salad, and then we had a potato and bleu cheese gratin as a follow up. The restaurant was tiny – just six seats at two counters, but the environment was nice. Slightly upscale (for a bar that opens at 9 in the morning) and very relaxing.
Next we walked over to Daimaru department store to do some shopping. We both had gifts that we needed to buy for acquaintances – one for Kuniko’s ex-student who recently got married, and one for my barber who is changing jobs soon. I was able to find something at Daimaru, but nothing caught Kuniko’s eye.
Since we were in the neighborhood we stopped in at the farmer’s market in Sannomiya. By the time we got there there were few vegetables remaining. We bought a tiny piece of cheesecake to split while we sat on a park bench, and watched people strolling through the stands of the farmer’s market. It was surprisingly popular considering the seasonal cold weather.
Our next stop was a walk up to the Kitano area of Sannomiya to try a sandwich shop (called “San”) which had a full menu of different kinds of sandwiches to choose from. I picked a buffalo chicken sandwich that was nice, and Kuniko had a mushroom, vegetable and cheese sandwich that was pretty good, too. We each had a glass of white wine, and sat outside on the patio next to a mounted bear’s head. There was an outdoor heater to keep us warm, and it turned out to be a nice stop. The restaurant was pretty hard to find, though, so I think most of their business will need to be based on word of mouth.
In that area are two import food places – a halal middle eastern shop and a more traditional world import shop. I poked around both shops and saw some good stuff, but I didn’t want to buy a bunch of heavy stuff and have to lug it around Kobe the rest of the day. I’ll be back!
Next stop for the gourmet train was a butcher shop in north Motomachi, which will not only sell you local meats, but they’ll also cook them for you in the back room so you can enjoy them at a couple of small tables in the shop. We selected half a cut of sirloin steak, a pork chop, and six thick slices of roast beef, and they grilled them in the back and served them on a wood block with a bed of wild greens, along with various mustards and sauces to apply if necessary. We had some red wine while we waited for the food, and another glass of red wine after it arrived, so we were feeling pretty good about things. The meats were excellent, and the grilled them nicely to bring out the flavor. We don’t eat meat that often these days, so it was a nice treat. Overall we liked the food and the atmosphere of the place, but we felt it was a little overpriced for what we got. Good for an experience, but I don’t think we’ll be back soon.
Next stop was to find that elusive present for Kuniko’s ex-student. We went to Loft in Sannomiya, which always ends up being the shop we go to when we can’t find anything elsewhere. They certainly have a big selection, and maybe that was part of the reason why it took us so long to decide. We spent almost 45 minutes walking around looking for something, but finally Kuniko discovered just the right item. We got it wrapped, and then headed off to Sannomiya station to meet her ex-student who got married, her friends (one of whom is a Sri Lankan now working in Osaka), and even a couple of Kuniko’s ex-coworkers from Kobe. We spent just a little time with them talking and exchanging contact info, and then we headed out to our next dining establishment.
By now it was almost 5 pm, and we had been eating, shopping and walking for most of the day. I had been craving dim sum (as usual) and Mamiko had recommended a place in Motomachi that had good reviews. We arrived just as they opened, and settled into a table to order. There were a lot of choices, and we choose some of our favorites (beef shumai, shrimp wraps, wonton soup and noodles) along with two new dishes to us (grilled manju with stuffed with pork, and pork rolled in yuba with a mild Chinese sauce). The yuba rolls were really good, and I also liked the shumai thanks to their liberal use of coriander in the meat. The other items were so-so, but not extraordinary. Maybe our standards are a little too high. At this restaurant we changed from wine to beer, buying Asahi bottles and pouring them for each other into little glasses.
Craving gyoza, we stopped in the secret alley below the west side of Sannomiya station, and went to one of our favorite gyoza places. This place has great atmosphere, with lots of tables tight together and everyone talking loudly, drinking heavily. The gyoza itself is good but not great. Here it is about cheap and fun and a little wild. For Sannomiya, it is the closest feeling to eating street food you can have while still eating inside.
The final stop was literally just across the alley (two steps from door to door) at a little Korean restaurant that caught our eye. It didn’t start out well as it seemed like the staff were ignoring us on purpose for some reason, but after Kuniko hailed them they were polite enough. We ate chapuche, a homemade kimchi, and we drank makkori (advertised as draft, but also sold in a bottle – strange). The makkori was pretty good and the food was tasty, too. The restaurant had a weird coffee-shop like atmosphere, and it was pretty quiet in there compared to the lively gyoza place we had just come from.
With our stomachs (finally) full, we walked on back to the train station and headed home. We got back around 9 pm and bumped into a couple of the American inspectors who work at Kawasaki. Thanks to all the booze we drank it was hard for me to make conversation – I think I made an Ernest Hemingway reference (?) that confused everyone including myself – but it was a good surprise to see them at our own little Okubo station.
So I have my wife to thank for organizing a hell of an eating adventure, just when I needed it most. It’ll take some time to burn those calories off – time to work harder on that bike!