When people hear Kobe, normally they’d think of one of the all-time best basketball players to wear a Lakers uniform, Kobe Bryant. For me, however, I think “moooooo”.
Kobe is a city in Japan, the 6th largest in the country (trivia!). The city is relatively known for its hot springs which are especially helpful against the cold since the city lies by the foot of Mount Maya and Mount Rokko. The city is also known for sites such as Ikuta Shrine and Kobe Port Tower. But you might have heard of something else which made this city so popular: wagyu beef.
What is Wagyu?
Wagyu simply refers to a cattle breed from Japan. There are four main families of these cattle:
- Japanese Black
- Japanese Brown
- Japanese Polled
- Japanese Shorthorn
The genetic component of these breeds yields a higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Simply speaking, they are bred to taste better!
What Makes Kobe Beef Special?
The Japanese are already known for their stringent standards coming from years of perfecting a specific craft. The people from Kobe take this to a whole new level when it comes to their beef.
When breeding their cattle, the people of Kobe take delicate care. They are provided special feeds made from rice straws, grass, forage, corn, barley, wheat, and corn. They are provided beer and even sake to keep them calm and relaxed. Herders would also regularly give their cattle massages to alleviate muscle tension. In other words, the cattle are given nothing but the best to keep them relaxed and happy.
Apparently, happy cattle is equal to delicious beef. And delicious is a huge understatement.
My Kobe Beef Experience
I went on a trip to Osaka for a few days with Mei and the family. We had half a day just for ourselves so we decided to go to Kobe to try their beef that I’ve been hearing about for years. Since there are only around 3,000 cattle that qualify as authentic Kobe beef per year, the best place to find them is in this city. We took a train from Osaka and it took just an hour to get there.
While on the train, we decided that we’d just hit the first Kobe beef restaurant we find near the station. It’s Kobe anyway so all their beef must be good, right? Checking Google Maps, my phone decided to show me the best-reviewed places as well. There was this small restaurant called Tor Road Steak Aoyama less than a kilometer from the station which is said to be the best. Perfect!
So we get off the train and walk towards the restaurant. It was 10:15 am. We get there right about 10:30 am and they were still closed as they open at 11 am. I asked the nice lady if we can reserve seats for later and she gave us a confused look before running to the back for a bit. Now we were confused and worried.
She comes back a few minutes later and says yes, they can accommodate us two later at 11 am. Just make sure to get there at exactly that time.
We decided to walk around and look at the other restaurants we saw around the block since we remember seeing lower prices at the other places.
As we walked around, we discover that the ads by the street show normal wagyu prices, not Kobe beef prices. So after looking at others, we decided to go back to Tor Road Steak Aoyama and get our seats.
It was the best decision we ever made in 2018.
The Actual Kobe Beef Experience at Tor Road Steak Aoyama
So the restaurant is small and homey. It felt so nice. We find out that the restaurant is family-owned and operated. The Dad runs the kitchen at the back and overall operations, Mom runs the cashier and helps out the daughter who works as the main wait staff. And her brother Chef Shuhei runs the teppanyaki grill.
There were about 8 of us by the grill and Chef Shuhei cooks our food, serves our Kobe beef, and is also our entertainment! He was so funny and he had mad skills with the grill and cooking. Oh, by the way, I promised to help promote you so here’s my blog post!
The first dish was a soup cooked using a 50-year-old recipe. It was perfect for the cold weather and it gets you all warmed up for the main event.
The second dish is a salad with four different proteins: fish, chicken, squid, and a thin slice of Kobe beef. Just to get your mouth watering some more.
All the while you are eating these side dishes, Chef Shuhei is cooking up a storm on the grill and it smells so amazing. All your senses are on overdrive.
As seen in the image above, the steak is also served with various vegetables and side dishes. They are perfectly cooked on the grill. The chef places a piece of foil near your area of the grill and places the cooked vegetables there to keep them warm but not over-cook them. Of course, they are as fresh as they can be.
Then, the main event. Chef Shuhei serves your portions of beef in front of you perfectly cooked to your preference. I asked for rare, Mei had medium rare, and I think if someone asks for well-done he’d throw his sharp spatula through that person’s chest…or I would.
To try and describe how delicious that first bite of Kobe beef straight off the grill is impossible. It was juicy, really beefy, soft, melt in your mouth, amazing, DELICIOUS.
I strongly believe that my reaction to that first bite was similar to those exaggerated reactions in anime when they try amazing food like in Cooking Master Boy.
It was the best piece of beef I had ever had and it changed my life. It was just so good and everyone should experience this at least once in their lives.
We wind down with a choice of coffee or tea after the meal. The experience is like riding an airplane. It starts you with a nice take-off. Slowly get you to the top crescendo. And the coffee/tea gives you a nice, soft landing back on Earth.
A Stroke of Luck…or Destiny
Another thing I will never forget about the experience eating Kobe beef at Tor Road Steak Aoyama is the feeling I got once we left the place. I felt so lucky to have eaten there. Not just in a superfluous sense but because of when I connected the dots.
- When we first arrived, the girl was so surprised we were asking for a reservation right then and there.
- While sitting there, there were several times that the door opened and the owner had to reject the potential customer
- They did not reserve the rejected customers for later
- There were just 8 of us
So I asked the girl if we were lucky to get our seats…she answered with an emphatic yes.
Apparently, since there’s only a limited number of Kobe beef per year, they only serve twice a day! Once for lunch and another for dinner. We just so happen to get two seats on that day because I think someone canceled their reservations.
Lucky. For sure. But I like to think that we were destined to have that experience.
My Final Verdict on Kobe Beef at Tor Road Steak Aoyama
If ever we go back to Japan, I can eat this every day. Definitely, the best beef I have ever had in my life. Not only that, it was one of the best dining experiences ever.
The restaurant is nice and cozy. The family is warm and welcoming. The food is just great. You can sense and feel the precision, pride, and passion that the family has for their business once you get in the restaurant. Definitely lived up to my expectation of the Japanese trait of chasing perfection.