Enjoy an escape from city stress when you enter this Japanese gem on Restaurant Row.
Imagine tasting succulent toro sashimi under twilight skies and blooming cherry blossoms, surrounded by lush foliage and a glistening koi pond in an idyllic Japanese garden where the art of hospitality paints a delightful brushstroke on an already pleasurable dining experience.
This magical setting not only exists, it has seriously fresh fish and ample parking. Nestled along the legendary stretch of dining establishments on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills, Gonpachi is an unexpected gem on Restaurant Row.
Upon entering Gonpachi’s intricately carved wooden gates, one is instantly transported far from Los Angeles to a stunning, 11,000 square-foot architectural marvel modeled after a traditional Japanese home.
Constructed by miyadaiku carpenters with aged wood and oxidized silver roof tiles brought in from Japan, the restaurant is comprised of three distinct wings that encircle its breathtaking inner garden — the perfect locale for an elegant summer soirée to unveil Gonpachi’s exquisite new menu.
The beauty and tranquility of the garden is so charming that I almost forget why I’m here — but only for a moment. Once my gaze fixates on the spectacular presentation of nigiri, sake and robata, my foodie sensibilities return, and I’m happily sampling, sipping and sushi-ing.
Gonpachi’s gracious staff presents one delicious tasting after another. First, the Smoky Hamachi Carpaccio. Delicate, paper-thin slices of yellowtail, avocado, and green pepper drizzled in ponzu sauce and accompanied by the greenest, most luscious slices of cucumber. Next, Ebi Shinjo. Lightly fried shrimp dumplings in a sweet yuzu chili sauce. Crispy, flavorful, and delightful. Both of these dishes pair nicely with the Sho Chiku Bai Classic Junmai Sake. It’s dry, smooth, mellow, and tonight it’s perfectly chilled.
I transition from chilled to charcoaled, enjoying skewers from the robata grill. The Harami beef is well seasoned and flavorful, and the tender teriyaki salmon practically melts in my mouth.
The restaurant’s signature Makimono creations feature selections like the Double Dragon (shrimp tempura roll, baked crab, tempura flakes, spicy aioli), the While Lotus (shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, albacore, crispy onions), and the New Tokyo (California roll with sea eel).
Assistant General Manager Taichi Ishizuki tells me that the Gonpachi chefs are the first to arrive at the seafood market each morning in search of the choicest fish. I’m a devotee of the snooze button, so I’m especially grateful that their pre-dawn missions deliver such impressive freshness and quality.
Gonpachi’s new menu also features hand-pounded buckwheat soba noodles crafted daily by Gonpachi’s resident soba master. To make these traditional Japanese noodles, the soba master skins the buckwheat husks, grinds the buckwheat, then kneads and rolls the dough by hand. The dough is delicately cut and served with a homemade dipping sauce (tsuke-jiru) or savory broth. Goma Seiro comes with a sesame dipping sauce, and Curry Nanban is served in a farmer’s style chicken curry broth. Try them with the slightly sweet and milky Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Unfiltered Sake.
Showdown at House of Blue Leaves
I look nothing like Uma Thurman. But that didn’t deter me from donning a yellow tracksuit and wielding a plastic samurai sword near startled guests during a Halloween party several years ago.
As I leave the lovely respite of the inner garden for a glimpse of Gonpachi’s magnificent two-story dining room, I instinctively reach for my non-existent sword as if Lucy Liu’s henchmen are lining up to meet their fate. The expansive space is remarkably reminiscent of the House of Blue Leaves in “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” with its ancient wood columns, sliding shoji panels and soaring vaulted ceilings.
Despite the spectacular setting, the only showdown I’m going to have tonight is for the last shrimp dumpling on the platter. Cue the soundtrack. I may not be armed and dangerous, but I’m hungry.
Big In Japan
Gonpachi is a celebration of rich Japanese culture and traditions. The restaurant is named after samurai warrior Shirai Gonpachi, one of the great heroes of kabuki theatre.
Tokyo’s Nishi-Azabu is home to the original Gonpachi restaurant in Japan. But Angelenos need only travel to Beverly Hills, where service is polite and attentive, fish is just-caught-fresh, and the stunningly authentic ambience alone is worth the trip.
Like many favorite destinations on the globe, one trip simply won’t suffice. Gonpachi is just such a place, as its menu stays as fresh and inventive as its fare. For the next visit, I have the following on my Hit List:
- Gonpachi-Viche: Diver scallop, kiwi, white sesame oil and micro greens topped with mango habanero sauce.
- Foie Gras Daikon: Miso-marinated foie gras and kumquat candy.
- Satsuma French Fries: Sweet potatoes, black sesame seeds and truffle salt drizzled with caramelized honey.
I will undoubtedly return soon to this dazzling jewel on Restaurant Row, and when I do, I will attack these new menu offerings with a vengeance!
Who wants to challenge me for Spicy Scallop Makimono?
Copyright © Michelle Gigon/2011 Singular Communications, LLC.