The lights dimmed. The performer entered. He was dressed in white, with a red bandana around his neck and a tall red hat on his head. A long knife dangled in a case tied to his waist.
As he approached his audience, he drew the blade and twirled it in the air. He stepped behind the counter and bowed slightly. Then he reached into his pocket and, with a flourish, quickly pulled out a small object. A match! It was show time at Shogun.
Shogun Kobe is a "teppanyaki" restaurant in Kearny Mesa, close to the intersection of state Route 163 and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. The white building looks Japanese, with its unique architecture and sloped tile roof. The entrance through the large wooden doors leads to a foyer. A comfortable bar is to the left and the main restaurant rooms are on the right. A zen garden is straight ahead. The exterior garden area has shrubs, rocks and sand positioned to create a sense of tranquility for contemplation. The action is on the inside.
A small room, with seating for only about a dozen diners, holds a sushi bar. Two expert chefs form sashimi, sushi and rolls. Diners in other rooms can order sushi along with their meals.
Teppanyaki, a Japanese style of cooking a nutritious meal on a grill, is the main attraction. The dining area is made up of several sections with seating surrounding a number of large grills. The arrangement of seating around the grill brings strangers together for an enjoyable time.
The performer is the chef, who cooked a meal before our eyes. His red hat is a "chef's toque" and the knife that he swings with such skill is his instrument. To demonstrate his skill, he carefully sliced an onion and placed the pieces on top of each other to create a tiny round cone. He poured a flammable liquid into the cone and lit the top. Presto! A miniature volcano, as smoke poured out the top.
The chef cut up slices of chicken, beef, seafood and vegetables with artistic flair. The slices were thin so they would cook quickly. At one point, he tossed eggs into the air and caught them on a spatula. The grill was covered quickly with food swiftly cooking to perfection.
A long list of food choices -- filet, steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops, lobster -- may be ordered individually or in combination dishes. They usually come with miso soup and steamed or fried rice.
Appetizers really whet one's appetite for teppanyaki dishes. Shogun Kobe features tempura, where the foods are battered and deep-fried. Tofu is served deep fried with a special sauce or chilled. Goyza are tasty pork dumplings served with a special sauce.
The restaurant offers signature cocktails such as Karate Punch and Ichiban, but I always enjoy ordering sake or Japanese beers. The menu also lists a limited selection of white and red California wines. Drinks are served by waitresses wearing traditional kimonos.
Bruce Kanenobu, the owner of Shogun Kobe, divides his time between San Diego and Pasadena, where another Shogun Kobe restaurant feeds and entertains diners. He mentioned that Kobe refers to the city in Japan where beef is raised through methods that create a tender product. All of the beef used at his restaurant is graded to be excellent and tender.
Shogun Kobe is located at 5451 Kearny Villa Road. Prices are moderate, considering the value of entertainment along with the food. The food is delicious. Reservations are recommended. Call (858) 560-7399 for more information.
Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association.