Tasty food and lively atmosphere make eating a hearty adventure

April 07, 2003|by E.T. MOORE

There's nothing like a Japanese hibachi meal to add entertainment value to a dining experience. As the chef cooks dinner before your eyes, you can relax and have fun with friends and family, chatting over fare from the Land of the Rising Sun.

At House of Kobe Japanese restaurant, with locations on Dual Highway in Hagerstown and Patrick Street in Frederick, Md., the atmosphere is festive and playful.

You'll have to look elsewhere for a quietly romantic tte--tte, but if you want a date's personality revealed, this restaurant is an excellent choice. It's also good for groups. There was a birthday celebration going on two grills down from us on a recent Friday night.

Weekends are busy, so make reservations.

When we arrived at about 7 p.m., most of the eight grills were full, except for the one where we were led. We did not have to wait to be seated.


Gazing around the sparsely decorated room - traditional Japanese fashion - I wished someone would sweep up the food on the floor. The restaurant had been open for dinner about two hours when we arrived.

The bathrooms appeared and smelled clean, but I was concerned to see a bottle of Clorox sitting in the corner of a stall. My parental instinct sought a high shelf.

Those two minor concerns didn't put a damper on an enjoyable evening. We were at the restaurant close to two hours, but it didn't seem like it.

The hibachi grills are laid out in horseshoe fashion, with each side seating eight comfortably. While you look at the menu, a chef may be preparing another party's food on the grill parallel to yours. If that happens, you'll be treated to the "show" twice.

While House of Kobe has non-hibachi meals and an extensive sushi menu, if you've never opted for a hibachi dinner, you should try it.

Served with soup, salad, shrimp appetizer, vegetables and white rice, hibachi dinners range in price from $11.95 for hibachi vegetable to $26.95 for a special combo of three entres - filet mignon, seafood, chicken or pork.

If you substitute fried rice for white rice, it's $1 extra per meal, something we didn't realize until we got our bill, even though this is printed on the menu.

Hibachi chefs at House of Kobe interact comfortably with patrons while flipping utensils in the air and starting the evening with the expected flaming grill.

Don't be surprised when the chef asks you to open your mouth. He'll toss part of your shrimp appetizer and expect you to catch it.

Mine landed on the floor, which didn't help the food-on-the-floor situation. My dining partner was able to catch a crustacean, but I think it's just because the chef had better aim ... and perhaps a larger target. I was able to sample some shrimp that the chef carefully placed on my plate. It was delicious, not too spicy or overgrilled.

We had the hibachi steak and the shogayaki - pork with a sweet ginger sauce. Both the steak and the pork were tender. I had asked for medium well, and that's what I got. Portions are large. You may have enough for lunch the next day.

The miso soup lacked flavor, but how much can you expect from soybeans?

On the other hand, the fried rice was flavorful and moist.

The secret, according to our chef, is using a combination of teriyaki and soy sauces. I made a mental note for my next at-home fried rice attempt.

Or perhaps I'll just go back and let them prepare it for me.

Instead of the Japanese farewell, "Sayonara," I'll say, "We'll be back."

House of Kobe Japanese restaurant

Food: 3 forks (out of 4)

Service: 4 forks (out of 4)

Atmosphere: 3 forks (out of 4)

Value: 3 forks (out of 4)

Hours: House of Kobe is open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is served 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 to 10:30 p.m. on Fridays. On Saturdays, the hours are 3 to 10:30 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.

Prices: Lunch specials start at $4.75. Dinner combos go up to $26.95.

Phone: Hagerstown, 301-797-6979 or 301-790-1856; Frederick, Md., 301-293-0177 or 301-682-3816.

Location: 757 Dual Highway, Hagerstown; 1507 W. Patrick St., Frederick, Md.

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