In Japan, there’s something especially thrilling about new friends who share both your citizenship and passions. So I was particularly pleased when I met A, who seemed like my mirror image: He’s married to a Japanese woman, and I’m married to a Japanese man; He hails from New York and likes the Yankees (or is it the Mets? I’m not sure, but I know it’s one of those New York teams), and I’m a Bostonian, loyal to the Red Sox; He’s naturally dark-haired, and I’m a (bottle) blonde.
But most importantly, next to our lovely Japanese spouses, we both love one thing unconditionally: eating out. A and his wife even founded “Cheers English,” which helps Osakan restaurant owners welcome English speakers with translated menus and English-speaking staff. They also have a Web-site devoted to English-friendly restaurants in Kansai (http://www.englishfriendlyrestaurants.com/).
So when A offered to show me his new favorite yakiniku (or grilled meat) place, Beef Rokko in Shinsaibashi, I jumped at the chance. (Neither his wife, home with their new baby, or my husband, working late at the office, could join us—but we maintained our unstinting loyalty to them by ordering for four.) “Beef Rokko is perfect for foreigners who want to try a Japanese favorite, yakiniku, but don’t want something too far beyond their comfort zones,” A explains to me on the way there.
When we arrive at this casual eatery, we’re greeted by the owner, a Japanese man whose foreign friends call him “Harry,” he tells me, and who lived for 13 years in New York City. Harry-san speaks almost-perfect English, and he’s as welcoming as any outgoing Westerner. Not only does he provide English menus, he invites us to make substitutions if the course we want contains a kind of meat (or in my case, offal) we’re not up for trying—a flexibility I’ve never yet encountered in this rule-bound country where even asking for sauce on the side can cause panicked expressions across the entire staff.
Beef Rokko specializes in “all-you-can-eat” courses, with which you have 2 hours to feast on unlimited plates of either twelve meats (¥1970), fifteen, (¥2280), or a whopping nineteen (¥2980), the latter including endless vegetables and kimchi. They also have a la carte offerings, but “I’m not really recommending,” Harry-san tells us, because these don’t provide bottomless servings. (“This is really a man after my own heart,” I think, since he understands the importance of endless eating.) There’s also an all-you-can-drink-in-two-hours beer course for ¥1500.
Not surprisingly, we order the largest course (which may seem contradictory, since I don’t want any organs, but my fellow Americans will understand my desire to think I’m getting biggest and best choice) and bottomless beer. When the food comes, we find various cuts of lightly marinated beef, chicken, and pork, plus some surprising mini-hot-dogs (“Just like home and Fenway Franks!” I think) and sausages. We place the morsels on the smoke-filtering grill (“Now my Gap jeans and Banana Republic cami won’t smell when I leave!” I realize giddily) and watch as the cutlets sizzle to succulence: slightly crispy on the outside, melting within. We dip each piece into Rokko’s homemade sauces and wash them down with ice-cold beer. As our copious consumption winds down, we grill crisp sliced vegetables, complemented by fresh, spicy kimchi and steamed rice.
Leaving, we walk past a table of young, local male hosts, fueling up for their night of entertaining women at a nearby bar. They have tight-fitting white shirts and elaborately-styled hair, and they wave coquettishly, inviting me to visit their club. I wave back, turn saucily for the door, and then head home to my handsome Japanese salaryman husband, he of tamer hair and more modest employment, yet no less fetching. I have important news to share with him: we have another restaurant to add to our list of Kansai culinary destinations.
2-7-29 Higashi Shinsaibashi Chuo-ku, Osaka
Open 5:00pm-3:00am daily (irregular holidays)
Tel (06) 6211-8265
From Subway M19, N15
Take exit 6 at Shinsaibashi station, turn right, and then go straight.
Turn left at the 3rd corner (with Uniqlo at the corner).
Go straight; Rokko is on the right after 1st intersection.
Map @ http://www.englishfriendlyrestaurantsosaka.com/rokko.html
Menus in Japanese and English; Staff speaks English.