15 April 2007

at last, samurai

four years on, the seemingly endless construction at the site of the former ed debevic's has finally become gonpachi, L.A.'s newest temple to upmarket japanophilia.

being arbiters of all trends nipponese (at least in our own minds) pirikara and i decided to investigate.

so apparently this place is an offshoot of a popular themed restaurant in tokyo, owned and operated by the japanese corporation behind santa monica's monsoon cafe. throughout the evening i kept thinking of the okinawan pop punk band, mongol 800, affectionately known to their fans as "monpachi."

once past the gates, we found ourselves in a gloriously fantabulous cliche of a garden straight out of james clavell's shogun, complete with a stone path, koi pond, and oodles of japanese maple trees and lanterns. it's all very romantic, but the place could use a bench or a secluded corner for that post-dinner snog while waiting for the valet to pull up.

mongonpachi's bar is a japan fetishist's wet dream, with real samurai swords mounted on the wall to accent the requisite hollywood skank liquor and a surprisingly exotic array of sake and japanese wines, for which the restaurant's bartenders had to undergo special training.

kirin and sapporo are both on tap here. usually you only find kirin draft. nama sapporo is a rarity in this town, and it tastes mighty mighty fine.

pirikara had a rare kuro umeshu (black plum wine) but i paid no attention to the name of it. check her blog for details.

some friends joined us at this point. leave it to the japanese guy to order the spider roll.

gonpachi's specialty is soba, or buckwheat noodle, handmade on the premises in a little windowed booth downstairs in the restaurant's lobby. i have no picture of it because 1) the guy wasn't demonstrating at the time and 2) i was too buzzed to really care. it was good though, not refined white sarashina soba good a la otafuku or ichimi an honten, but milled with a slightly coarse texture, resulting in a rough but chewy and highly distinctive slurp.

two large flutes of draft sapporo will send a guy to the bathroom. monpachi has an exceptionally exquisite lavatory with a trough-like sink built out of imported japanese wood. in fact, the bartender explained that virtually all of the materials in the restaurant were imported from japan and that nails were not used in the construction of the place in accordance with traditional j-building techniques. we later learned that they spent 18.5 million dollars to build gonpachi. money down the toilet? we'll find out soon enough.

the sumiyaki started flowing in. yakitori, sumiyaki, kushiyaki... every place has a different name for basically the same thing: stuff on a stick grilled over wood charcoal. in monpachi's case, they use petrified oak, hence "sumi."

'pachi's tsukune, a ground chicken meat or meatball skewer, is exceptionally tasty and, at $4 a pop, exceptionally expensive. still, it's best chicken meatball skewer i've had in L.A., with a restrained but rich, slightly sweet flavor that is luscious on the tongue.

the bacon-wrapped asparagus, on the other hand, was standard robatayaki fare, with the pork shaved a bit too thin for comfort.

grilled eggplant, beef tongue, and ground chicken-stuffed mushrooms were all delectable. top class skewers, if a bit pricier than what you might find in the south bay.

negima, or chicken thigh skewered with green onion, is a yakitori mainstay. gonpachi's tare negima is merely ok. i've yet to find one better than the shio negima at shin sen gumi in torrance.

a second drunken trip to the loo resulted in a few detours. this was just kicking it in the stairwell. so that's where the $18.5 million went.

my shaky, inebriated point-and-shooting yielded far too many blurry pictures than i would have liked, but at least this shot came out ok. gonpachi is a cavernous two-story structure with an indoor balcony (and booths) wrapping around the main dining hall. it's basically the house of blue leaves from kill bill volume 1.

dessert. i think this was a gazpacho or something. piri ordered it. girls like sweets. i sampled a pinch of the peachy marmalade-ish stuff, but that's about it. with grilled meats still on the brain and a river of sapporo making its way through my system, i didn't order any dessert.

after our meal was done, a waiter was kind enough to give us a brief tour of the restaurant. gonpachi has numerous small to large-sized private rooms, perfect for a romantic game of footsies and sequestered necking, or that drunken toyota office party binge-fest with salarymen wrapping neckties around their heads.

snog chamber #2.

gonpachi's sake collection gets the reverential treatment in a museum-worthy display along some random hallway.

all that's missing is the karaoke machine. although i'm sure that can be arranged.

cameras lie. this, on the other hand, is a pretty accurate depiction of what i saw as we were navigating the halls.

and finally, we have a shot of the sushi bar, tucked away in an intimate corner of the ground floor, almost a restaurant within a restaurant, which gonpachi would certainly be huge enough to accomodate.

overall, i'm fairly hyped about gonpachi. i won't eat there too often as prices are slightly inflated, but the place is definitely good for the late-twentysomething los angeles yuppie birthday party. i'm not sure how long it will take them to recoup the millions they spent on the design, but it seems like they had the proper corporate backing to realize a venture so utterly lavish and slightly obscene. decent to good japanese food is always welcome in my book, better that than some masturbatory nouvelle/fusion extravaganza in such a prime location on restaurant row.

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