Kobe co-founder opens Tran Japanese steakhouse in New Albany

Mar 24, 2006 at 8:22 pm

Tran Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi was damaged by a small fire on Oct. 29, one day after the accompanying review was written, and was forced to close temporarily. Tran reopened on Friday, Dec. 16, and the writer returned to find the restaurant unmarred and the food of high quality. Tran offered free appetizer samples as part of the reopening, and the sushi was fresh and delicious; the service, however, was a tad spotty on the first night back. Nonetheless, the writer noted it was an overall satisfying experience.

I’m always up for a new Japanese restaurant, so when my friend Rob told me about Tran Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi in New Albany, I could hardly wait to go. Tran opened in August as sort of an unofficial offshoot of nearby Jeffersonville’s Kobe, which has been open for several years. The Kobe founders divorced, leading ex-husband Ba D Tran to open his namesake restaurant as a competitor. Interestingly, and not too surprisingly, the new restaurant resembles its counterpart in many ways.

Tran is located in a strip mall across the street from the Great Escape theaters on Charlestown Road. It features eight teppanyaki (Japanese hibachi grills), a sushi bar, a separate dining room and a special room for private parties, with another four grills. The interior resembles Kobe, with the grills on the right as you walk in, the dining room on the left, and the sushi bar nestled against the back wall. Tran has slightly more noticeable Japanese décor overall, but nothing so grand as Kobe’s artificial stream, complete with live fish, which greets diners when they enter.

When Rob and I met at Tran for lunch recently — he’d been there several times before — I was surprised to find that the menus even look like those at Kobe (perhaps they used the same printer). In addition, the sushi menus look nearly identical and feature many of the same rolls and nigiri (same seafood distributor?).

Tran was not crowded, so we were seated immediately at a hibachi grill with a few other diners. Our server was there immediately to take drink orders and ask if we’d like soup or salad (we asked for both, which was $1.50 extra). We also decided to try some nigiri sushi as appetizers, ordering pairs of sake (salmon, $3.50), albacore tuna ($3.50) and unagi (fresh water eel, $4.50).

Our soup and salad came out quickly, the soup piping hot and the salad, to our pleasure, swimming in that delicious ginger dressing that Japanese restaurants are famous for. But when the sushi arrived, I noted immediately that my salmon had been replaced by tai (red snapper). I later checked another sushi menu and noted that sake and tai are right next to each other — I may have checked the wrong one.

Either way, the nigiri was neither the best nor the worst I’ve had in Kentuckiana, but it was consistently fresh. The snapper had, well, more of a snap to it than many I’ve had, and the flavor was someone muted, but the albacore tuna was mouth-watering. Similarly, the unagi was tender and coated nicely with the signature soy sauce that resembles a sweet barbecue. Rob only helped out with the latter, noting that, “If you eat all that, you are going to be sooo full.”

He was right. I’d momentarily forgotten how much food you get while seated at a Japanese hibachi grill. I had chosen the teriyaki chicken (ridiculously reasonable at $6.95), while Rob ordered Tran New York steak ($7.95).

Our grill chef was a friendly yet quiet young man who didn’t put on the elaborate show that many hibachi chefs do, but who certainly was adept at his craft. He worked quickly and efficiently, starting us off with fried rice (which actually was just a little tough on this day, though Rob said that wasn’t usually the case), then slicing and grilling a variety of vegetables (onions, broccoli, mushrooms and more). Within minutes, everyone at the table had full plates of delicious food — and equally delicious mustard and ginger sauces for dipping.

He then went to work on the various main courses, and they proved delicious as well. Rob’s steak was juicy, lean and tender, and cooked a perfect medium, while my chicken, cut into bite-sized nuggets, was moist and bathed in delicious teriyaki sauce. Rob managed to polish off most of his lunch, but I ran out of room halfway through. Our bill came to a reasonable $31.16, to which we added a $6 tip.

Tran’s lunch menu is quite cost-effective with decent variety, featuring grill items ranging from $5.95 (veggie) to $7.95 (steak, scallops or shrimp), sushi specials from $5.95 to $15.95, and traditional Japanese entrées from $5.95 for udon noodle soup with fish cake and scallions to $10.95 for unadon (broiled eel over rice) or a Bento box, which includes a variety of entrée, tempura and sashimi samples.

The dinner menu is a wonderfully expanded version of this menu, with nearly 30 appetizers ($2.95-$6.95) and sides ($1-$6.95), plus a full menu of entrées featuring steak, chicken, lobster and shrimp, children’s dinners, udon dishes and desserts. Bottom line, if you’re a Kobe devotee like I am, you’ll like Tran as well.

Tran is located at 4317 Charlestown Road. Hours for lunch are Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, Monday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; and from noon-9 p.m. on Sunday. Tran accepts major credit cards and is easily accessible for patrons using wheelchairs, with a van-accessible spot near the main entrance. For more info, call (812) 941-0200.

Tran Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi 4317 Charlestown Road (812) 941-0200 Rating: 3