Friday, July 1, 2011

Kobikicho's closing down


Last few days:
Chef Shintaro at work at Kobikicho's counter

Friday - Dinner tonight was with my good friend B, who's leaving for New York soon. We've been having so many farewell dinners that I've lost count -- but there's never such a thing as enough. We've been saying goodbye since March.

I'd left for Europe in early June and we'd said goodbye already then; but when I returned to Manila last Monday, it turned out she was still around because of some paperwork, so of course we just had to have dinner again.

When she and her husband were living in Manila, we literally had dinner together at least once a week, and we saw each other many more times at various social events in this city. So we have so many happy memories together, and it's really sad to think that she won't be around this city anymore in a while.

LUNCH AT AUBERGINE

I'd been so busy this week that I'd had little time to think of a restaurant for dinner. And today, I'd had a very nice large lunch with M -- my fervent La Sallite friend who I'd been bumping into everywhere until we finally decided to just set proper meetings over meals with advance notice, and pencil these into our respective very busy schedules -- at Aubergine, and I'd had a big wagyu steak with all the trimmings. So I could've actually skipped dinner food-wise and just winged through the night on good conversation and a couple of drinks. But finally at 530 PM, I was sitting in my office and I shot B a text: "Where shall we go tonight?"

I was actually channeling Thai food, and already psyching myself up for paad thai.

But B replied: "What about Kobikicho?" Kobikicho is a small Japanese restaurant in Legazpi Village that's ultra-private and on the pricey side. Many people call it Sushi Kappo for some reason, when this is actually just a term to define what kind of place it is.

But wow. I'd not thought of Kobikicho. It's so near my office but I hadn't been there in a while. And it was a place of good memories for me. Interestingly, my art collector friend and I were supposed to have dinner here on Monday, but then dates and venues got merrily switched around and we ended up in Goose Station on Tuesday instead. Then M and I had actually talked about Kobikicho at lunch today, as we were discussing some of Manila's most exclusive Japanese restaurants, but I didn't think then that I'd be going there tonight. So you might say I was really fated to go to Kobikicho sometime this week.

* * *

The topic of the best restaurants in Manila is something my friend J and I always discuss by BBM, by the way. In fact, whenever I write about a restaurant in this blog, he's always got something to say...and it's usually C-R-I-T-I-C-I-S-M with a bit of humor thrown in. This morning, for example, that was exactly the kind of conversation we had.

After we'd talked about a couple of restaurants, he admitted: "If I was vocal about what I really think about local restaurants, I'm sure they'd ban me." To which I replied: "If they ban you, just buy them out." He kind of liked that idea because he replied: "I'll remember that," and he put a smiley face at the end.

Then I got busy with meeting a friend at the Peninsula lobby and then heading up to see some champagne-colored pearl necklaces at Jewelmer in the mezzanine floor afterwards. My Blackberry pinged just then and it was J again with a message: "Buy me a silk carpet at the Dubai mall."

I'm headed for Dubai this weekend, you see. And J had something to say even about that, of course. He'd messaged me earlier: "Have a great time in Dubai. Even if it's not the time to go..."

Anyway, when I got his BBM about the silk carpet, I had to laugh. It was so like him to send this kind of message/ request out of the blue and to leave me hanging as to whether he was serious or joking. You see, something that sounds pretty outrageous or out-of-the-blue for lots of people seems very do-able with him, for some reason. He exists in a different world from most people. So I replied: "I'm looking at pearl necklaces now. I can't be bothered to think about lugging a carpet home for you from Dubai."

* * *

Back to Kobikicho tonight. I needed little encouragement to book seats for two at 7 pm because the food is always good; and even if it wasn't, food was hardly a priority for an nth farewell dinner.

Onsen tamago starter

When we got there, the place was full of Japanese seated at the counter although I saw a Filipino friend eating in one of the private rooms. B and I ordered one of the dinner sets and the chef, Shintaro-san, was kind enough to slip in a few juicy pieces of toro for us. This is what made me remember how good the food in Kobikicho is.

SIMPLY PERFECT SUSHI

The sushi served to us were all perfectly beautiful pieces of fish, but the clincher for me was the rice used. It was curled into a sushi and served at just a little bit warmer than room temperature so that neither heat nor cold interfered with the taste of the fish. This is what makes a sushi masterpiece different from a regular sushi, and the one tonight at Kobikicho was just perfect.

B and I talked animatedly about a whole lot of things so time flew by. And at the end of the evening, three Japanese men seated at the far end of the counter, who had apparently been observing us, sent over cups of very good sake for us to drink. We accepted their kindness with good humor.

Toasting to bright futures and more happy times

This was also the time that Shintaro-san told me that Kobikicho will be closing by July 15. This made me really sad for some reason, although I don't really go often enough to justify such a feeling. My office is almost next door but you know how it is when something is so near -- you just take it for granted. And this year, I'd only gone when one of my friends would invite me, during the few and short times I'd been in Manila.

MANILA'S BEST

For me, Kobikicho is one of the best Japanese restaurants in Manila. There's been little publicity about it all these years, and it's been run almost like a private club. People passed information about it among themselves; and it's such a small place that the times I've been here, I've always seen people I know. At lunch, there's a group of people who eat here practically everyday and they've all become friends.

"What will you do now?" I asked Shintaro. He shrugged his shoulders then said: "I'll probably go back to Osaka for a bit."

I replied: "I hope you'll come to Manila again and open another restaurant." Now that it's closing, I remember how good everything I ate there was.

My last meal at Kobikicho before tonight had been sometime over the summer, when I'd had a plate of toro sashimi and a bowl of gyudon with a friend who told me this was going to be the best gyudon I'd had in a long time. Going back and forth between Tokyo and Manila, I was a bit of a snob; I didn't really believe I would get excellent gyudon in a rather secretive restaurant a few steps from my office. But when I'd had a few chopsticks-full, I had to admit that it was probably the best gyudon I'd had in a very, very long time. Not just a very long time.

Manila foodies are going to lose a great place to eat. If you've always wanted to have great Japanese, you only have a few more days to book before it closes up for good. Don't miss this opportunity.

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