True confessions. I like being in control. I am not an adventurer, am rarely spontaneous, and what comforts me most is having a plan.
This character trait flies out the window when it comes to dining. I am perfectly willing to throw caution to the wind, to put my well-being in the hands of another person, and take leaps of faith that would otherwise terrify me.
Enter Kobo– the destination for this year’s anniversary dinner. Dutiful wife that I am, I sacrifice a chance to experience what I understand to be incredible uni and waygu beef. Instead we dine here on a night that exclusively features a vegan tasting menu. This is in keeping with my husband’s kosher dietary restrictions. Anniversary and all…
Kobo is a restaurant within a restaurant. What was formerly the sushi counter at Sushiko in Chevy Chase is now where diners embark on a multi-course kappo journey. Kappo literally means to cut and cook. It also signifies the act of cooking in front of a guest. Kobo is the Japanese word for atelier or artist workshop. Brothers and chefs Handry Tjan and Piter Tjan are the creators of Kobo, along with Sushiko co-owner Daisuke Utagawa.
“We wanted to create an intimate space that is both warm and comfortable”, said Chef Piter Tjan. “Every seat at Kobo has an unobstructed view of us preparing all the different dishes and we encourage our guests to interact with us throughout their kappo experience,” added Chef Handry Tjan. “We are using color and textures in our plateware, which took thought and time to curate in order to enhance the look and feel of every dish. We want to excite all the senses, starting with sight, then smell, sound, touch/feel and finally taste.”
We are here on a Wednesday night. My husband and I are the only diners at the 8-seat counter. As we arrive, Chef Handry Tjan is busy toying with a litany of mysterious ingredients. His small crew stands at the ready behind him, awaiting their turn to take part in the preparation. We are perched at the counter just inches away from Chef Handry. I cannot contain my excitement. A tasting menu, where diners have no idea of what lies ahead, is where I can excel as a daredevil.
The experience commences with welcoming tea. The kelp green tea is served dramatically in a hot infusion siphon that permits the aroma to seep enticingly into the air.
The amuse bouche consists of a trio of spherical balls, accompanied by a pinch of crystals that enhance the flavor. A mango sphere with basil crystal, a strawberry sphere with fennel crystal, and a lychee sphere with rose flower crystal, erupt one-by-one the moment they hit the tongue.
The beginning of the journey is silky house made tofu, black seaweed “caviar” served playfully in a caviar tin, and kombu dashi.
The meal proceeds with Chef brother’s signature otsukuri. Vibrant tomato tartare is topped with heirloom tomato sorbet and kinome – a Japanese herb. As we settle into the rhythm of the meal, we are enthralled by the skill and deliberation that is evident in every element of the food.
A message of the flora is food masked as a terrarium. This sprightly dish is a delectable baby turnip planted in edible soil, with a mossy covering of edamame puree and Japanese chili flakes.
The taste of umami from niban dashi is a medley of wheat noodles, pickled plums, and mushrooms in a delicate broth. We are mesmerized by the ingenious interplay of ingredients. As the courses progress, Chef Tjan becomes more interactive, which further engrosses us in his artistic endeavors.
Shokuji – the sushi course is next in the line-up. Three exquisite “rolls” are presented independently: soy marinated baby carrot, Japanese winter squash, and pickled ginger blossom.
The most filling course is gohan. The elegant-tasting rice dish doesn’t require much in the way of fanciful flourishes. A blanket of black winter truffle suffices.
When the chef announces the happiness finale, my spirits dip. I am not ready. For one, it has been a fascinating journey, but also the promise of 12-15 courses has me expecting more food. The truth is that with a blind tasting menu you can never be sure when to put the utensils down to save room for more food, or when to keep going until every morsel on your plate disappears. I am confronted with the real possibility that I may not be able to sacrifice control in any facet of my life.
Dessert is sweet potato puree sprinkled with sesame seeds, serving as a crown over candied chestnuts. The eclectic finale, with just the right amount of sweetness, brightens my temporary consternation. I relax to enjoy the final moments, while Chef Tjan describes plans for the spring menu. He disappears and returns with a taste of dish he is in the process of perfecting. I am further uplifted by the gesture. I do like spontaneity!
The excursion concludes with a parting gift- a thank you note, vegan chocolates, a bottle of yuzu dressing, and the menu. The bill is pre-paid, excluding the alcohol; $130 includes tax and tip; the non-vegan menu is $160.
Kobo is meant for seekers of unique, intimate dining experiences which leave an indelible impression. The vegan menu may not be entirely filling, but it is wholly fulfilling. That said, I’m willing to dump my husband (temporarily) and find a friend who will lose control with me, and indulge in Kobo’s meatier menu.
Kobo, 5455 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815