Flatiron Lunch: Kobeyaki Offers Pseudo-Healthy But Delicious Japanese

Every Friday we go south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.

In an attempt to make sure I get all at least some of the openings in Flatiron, the name Kobeyaki came up as “recently opened”, I walked by one night last week to see if it was worthy of a write up. While scoping it out, I ran into a friend who I don’t see enough. Not only was I happy to see him, but he told me exactly what I needed to hear. He was eating at Kobeyaki for the second time that week and said he would be happy to join me again for lunch. I think his exact words were, “I love this place! Of course I will meet you here for lunch!”

Naturally, he cancelled on me. I mean, isn’t that what New Yorkers do? But I was so excited by his enthusiasm, that I went solo anyway!

Kobeyaki seems to be shooting for a hip, industrial feel with their minimalist décor. They have a display with menus near the door, so you can grab one to ponder what you want while you wait. That is if you have to wait to order. I went at 1:30pm, and there was only one person in front of me. In fact, I let three people order before me while I considered the most strategic order. After I paid, I was given a numbered buzzer device, the kind that lights up and vibrates when your order (or your table at the Cheesecake Factory) is ready.

The menu has a great deal of options from sushi rolls, rice bowls where the base can be rice, salad or noodles, burgers, and even a few salads and soups. I opted to stay away from the sushi, since I prefer to order sushi from an actual sushi restaurant. On the other hand, the rolls here are so loaded with extra ingredients that it probably doesn’t matter if a highly trained sushi chef is preparing them. For example, my friend previously got the shrimp tempura roll and raved about it.

But you can use the time waiting for your food, mine was about 10 minutes, to stock up on condiments. They have pumps with Spicy Mayo, Wasabi Mayo and Teriyaki Ketchup (in that order, left to right, above.) They also had full-sized bottles of Sriracha, soy sauce and wasabi packets.

While there isn’t much to look at while you wait for your food, they are heavily promoting the “healthy” and “natural” aspects of their menu with oversized food-porn-y posters on the wall. The posters have phrases like “all natural ingredients”, “healthy options”, “healthy choices”, and “heirloom recipes”. It seems that the menu gives you a lot of options, so it is only really as healthy as what you decide to order. I ended up on the not-as-healthy side of that boundary.

I had remembered my friend saying that he thought the kobe burger was awesome, so I had to get it. The burger was undeniably delicious. It had great layering of flavors with veggies, including matchstick carrots and cabbage, small chopped scallions, and cucumber slices. It also had tiny slivers of onions marinated in teriyaki and a decent layer of spicy mayo. But if you demand a 1/2 lb sized hamburger, this is not for you. It was pretty skinny, maybe 1/4 – 1/3 inch. Also, the texture was more like shredded instead of ground meat. At $8.97, do I believe that it is actual Kobe beef imported from Japan? Not really.

Considering how much they are pushing the healthy agenda, I thought it was worth giving the grilled vegetable bowl a chance. I even got it with brown rice to up the nutritional value. For $7.81, it was a great deal. It came with a huge base of steaming hot brown rice, covered in a large quantity of teriyaki vegetables. I will admit that I took some offence to them calling these grilled vegetables. “Grilled vegetables” to me means that they have been cooked over a flame, or at least something similar. These seemed to me like vegetables sautéed in teriyaki sauce. Still, there was a good variety of vegetables, including edamame, mushrooms, zucchini, onions, and carrots with a sprinkling of scallions and sesame seeds on top. And what is in that little waxed paper bag on top of the not-grilled veggies, you ask. Tater tots? Not quite, but originally I was trying to figure out what Japanese inspired tater tots could taste like.

In fact, it was carefully and separately packaged crispy (aka fried) tofu! Granted, I did request the bowl to-go, but still, how considerate that the tofu was packaged separately to preserve the crunch? Oh man, these little crispy, salty nuggets of soft tofu were amazing. I am not sure if they were better in the bowl or just on their own.

The final item I got was also something my friend had tried, the tempura sweet potato fries. They were every bit as good as I wanted them to be. The tempura batter was light enough to not overpower the flavor of the sweet potato, but also gave that savory counterpoint that I think most sweet potato fries need. At $2.99, they put me over the ML budget, but it was well worth it.

Considering the level of grease that transferred from my food to my fingers to my phone during the meal, I can’t fully condone the idea that Kobeyaki is all healthy Japanese food. It seems that they offer a nice balance of options, especially for those office situations when someone wants a burger and fries and someone else is in the mood for a grilled chicken salad. The range Japanese flavors add nice variety for lunch. Oh and if you are still reading, a little more research revealed that Kobeyaki opened last fall. Not sure how that qualifies as “recently opened”, but I am willing to forgive since I got to see a friend and eat some great food.

The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • The kobe burger is outstanding. I could eat this twice a week!
  • I love the huge variety on the menu.
  • I appreciate that they have some healthy and some not-so-healthy options

The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • It seems that their menu exaggerates, and I am only interested in cold hard facts
  • I think Kobeyaki should cut down half their menu and excel at fewer items
  • I am not interested in nuevo Japanese food. I just want traditional Japanese

Kobeyaki, 293 7th Avenue btw 26th and 27th Streets, (212) 242-5500


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