Picture it: A bedraggled Dutchman who has traveled extensively around the world, and has thus far lived in seven different places on three continents; he continues to travel and explore—a Magellan for the new millennium, if you will. Of all the places he has called home, the four years that he lived in Japan were some of the best of his life. Having soaked up as much of the Japanese culture as he could during that time, some of his fondest memories are of the palatable and inventive cuisine. He misses true Japanese food and wishes he could find it more often than he has these past few years. Who is this man? He is my husband, Maarten. And he’s still hungry for Japanese food.
When he lived in Atlanta, he was able to satisfy his desire for sushi at Yakitori Jinbei, an authentic-styled Japanese restaurant that I introduced him to a couple of years ago in Smyrna, GA. He would later go on record as saying that it was the most authentic Japanese restaurant he has experienced since leaving Japan. Those are pretty high marks. But could he find above average sushi right here in little ol’ Stamford?
We would soon find out.
Friday night was cold…very cold. But it’s okay; that seems to be the thing here. I was very well aware of my husband’s penchant for sushi, so when he arrived home from a busy day at the office, I once again suggested we go out for dinner. I’m getting pretty good at that whole avoidance of cooking routine. When I initially mentioned a Japanese restaurant, he bristled slightly. Our exchange went something like this:
Maarten: “I’ve already had sushi this week.”
Valerie: “Okay, well I thought you might want to take a look at—”
Maarten: “No, I’m going to be stubborn. No Japanese.”
Valerie: “But, . . .”
Maarten: "Can't you hear, lady?!? No Japanese food; end of story."
Valerie: "But honey, sweetie, love of my life . . ."
Maarten: “I said NO, woman!”
Valerie: THWACK! (the sound of my hand connecting with his face)
Maarten: “Okay honey, whatever you say. Japanese it is. Can I buy you a car?”
Okay, it didn’t quite go like that, but perhaps you can see where this is heading. We eventually went out for Japanese food at Kotobuki Japanese Cuisine.
Kotobuki is a rather small restaurant, and one could take in a view of the entire place merely by standing inside the front entrance. Maarten liked the looks of it immediately. He was especially pleased that, behind the tiny sushi bar, there were Japanese chefs working diligently preparing fresh sushi, in his mind, especially for him. And this was the man who, just one hour prior, was so adamant that he didn’t want Japanese food? Guess I showed him.
The menu was rather impressive, with soup/salads/sides, three different classifications of appetizers (Tempura Appetizers, Appetizers from the Sushi Bar, and Appetizers from the Kitchen), special rolls, teriyaki dishes, tempura dishes, katsu dishes, a la cart dishes with rice from the kitchen, a la carte sushi and, finally, the sushi and sashimi selections. In short, there was a lot to choose from. After experiencing a rather dismal cup of miso soup at another restaurant a week prior, I was still heavily in need of my miso fix, so we both ordered a bowl. As I am rarely satisfied with a mere bowl of broth as a starter, I also selected the Yakitori as an appetizer. In my mind, I so wanted the taste to take me right back to Smyrna, GA where I would walk into Yakitori Jinbei and the Chef/Owner would yell from the kitchen Irasshaimase! (which translates as “welcome” ), I would sit down at my favorite table and order the most phenomenal Negimi (their yakitori version of a grilled chicken skewer with onion) and just sigh with contented happiness.
We placed our orders for the starters, I ordered a large Kirin Ichiban to wash everything down, and then we focused our attentions once again on the menu for our entrées. After going back and forth between the Steamed Salmon in a fish broth based sauce with a hint of soy sauce and sweet sake and the Chicken Sukiyaki, I threw conventional caution to the wind and ultimately ordered the Salmon & Chicken Teriyaki Combination. Despite his weak protestations that he didn’t want sushi, Maarten ordered six different types of the very sushi that he dramatically declared he did not want: Dragon Roll, Tuna, Salmon, King Salmon, Eel and Egg, none of which would come anywhere near my lips.
Dining at Kotobuki was a great experience for me. After trying the Yakitori, I was afraid to live in complacency and believe that the rest of the meal would be tasty, but I was proven wrong. True, it’s no Yakitori Jinbei, but I’m terribly biased on this point because I loved—and still do love—my favorite Japanese restaurant in the place where I lived the past 20 years of my life. I still maintain my objectivity, however, and believe that the food at Kotobuki is definitely worth the trip.
Would I recommend Kotobuki? I sure would. The selection is large and varied, and the food is very, very good. So what if the Yakitori isn’t the best around? The rest of the menu more than makes up for that little malfeasance.
Is Kotobuki a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? The prices here are very reasonable and if you’re a sushi connoisseur like my husband, you can fill up from $1.75 a piece. They also have sushi “packages” with set selections like “Sushi A” which includes eight sushi pieces and tuna roll for $15.95. Not bad, heh?
What about atmosphere and ambience? Having never been to Japan, I’ll take the word of a man who lived there for four years. The restaurant looks like it was imported straight from Japan in its authenticity. And while it didn’t register with me at all, my husband swears there was music playing in the background but I didn’t hear it. To me, that’s a good thing; subliminally pleasing and non-intrusive.
Kotobuki Japanese Cuisine 475 Summer Street, Stamford, CT 06902 (203) 359-4747 or (203) 327-8889