So here's the latest in my "Circling Back" series......where I return to places that I really thought were "meh".
There's a lot to like, well sort of....about Koubou when compared to Yakyudori. The folks at Koubou have always been very friendly.....some of the Servers at Yakyudori can be downright surly or quickly get into "all business" mode. I've seen service change on a dime when folks dally a bit too long at a table. I'd easily say that the atmosphere at Koubou is a bit more relaxed and inviting.....so I do get it when folks prefer Koubou. But, I'm mostly about food, the prep, the flavor, the attention to detail, and in that mindset, Koubou really didn't cut it. Especially when we did a head to head comparison.
Recently, I heard that the food had gotten better at Koubou, so I thought I'd circle back and see what was happening.
So, this is Yokohama "Yakitori" Koubou, right? So I started with various versions of meat on a stick. At first glance, it seems that the grilling technique has gotten better in the 2 years and change since I've been here.
And yet, the buta shiso, pork rolled with shiso leaf was super tough and dry, lacking enough salt, with virtually no shiso flavor. I think the best item at Koubou is the nankotsu, grilled chicken cartilage, I love the crunch, though this was strangely lacking in salt as well. The teba, chicken wings weren't grilled evenly, the bottom piece lacking the color and crunchy skin.
The chicken breast with miso, green onion, and garlic was nicely grilled and quite substantial, but the flavors oh-so-tame. The kawa, chicken skin illustrates the uneven grilling, the top portion quite good, this was perfectly seasoned, the bottom, flaccid and rubbery.
My good friend Jenne might prefer Koubou's version of Tsukune, ground chicken meatball, but I find the tare here uninteresting and I prefer not to have hard bits in my tsukune....nothing kills your pleasure liking biting into something with the texture of a toenail.
The beef tongue here is still cut too thick in my opinion and need more salt....as I've said before, a thinner cut with crisp edges provides such a wonderful contrast in texture.
So far, not so good......except for my last item....a simple sumiyaki onigiri....yep, a grilled rice ball, which is served with miso soup.
The onigiri was nicely grilled, wafts of smokiness hit my nose......like just about everything else, it was pretty plain in flavor, but breaking it apart and putting it the miso soup; which was decently prepared, no scrimping on the miso, just elevated this very simple offering. You'd get various textures as the rice broke down, crunchy charred bits gave way to softer rice........
Which made me decide to return. After all, these cricking back posts mean more than a revisit. During my meal I noticed something interesting; there was about a 50-50 ratio of grilled versus other dishes going out. Several tables got the yakisoba and most ordered some kind of salad, which I was told is the "Koubou Style Salad".
So I returned a couple of weeks later.
Of course I couldn't help myself when I saw Buta Kakuni ($6) as a special. My advice would be to spend the six bucks on something else. This was pretty bad, very weak in the soy and sweet flavors, obviously not simmered long enough. It was served cold and several pieces were unpleasantly dry.
I decided to go with a couple of the robata items. The buta kimchi and the nankotsu (of course).
The buta kimchi was better than the buta shiso, if simply for the fact that it had flavor. Still, that spicy aioli was the only thing I could really taste, though the pork was more tender than what I've had here before.
The nankotsu on this evening is the singular best grilled item I've had here at Koubou. It was almost evenly grilled, there was enough salt, which actually elevated the flavor of the charcoal. The crunchy texture of this is not for everybody....you feel like you're eating chicken gristle, which you are; but it makes the enjoyable for me.
I ordered a small ($4) version of the salad everyone was ordering last time around, the Special Koubou Style Salad. The dressing itself is nothing special; seems ponzu based. There are strips of chicken and such, but it's the textures that make this a decent salad...the crunch of the corn and especially the torisenbei, chicken (skin) flavored chips that add to the it....good combination of flavors from the katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and the onions as well.
A perfectly decent salad.
Of course I also went with the sumiyaki onigiri ($3) again.
This time around, I paid even more attention to what was being ordered....and it was about 50-50 grilled to everything else....heck, a table, of Japanese Nationals actually ordered yakisoba, a large salad, and a plate of french fries....french fries! 'Nuff said.
So I guess it stands like this; if I want cheerful service, a shot of milk before my Asahi, chicken cartilage, salad, and a rice ball, this is where I'll come. For yakitori, it's still Yakyudori.
Yokohama Yakitori Koubou
3904 Convoy St.
San Diego, CA 92111