Ode: The All-You-Can-Eat Sukiyaki at Kobe An
Our obsession began when Simone was a preteen, immersed in anime and teaching herself Japanese by watching subtitled shows on Crunchyroll. We drooled as a group of animated teenagers sat on tatami mats around a hotpot, rolls of sliced red meat and platters of vegetables arrayed around them.
“We need to find that,” Simone said to me.
A quick scroll on Yelp found Kobe An — in those years in Lakewood — and that’s where, under the guidance of a kindly manager, we learned the magic of this communal dish. When the restaurant moved to LoHi, it became a go-to for birthdays and other shared festivities. The new spot doesn’t have the lavish feel of the original, but with its simple design and tons of natural light, it still feels like something out of Tokyo.
Tokyo is where we had the best sukiyaki of our lives — at $125 per person it had to be — served up in our private dining room, the pot and ingredients tended by our dedicated server, every bite cooked perfectly and dropped into the bowl of raw egg in front of each of us. At the end of the meal, she stirred the remaining egg mixture into the pot and that sweet and savory scramble was our dessert. Epic.
At Kobe An back here in Denver, you do the heavy lifting yourself, but the setup is all pretty idiot-proof. A deep metal bowl filled with fresh veggies (julienned carrots, sliced cabbage, scallions, enokis and other mushrooms), chunks of tofu, and noodles sits on the burner in the middle of the table, slowly coming to temperature with the sweet, soy-based broth burbling underneath. As the ingredients warm from the steam, they slowly wilt and soften, becoming part of the stew. You give the whole thing a little stir here and there while you sip your sake and catch up on the day.
An array of sliced raw beef (you choose the cuts based on preference and budget) comes to the table along with a covered container of white rice. You have two bowls in front of you — one for your rice and one for your egg, which you crack and scramble, dipping your chopsticks into the warm rice afterward to clean them off.
In Japan, one would never use one’s eating chopsticks on communal food, so at Kobe An you’re given tongs for moving the meat into the stew, for stirring it around, and for pulling out a mix of vegetables, noodles, and beef that you dip into your egg mixture. From there, you’re supposed to use your own chopsticks to pluck those bites out and drop them onto your rice before eating.
But when you’re sitting in Denver with your favorite people, propriety isn’t your top concern, and you’ll find yourself digging around in the pot with your personal chopsticks for that one perfect mushroom or stabbing a slice of tofu in the middle and easing it out between cellophane noodles. Simone was never big on the raw egg, but I love how its unctuous richness adds something extra and unique to the experience.
Sukiyaki is different from other hotpot dishes, because it’s more of a simmer and stew sort of thing. Although you might add in more veggies and meat as you empty the pot of its contents, it’s not one-in-one-out math. This is a slow roll, commune with your companions and feast together situation. The soup itself is dark, sweet, and fragrant, and the meat and vegetables add to its flavor. You’re not just cooking them in the broth — they’re part of it. It’s like having a crock pot in the middle of your table, tasting from it but also keeping it stocked with all the goodness.
You take your time. You sip your sake. You eat a bite of rice. You roll with it.