"It's like Japanese people in Houston trying to create a hip New York Japanese place, but in Houston."
That was Kenny Lao's first impression of Kobe Club, where we ate last night.
Actually, that was his second impression; his first was a shortness of breath that he thought might be an allergic reaction to something.
What can you say? It's a high-concept, Jeffrey Chodorow place. It's dark and masculine, with a stingray-skin bar in the front, some feng-shui-like twists and turns into the dining room, and design elements evoking all sorts of things. Leather fringe and Samurai swords hanging from the ceiling alluded to beef and Japanese culture, perhaps, although when combined with the dark walls, the designer chain-mail napkin rings, the video of a roaring fire along one wall, it evoked a dungeon, or maybe Hell, or ...
"It's a little S&M," I suggested.
"A little?" Kenny said.
I recommend eating out with Kenny, the teatotalling yet hedonistic young owner of Rickshaw Dumpling Bar.
I met him at the pre-Beard Awards party, "Chefs' Night Out," at Ono two or three years ago, shortly after Rickshaw had opened — before that he worked for Drew Nieporent's Myriad Restaurant Group. At Chefs' Night Out he pointed out with surprise that his steamed dumplings were outselling the fried ones by a substantial margin, which we both knew was statistically unusual, because Americans love fried things.
He's smart and fun, and periodically people stop him on the street because they saw him in the MTV documentary First Year. A lot of people watch that show.
He had a Caesar salad and a big hunk of USDA Prime rib-eye for dinner. I had raw hamachi dressed with scallion, pineaple salsa and ponzu followed by a four-ounce strip each of American and Australian wagyu beef.
Dessert was baked Alaska and chocolate "caviar" — tiny malt balls in chocolate cream, served with little sweet blinis.
Then we looked at the holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman and elsewhere and took the subway to the East Village, where Kenny lives. Before we parted ways he pointed me to Detour, a bar that was just taken over by a former Myriad colleague of his, Robert Larcom, and Devin Tavern manager Gregg Nelson.
I swung by, had a Newcastle Brown Ale and chatted with Robert about his plans. Detour was a jazz bar, but earlier the space had been a Mexican restaurant, so there's a "huge" kitchen in the basement that he will use to transform the restaurant into a "gastrosaloon."
"Ooh, 'gastrosaloon!'" said restaurant consultant and beverage expert Jerri Banks about an hour later, when I chatted with her at Steve Olson's annual industry-only sherry party, at Suba this year.
Jerri was shopping for her new retail shop, Pour. Both she and Steve expressed uncommon enthusiasm for the concept of a gastrosaloon, which would be a gastropub, but more American.
But what was really great was that neither one of them had any idea that Robert and Gregg were opening their own place, which meant I had a nice little New York City scoop.
Here's another one: Hearth chef Marco Canora is redoing the space at the Michelangelo Hotel that once was Limoncello.
You can read more about that and the gastrosaloon in tomorrow's New York Sun.
The thing about most restaurant people, as well as the consultants, beverage salespeople and other hangers-on like me, is that they're gregarious, friendly people who regret leaving parties before they end, so several people at the party made parting remarks as they prepared to leave and somehow still were there an hour later.
I managed to escape at around 1:30.