What: Kobe An proves its pedigree at their new Cherry Creek location, offering authentic Japanese cuisine in an intimate setting.
Where: 231 Milwaukee St., Denver
Neighborhood: Cherry Creek
When: Tuesday–Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday noon-4 p.m., 5-9:30 p.m.
Quality Japanese food is easy to find in Denver these days, a development championed most recently by the explosion of ramen-ya in the last couple of years. But there are a few Japanese restaurants in the city that could be said to have gotten Denverites hooked on the stuff. In the ’90s, we got Domo, a holistic hodgepodge of Aikido, charity, and no-frills country cooking that’s the definition of comfort food. And then there’s Sushi Den, a restaurant that has been serving immaculate meals since the ’80s, and continues to expand its culinary vision. But just a little further back in our collective history is owner Kimie Loeffler’s Kobe An, which has been serving its own brand of authentic Japanese cooking since 1979. Forced to relocate in 2014 due to the ongoing reconstruction of the city, Kobe An’s new Cherry Creek location has put the lessons learned from their Lakewood location into making an even more charming and delicious dining experience.
Kobe An’s new location has been painstakingly designed and decorated to provide a peaceful, traditional Japanese meal. The private tea rooms are a definite draw: both sparse and beautiful, they boast comfy blue cushions and lovely ukiyo-e prints, and the odd pleasure of “eating on the floor.” Following Japanese custom, taking your shoes off before stepping on the tatami mats provides the sensation of entering someone’s home. This homeyness is strongly felt in the attention and care of the staff as much as in Loeffler’s own modest and accommodating demeanor. In short, everything about the aesthetic is intentional in the best way, and the restaurant exudes charm in every detail due in no small part to the decor’s careful restraint. (The fresh flowers at the tables are an elegant touch, while the kids menu is an amusing highlight with its whimsical quiz on Japanese culture.) The sushi bar is a bit more stylish, and nice if you’re dining alone or like chatting with the sushi chefs.
The sushi menu is pretty standard, barring a few house special rolls like the baked yellowtail, jalapeno and ponzu Kobe An roll ($10.50). The 15 or so tempura rolls offer something for everyone ($8-15), and with how good its tempura is on its own, these are a must for when you’re craving sushi. The nigiri is fresh and delicious, and if you’re in the mood they also have hand rolls (+$1), something of a rarity in the city. It’s somewhat like eating an ice cream cone, only full of tasty chunks of tuna and sushi rice. The vegetarian futomaki roll ($7) gives a delightful contrast to the heavier flavors of the fish and tempura sushi while the sashimi plates (like the New Style Hamachi Sashimi—$14) are great for splitting with the table.
The kitchen serves some of the best classic Japanese dishes in town. The miso soup is exquisite and is served in a lovely, black ceramic bowl ($3.25). The page-long appetizer list is worth your attention, from simpler plates like shumai, gyoza, and tempura to somewhat more exotic and firmly Japanese fare like natto and tsukemono, or fermented soy beans and Japanese pickled vegetables respectively. The tsukemono ($5.50) are colorful and packed with flavor, and with a bowl of steamed rice, they make a meal in and of themselves. There are plenty of meal deals, (the $10 lunch special and $15.75 early dinner specials are a steal), which give a larger sampling of Kobe An’s wonderful cooking. Like its sister restaurant, Kobe An Shabu Shabu in Highland, it serves sukiyaki and shabu shabu. It also serves a variety of other classic Japanese dishes, like udon and ramen. But the pork katsu ($17 dinner, $10.75 lunch) is a winner with its crunchy, flaky breading and sweet and tangy homemade katsu sauce.
Kobe An continues to prove—with its excellent food and warm service—why it’s been a perennial favorite for almost 40 years. Here’s hoping it can stay in Cherry Creek for another 40.