Rogue Valley restaurateur Billy Harto has expanded his Asian dining realm with the opening last month of Kobe, a Japanese restaurant just up the street from his flagship property, Thai Pepper.

Rogue Valley restaurateur Billy Harto has expanded his Asian dining realm with the opening last month of Kobe, a Japanese restaurant just up the street from his flagship property, Thai Pepper.

Like the Thai Pepper, Kobe has a prime patio on Ashland Creek and an innovative menu featuring high quality food at respectable prices.

Inside, a sleek sushi bar faces a gleaming bar. The dining room has a minimalist elegance, and so does the food. Each plate showcases colors, shapes and textures with a beauty that recalls ikebana, Japan's stark, formal style of floral arrangement.

We surveyed Kobe's extensive saké list and were tempted to try a Gekkeikan offering that promised bright hints of pear and melon, perfect for a creekside summer setting. Alas, the bar was out of that. Our friendly and patient waitress recommended a Yuri Masamune selection ($26) that was served slightly chilled and complemented our meal with its mellow, nutty flavor.

I had to start my meal at Kobe with some of the renowned beef, provided to the restaurant by Snake River Farms, which raises Japanese Wagyu and American Black Angus hybrid cattle near Boise, Idaho.

Beef tataki, lightly seared meat dressed with a ponzu sauce, ($12) sounded like it would fit the bill.

Not necessarily a fan of rare meat, I was a bit intimidated by the slivers of glistening ruby flesh edged by the most subtle of grill marks arrayed across the plate and garnished with a drizzle of sweet, citrus-spiked soy and a cluster of microgreens. Embracing culinary adventure, I picked up my chopsticks, grasped a slice and popped it in my mouth. I was transported by the succulent, meltingly tender beef.

Kobe's entrees include more of the prime-plus beef and premium Japanese-style kurobuta pork also raised at Snake River Farms. However, my husband and I decided that a slew of small plates to share best suited our dinner mood, and would enable us to sample a range of the kitchen's work.

We considered ankimo, steamed monkfish liver that is considered a delicacy in Japan but rarely seen here, and halibut cheeks, a morsel fishermen seek out. Both were listed as specials the night we dined there.

I was intrigued by a platter featuring ceviche, spicy tuna roll, and pieces of both nigri and sashimi for $22. This mixing of Japanese and European styles and flavors is touted as a hallmark of the restaurant.

The nigiri was reasonably priced at $3 to $6 and the list of sushi rolls offered favorites like spicy tuna rolls and unusual choices, including vegetarian options.

We finally settled on a few rolls — a hamachi jalapeno roll, an eggplant miso roll and the always-fun caterpillar roll — as well as tako sunumono, a salad featuring octopus and cucumbers.

The salad ($4) was beautiful, with petal-thin slices of cucumber marinating in rice vinegar, bright red and white bits of octopus and a delicate sprinkling of sesame seeds. But if it looked good, it tasted even better. The tang of vinegar, the soft crunch of cucumber, the slightly sweet chewiness of octopus and the nutty pop of sesame mingled in my mouth, each flavor and texture accenting the others.

The rice on the sushi rolls was slightly mushy, especially on the eggplant roll ($6). Perhaps the hot tempura eggplant with its crisp coating and tender center had softened the rice, but the roll, drizzled with rich miso sauce still tasted delicious.

The caterpillar roll ($10) was stuffed with imitation crab, grilled eel and slivers of cucumber, then topped with avocado. Aside from a few whiskery bones in the eel in my first bite, it, too, was quite tasty.

The hamachi jalapeno ($7) roll combined the heat of jalapeno, the briny richness of hamachi, a cool touch of avocado and a fresh note of cilantro into an appealing package.

Harto, who previously was involved in Bambu and Asian Grill in Medford, has created another top-notch Asian eatery that is a welcome addition to the area.

— Anita Burke