A Rollercoaster of Emotions at a Steak House
Friday night after work I went into Sannomiya to meet Kuniko and try a couple of restaurants that we have had our eye on.
The first place with a pinxtos place, along the same street in Motomachi as Bo Tambourine, a pretty good American food restaurant. The pinxtos place was very small, and operated by a couple – the Japanese husband cooked in the back room and spoke Spanish with his Spanish wife, who spoke perfect Japanese to their customers. The system was a little unusual – you went to a buffet area, selected a tab of paper from a small basket in front of the pinxtos you wanted to eat, and then handed the paper to the staff – who plated the food and brought it over to you. They had a small selection of about ten different pinxtos to choose from, and wine by the glass was limited to three reds and three whites. Luckily both the food and the wine were excellent, and the service was top notch.
I’m not sure that it was worth the money – I think of pinxtos as something you snack on while casually sipping wine and talking before you move on to somewhere else for dinner. However we enjoyed the experience, and we may try it again someday.
Our main event was a place that is popular in Kobe for their meat. It is hard to make a niche for yourself in Kobe when you are competing with all the Kobe beef places at the high end and yakiniku places at the middle to lower end. This place was called Gallo, and as soon as we walked in I loved the atmosphere. It is a tiny place, decorated in solid dark wood not unlike a British pub. We had a counter seat at a beautiful bar, and as soon as we got our coats sorted out they handed us the menu.
I thought we’d have some time to think about the menu but the waitress started pushing us hard to order soon, because the meat would take a while and we had better get in our order now. The way she handled it made it seem like we had done something wrong – isn’t it her job to make us comfortable? We hurriedly reviewed the menu and picked two selections: 100 grams of aged sirloin, and a 100 grams of roasted beef shoulder. The idea was to try a little of several things and share. We also ordered a mixed appetizer plate to keep us busy during the long wait, and I ordered a bottle of red wine – a Spanish monster that turned out to be a good match with the beef. The manager of the place handled the wine recommendation and pouring perfectly.
The big appetizer plate arrived and it was enormous. We had ordered the smaller appetizer plate but there was enough food here to feed us and a few friends if we had brought them along. There were big cuts of roast beef, pickled vegetables, terrines, salad, smoked duck, and some others I can’t recall. It really hit the spot. I was starting to think that we’d discovered our new favorite restaurant.
Our meat showed up soon after, and it looked great. It wasn’t exactly grilled – sort of roasted and fried. The outside of our meats looked great, the meat inside was rare to medium rare, but overall it didn’t impress. Too oily for my taste, but maybe that was just the cuts that we had selected. Like Kuniko said, we could do better at home (and we have in the past). Later I watched the cook frying up the meat in an iron skillet – there was a lot of oil and he ladled the hot oil over the top of the meat to sort of deep fry it.
So the meat was acceptable but not really our style, and we ended on a note of slight disappointment. So close, but not quite what we had hoped for. We paid the bill and hit the road, with the taste of delicious Spanish wine helping to ease the blow as we walked back to the train station.
On our way back we made a final (and perhaps ill-advised) stop at a curious restaurant. We saw it out of the corner of our eye as we walked near the train tracks. It had a long, dimly lit hallway to a smoky room lit with fluorescent lights. There were a few people eating at a stainless steel counter, and it had a really weird vibe. We had to go check it out.
Drawn more for the atmosphere than the food we checked the menu as an afterthought in the hallway, and it was apparently a HORUMON restaurant. A week ago I had the upscale version of offal, and this place was on the low end of the offal spectrum. The vey low end.
We were led to a table by a large young woman with a scowl on her face. The other customers didn’t look up from their meals and the older cooks and staff didn’t look up either. The smoke we saw from outside came from the frying of meats and organs on big steel plates behind the counter.
The room was very long and narrow, and the back wasn’t well lit and was full of broken refrigeration equipment and tables and chairs pushed out of the way. We sat at a table on dark green plastic cushioned seats, so low that my knees were higher than my waist.
The waitress brought some tea for us and took our order, but the look she gave us was clear. Kuniko said it best, “it looked like she wanted to tell us that we don’t belong here.”
It was true – we were still wearing suits from our work and eating our third meal of the night and happy and cheerful from a bottle and a half of wine, and a lot of the people there looked like they could barely afford the bowl of food in front of them.
We soaked in the atmosphere, I ate a small bowl of handmade noodles in a broth that could have used a little more salt, and Kuniko had a bowl of rice with mixed vegetables and small strips of beef. We split a cold beer with the meal, and then got out of there fairly quickly.
Another interesting night in Kobe – we’ve had a lot of those recently!