I've written before about the phenomenon of eating in restaurants these days that used to be different establishments. There are many of them. Usually the memories of the old places are transitory - things from the last few years of my life, like, say, Green Street Tavern in the space that used to be Kuala Lumpur or Central Park in the old Soda Jerks. But every once in a while I find myself in a place and think about what was there before and suddenly something comes back to me from a couple decades ago. Memories are films about ghosts, indeed.
Maikobe used to be a Mexican restaurant that, in my memory, was only open for a couple months. Before that it was Ruby's Diner, although in all the years it was there, I never went in. But way back it was the Rose City Diner. That place was great. When I was a kid I would sometimes eat there on Sundays with my dad and brother so that we could hear the live doo-wop singers. In high school I would eat there with friends when we felt like something besides Jake's. They opened a reincarnation of Rose City in the Arcadia mall a few years back, but I never went in. It wouldn't have been the same.
Saturday night, Elizabeth and I were wandering around, trying to come up with a dinner plan. We'd thought about NeoMeze - I haven't eaten there in a couple years - but the DJ was pumping loud music, despite the fact it was only 7 PM and there was literally one person in the entire place. I suggest Maikobe; I'd never been there, but first we walked down Green Street to see if we came up with any other ideas. Green Street Tavern was packed. So was La Luna Negra. So was Gyu-Kaku. And so was Buca do Beppo (although I would rather have eaten week-old hot dogs from the Old Town General Store.)
So I did not consider it a promising sign when we walked back to Maikobe and there was only one table occupied in the whole place. I know a couple people who have said good things about Maikobe, but I think that had more to do with their daily happy hour (actually, there are two daily happy hours) than the restaurant itself. The host said we could have any table we wanted.
The first thing we ordered was a couple bottles of Sapporo. After perusing the menu for a few minutes - there are several kinds of sushi and sashimi, a dozen appetizers, and some full dinners - we decided to get some small plates. That way, if we didn't get enough food, we could just order some more.
The first thing we got was the Yellowtail Jalapeno. I was not expecting much. I am always a little leery when places starting adding spicy things to yellowtail. A perfect piece of yellowtail is one of the most exquisite things you can eat and needs nothing, not even soy sauce. Covering it with spicy, distracting condiments can definitely be an announcement that the fish is not fresh. That, combined with the fact that the restaurant was empty, did not inspire confidence that they were going to be serving fresh fish.
This yellowtail, however, was fantastic. Each piece was topped with a small sliver of jalapeno and a tiny sprig of cilantro. If anything, I would have liked more cilantro. And the sauce was very good and a touch spicy. (At the end of the meal I mentioned to the waiter that this was my favorite thing we'd eaten and he said "Good, I'm glad you liked it. It may be our most popular item.")
Next up we had a spicy tuna roll. It was very good as well. I did not like it as much as the spicy tuna I had last month at Kabuki, but it was fresh, if not exactly spicy. There were small pieces of the crispest cucumber I have ever tasted in the roll. It was a nice contrast of flavors.
The last thing we had was the popcorn shrimp with a spicy aioli. Popcorn shrimp are one of my favorite foods and these were good, although probably my least favorite of the three dishes we had. The "spicy" aioli was more of a cream sauce. It was good in its own way but I wished it had a little more kick to it.
The wasabi, however, had plenty of kick. It might be the best wasabi I have ever tried. I encouraged Elizabeth to try it and she agreed it was great. There was one piece of yellowtail left and I slathered wasabi all over it. Not surprisingly, I loved it.
We flirted with the idea of getting one more item, but decided against it. I liked Maikobe more than I expected to. I'm not sure if I will return for dinner ever, but I can definitely see myself going there for happy hour and having a $2 beer and some more of the yellowtail.