Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Gonpachi Revisited

Considering the recent bad press on Gonpachi, it'd be easy to move on to other places. But on the occasion of my grandma's birthday I knew it'd be the perfect venue. Why? Despite their hit-and-miss menu and the awkwardness of non-Japanese speaking waitstaff, she and my grandpa could appreciate the $18.5 million atmosphere.

Soon as we got there, they gawked at the rock garden and stared at the man rolling out soba dough in the foyer. (In fact, a whole crowd of Japanese customers congregated and started talking about the 'good 'ol days.') Once we sat down, they pointed to the ceiling at a fixture shaped like a hyoutan (a traditional receptacle for liquids) and let out an amused "Heh." Then our cheery American waitress arrived with menus, welcoming us with an honest but mangled "E-RA-shy-ma-SAY!" The blunt juxtapose of East and West was odd ... but her smile at least showed she meant well.

My grandparents eat very simply so they shared a plate of sashimi (see above) and each had a plate of tempura. Mikey tried the sweet miso-marinated black cod (tara no saikyo yaki). I knew I wouldn't be paying so I didn't hesitate to order more than I could afford:

...a stick of tsukune (chicken meatball), (Yes, I'm cheating. ) I could kill for another one.

...a special Gonpachi croquette, two pieces of anago sushi,

... and a Spider Roll.

This was the only disappointment of the night. I know that deep-fried soft-shell crab is supposed to be hot, but I doubt the rice should follow suit.

Sometime during our meal, I witnessed a tense exchange between a waitress and a runner/busboy, who inadvertently slammed one of our plates on the table. The Japanese waitress cautioned the man right before us. "Please... more gently." To which the man attempted to shift blame, saying, "But we're busy. You need to help us!" It made me laugh. Worker hierarchy is particularly stringent
in Japan, so it's strange to see an exchange like that. Especially out in the open.

So now for the desserts. We shared two:

Chocolate cake a la mode, topped with a wafer-thin sesame crisp. Not bad.

And a strawberry and cream-filled dorayaki, which is like a semi-sweet pancake. It was branded with the name of the restaurant:

Since first visiting Gonpachi in April I've encouraged other Japanese friends to try it and see what they thought. The consensus? Better and cheaper versions of most dishes could be found throughout the treasure chest we call Torrance. And depending on what you eat -- I'm reluctant to give their soba a second chance -- the discrepancy between the decor and its food can be way too huge to digest.

So my advice is to stick to the juicy skewers and other hot items, like the croquette and black cod. Though please, unless you're rich, don't come here if you're a big, hungry man looking for a heaps of meat and rice. Your stomach would be much happier stuffed with Korean BBQ further east on Wilshire.

134 N La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
(310) 659-8887


In other news...

  • Food blogs are so popular in Japan that publishing companies are making books out of them. The one on the left is by blogger Yummy.
  • China executes corrupt former food and drug chief here.
  • Blogger friend Himawari talks about cool Japanese drinks.
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1 comment:

SteamyKitchen said...

I'll have to try the restaurant when I'm in town next - the food looks good but I'm more curious about the restaurant itself.