Monday, November 26, 2007

Viet Noodle Bar, Atwater Village - Hello Noodle Bar, Goodbye Soy Cafe

Viet Noodle Bar Atwater Village

When I first heard of Silver Lake, I was told it was a haven for artists, musicians, screenwriters and of course, hipsters. On any day, you can drive by the cafes and shops and see people dotted along concrete like tacks on a bulletin board. You might see about thirty people outside the shoe-fiend hangout, Undefeated, waiting for the new $150 pair of artist-endorsed Nikes. You might see a lady with two dogs at Eat Well enjoying the sunlight and smog while reading the freshest copy of LA Weekly or The Onion. You might see a crazy person yelling at a telephone pole, maybe even punch it. You might see a man strumming his guitar for some change outside of the Intelligentsia coffeeshop. You might see a couple on a morning stroll, with arms completely tatted up like sleeves. This is the area I live in, and everyday is more interesting than the next. And although there's a salad bowl mix of personalities here in this postage stamp area called Silver Lake, you might find that there is one thing that a lot of Silverlakites do have in common. On top of the artists, musicians, screenwriters and hipsters here, vegans and health-freaks can now be added to the list of usual suspects.

Being a carnivore, I paid no attention to any of the healthy restaurants. That was until J dragged me along to the Viet Soy Cafe on Hyperion. When I walked in that day, I wasn't hungry at all. When I walked out, I was enlightened and hungry for even more. Two hours after, I thought about heading back over for some of Viet Tran's tasty soy mcnuggets and Hanoi-style fish noodles. Unfortunately, Viet Soy Cafe now rests in the abyss of oblivion, with only my photos to remind me of how nice a cup of fresh soy milk and vegan food can be on a Sunday morning.

Viet Tran first started his ambitions of opening a restaurant with a simple plan: start out small and simple. Selling chicken and tofu soup noodles at the Silver Lake Farmer's market to the hungry and curious, he eventually made enough to move on. At Viet Soy Cafe, a restaurant with no more than 7 bar seats and 3 tables, he served up some light and fresh Hanoi-style food. And within a year, he's on his latest project: the Viet Noodle Bar in Atwater Village.

Last Sunday, J, Pizza Snobs and I headed over to what would be an exciting day for both Viet Tran and us. This would be the 3rd week in a row that J and I have eaten his food on a Sunday morning. We headed towards a non-descript brick building with no signage, and only orange lettering on the window identifying the establishment. We found ourselves surrounded by tall white walls in a long and narrow cavity. There were two, long communal-style,wooden tables that extended from the front to the back of the restaurant. Old, beaten-up book lined the right side of the wall – over 250 books. It definitely had a subtle library effect, which was nice. There was a light hum of downtempo playing, yet this place was very peaceful and serene; lit mainly by natural light.

Viet Noodle Bar

Viet Noodle Bar

We were seated and new exactly what to order. I was hoping to see the Hanoi-style noodles on the menu, but it wasn't available until December.

Viet Noodle Bar Sesame Soy Milk

Sesame Soy Milk
We started out with a cold glass of soy milk, flavored with sesame. This version had sesame paste unlike the ground sesame paste from the Cafe. Still very light, and good.

Viet Noodle Bar Soy Coffee

Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Soy Milk
I like this because it's not as sweet as the original version made with condensed milk. God knows how many calories one cup of cafe sua da packs in.

Viet Noodle Bar Jicama Rolls

Jicama Rolls (Bo Bia Chay)
A fresh, vegetarian take on a popular spring roll appetizer. VNB's version includes jicama, carrots, sliced tofu, basil and fried shallots with a hoisin/peanut butter sauce. Very light, and easy to eat.

Viet Noodle Bar Banh Ram

Steamed Rice Cakes in Banana Leaves (Banh Nam)
This is a Hue-style dish. Rice flour, dried shrimp, fried shallots and green onions are poured into a piece of banana leaf, then folded over neatly into a small 'envelope' and wrapped with saran wrap. After steaming, you've got sort of a Vietnamese-style 'tamale'. The texture reminds me a lot of one of my favorites, banh beo, which are steamed, circular rice cakes. Served with fish sauce and sliced red chilis.

Viet Noodle Bar Banh Ram

Viet Noodle Bar Bun Chay

Soyskin with Shitake (Bun Chay)
Rolled sheets of soy, shitake mushrooms and fried shallots are sautéed and served over noodles that remind me of a skinnier form of banh canh, noodles made of rice and tapioca flour. The seasoning for the dish reminds me of Maggi sauce, which I whore over.

Viet Noodle Bar Bun Ca Thi La

Dill & Turmeric Fish Noodles (Bun Ca Thi La)
The main reason I've come to VNB was for these noodles. White sole fish is marinated in soy milk, dill & turmeric over night and then sautéed in a frying pan. This dish is garnished with cilantro, fried shallots and green onions, then served over the banh canh-like noodles. The taste is light, and even for myself, a little bit of fish sauce can knock this up. But I understand that the food served here at VNB is of the Hanoi-proper, which I've been told is typically lighter and not as bold as Saigon-style food. I love all vietnamese food, so it doesn't bother me.

Viet Noodle Bar

Overall, it was a nice way to spend a Sunday morning. The upgrade from the cafe to the new location was huge. And although the noodle bar is stylish in its own form, I truly miss the charm and coziness of what was once a small cafe on Hyperion. I was a bit disappointed to see that a few of my favorite dishes were not on the menu: the soy mcnuggets and the lemongrass chicken sandwich (banh mi). I'll be back to add in the photos of the soup noodles when it debuts in December. Thanks for reading.

Viet Noodle Bar
3133 1/2 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) 906-1575
Read more!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Han Bat Shul Lung Tang, Koreatown 한 바 설 렁 탕 - Hangover Special Please

Han Bat Sul Lung Tang Koreatown

6:13 am.

I open my eyes to a hazy foreground. There's barely any light coming in through the windows yet I find it hard to even open my eyes. They feel like they've been sewn shut. I swallow the saliva in my mouth and feel the droplets slowly trickling down no faster than a snail's crawl. My mouth and throat are completely dry as a desert, probably from sleeping with my mouth open. I'm laying on the right side of my face, body sprawled over my bed. My leg's hanging off the bed and I can feel absolutely no blood circulating there. Oh my head. It feels like it's in a woodshop vise cranked all the way. The back of my eyeballs are throbbing with a slight jolt of pain. I can feel the pressure in my kidneys, signaling me to go to the bathroom. But I refuse to. I know what's going to happen if I get up. All the blood is going to tilt inside my head once I stand up, causing me to feel even more nauseous. It's now 7 am and my alarm goes off loudly. I purposely set my alarm to bad music so that I am FORCED to get up and turn it off. But this day, it couldn't be more painful with my hangover and horrible sound of Black Eyed Pea's "My Humps". If I had a gun, I would shoot my alarm clock a million times. I groan in major dis-satisfaction and shut up Fergie. Might as well go to the bathroom too. I stand up with the aid of my bed and feel the blood trickling to the right places, nearly falling. Oh god. I come back and fall back onto the bed. I miraculously find a cup of old water by my bed and kill it. This is terrible. The thought of going to work in the next few hours does not please me. As I lay there motionless in deep regret over last night's debauchery, there are only two words that come to mind:

Han Bat.

Han Bat (한 밭 설 렁 탕) is a Koreatown restaurant that specializes in ONE thing: sul lung tang. (I know the korean character for 'bat' is incorrect. Stupid computer won't do the character I want!) Sul lun tang is a soup made from boiling various beef bones, primarily oxtail, over a period of 12-15 hours. The result of the low-and-slow cooking method is a milky white broth caused by the collagen and marrow in the bones. Tonkotsu ramen is made through the same process, but with pork bones instead. There are only 4 meal categories in a day: breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. For me, I've added a 5th meal – this is best eaten after drinking. Nothing is more pleasing than a bowl of soup for me because I'm taking care of two things at once: thirst and hunger.

I walk in at 7:45 am and see a few tables occupied. I've been here about 8 times already and have figured out the clientele. There are usually two types of people that come in here. You've got the older Korean men and women (ah-je-shee and ah-je-ma) getting their breakfast on while reading the morning newspaper. And then you've got the 21-32 year old guys and girls with bags under their eyes, or bed-head, slurping the soup quite rapidly. At this time in the morning, they are more than likely... hungover. Like me.

Han Bat (한 밭) should actually change it's name to Han Go Pa (한 고 바) because of its remedial significance in quelling hangovers. Koreans will get that haha.

Han Bat

This is what Han Bat might look like when you're drunk or hungover. No time to admire the hole-in-the-wall decor. Just eat the food.

Han Bat

This is what Han Bat looks like after you've had their soup. All of a sudden, today is a brand new day.

Han Bat Sul Lung Tang

Han Bat's Hangover Soup: Sul Lung Tang
At Han Bat, they keep things really simple. You only have two options. Either you order the beef bone soup ($8.32 + tax) or you order the boiled beef that comes with wasabi ($16.63 + tax). The SLT comes in a mini black cauldron and is unsalted. You can smell the wafts of beefiness in the steam – reeling your drunk ass in. The broth has a subtle buttery-thickness to it. Some places will add tons of beef flavored stock (dashida) to enhance the real taste of beef bones. For your SLT, you can choose these types of toppings:

-mixed 석 음
-brisket 살 코 기
-flank 양 지
-intestine, tripe and spleen 내 장
-tongue 우 설

I always get the brisket and flank, which is similar to the beef cuts used in pho – my favorite. Rameniac has ordered the spleen before and decided to stick with non-spleen items. I love this soup!

Han Bat Toppings

Han Bat brings out the chef in you and lets you customize your SLT with korean salt (similar in texture to kosher, but slightly clumped up), black pepper and freshly-made chili paste. Along with the seasonings, comes the best topping in the world: the tub o' scallions which the server plops on the table. And a bowl of scalding hot rice packed into aluminum bowls.

Han Bat Sul Lung Tang

Normal people do one scoop. I take it to the next level and add 5 monster scoops. I've caught the server looking at me once. She asked me, "You like???" I said, "Nehhhhhh..."

Han Bat Kimchi

Han Bat Kimchi
I love their kimchi. This is the pasty, thick kind that doesn't have that acidic/carbonated bite which is usually associated with pre-bottled stuff. The server sets this on the table and asks if you want it cut. *Bam* Out comes the trusty old Korean-restaurant gadget: scissors. *Snip *Snip *Snip: on your mark, get set, kim chi!

Han Bat Radish

I can't describe the goodness of Han Bat's SLT. It is such a simple dish that does wonders for those that are sober or drunk. For a total of $11 (tip included), I get a piping hot bowl of beef bone soup, 2 side dishes, rice, the tub o' scallions and a very happy body. Han Bat accepts cash only and is open from 7am - 10 pm everyday. Valet parking available behind the building.

How do YOU quell your hangover?

Han Bat Shul Lung Tang (한 밭)
4163 W. 5th St (and Western)
Los Angeles, CA 90020 (213) 388-9499

And for those that find themselves hungover in NYC... I recommend Gahm Mi Oak. Solid. Read more!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Jones Soda Company - The Thanksgiving Holiday Pack

The only thing I like about the thanksgiving dinner meal itself, is the gravy. My plate looks like the Brown Sea once I get my hands on that greasy ladel. I literally drink it. Because of my current look (refer to profile photo), I've got to slow down. Thanks to the Jones Soda Company, a brand known for quenching our thirsts with unique flavors has furthered its reputation. Introducing: the Holiday Pack.

- Turkey & Gravy Soda
- Sweet Potatoes Soda
- Dinner Roll Soda
- Pea Soda
- Antacid Soda

I'll probably by some this week and come back with a report. Read more!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Viet Soy Cafe, Silver Lake - Hot Soy on the Platter

Viet Soy Cafe Silver Lake

Moving over to the East Side of Los Angeles has been a pleasant experience so far. Besides being closer to J, there were Asian markets that I could shop at and a variety of places to eat at. Korea town is to the South, Thai Town to the North and Chinatown/Little Tokyo to the East. And not to mention the cozy, down-to-earth places in the Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area. The Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area offers a lot of vegetarian and vegan options for those that are health-conscious. If you don't have the word 'organic' on your menu at least 5 times, you'll get less customers. Though being a health-conscious eater usually does not apply to me, I'll occasionally eat something healthful. Good food is still good food to me, whether it's wrapped in bacon or wrapped in a kale leaf. J has been on a health binge, so it's been hard finding a place that would satisfy us both. But sometimes you'll find a gem in the nooks and crannies of any city. May I introduce to you, Viet Soy Cafe.

After four failed attempts in going here for a meal, we were finally met with an open door. Viet Soy Cafe, named after the owner Viet Tran, is quietly tucked in between a residential area on Hyperion Avenue. I call this the Highway-perion or Die-perion, because of the cars that go by at 55-60 mph. Be careful, many people have died on this street unfortunately. On a happier note, you're in for a light lunch if you don't get runned over.

J and I walked into the cafe, a quaint little space with 6 or 7 counter top seats, one small 2-top and 2 outdoor tables. Viet Tran greeted us warmly and pointed to the counter. Behind the counter is a large fridge, and to the back is the kitchen with 1 cook and 1 dishwasher. You can see all of this happening because the space is SUPER small. But nonetheless, a feeling of coziness that you get at a lot of restaurants in the Silver Lake area.

Viet Soy Cafe Window

We checked out the photo-copied menus, making sure to order the recommended dishes from Yelp reviews and Bon Vivant's posting. It was 10:30 am, and we couldn't be more excited about a healthy soy breakfast.

Viet Soy Cafe Soy Milk

Fresh Organic Soy Milk with Black Sesame
I love all soy milk. The super-thick, velvety soy from Silk. The boxed Soy milk from Hong Kong, Vitasoy, that kids never wanted to trade for during my time in grade school. The hot bowl of Soy milk that the Taiwanese have for breakfast. I love it all. At Viet Soy Cafe, you can get your soy milk with flavors: black sesame, cinnamon, mint or yerba mate (grassy, green tea-like taste). The black sesame seeds are toasted and ground probably with a mortar & pestle, and then lightly sprinkled into the cool, soy liquid. The soy was very fresh and subtle in sweetness, with slight undertones of sesame. If you like yours more sweet, I'm sure you can ask for sugar. I liked it the way it was served. You can take home a quart for $5.00 with a $1.00 bottle deposit.

Besides the ubiquitous vietnamese-style coffee with condensed milk, VSC offers a version made with soymilk - looks tasty!

Viet Soy Cafe Soy Nuggets

Soy Nuggets
Everytime I shop at the Chinese market, I have to make a stop at the soy products. From the five-spiced tofu to the fried soy squares, you can make endless stir fry dishes with these as a substitution for meat. According to Viet, the soy used for this dish is different from that of the milk. When ground together and mixed in with carrots, green onions and seasonings, the result is a nice 'nugget' of goodness. Some may find it necessary to have a dipping sauce, but again, I like it simple without any accoutrements. I could have eaten another order because they were just fried perfectly, almost tasting like chicken. 6 pcs. for $3.00

Viet Soy Cafe Jicama Rolls

Jicama Rolls
Jicama, a type of turnip, is used a lot in Vietnamese cuisine. If you've had cha gio before, you've tasted it. These spring rolls are made with sliced soy cubes, julienned jicama, mint, fried shallots and served with a hoisin/peanut butter dipping sauce. The rolls are light and easy to gobble up in 2 bites. I love ANYTHING with fried shallots in it. J really liked these because they're healthy. 5 rolls for $5.00

Viet Soy Cafe Chicken Banh Mi

Lemongrass Chicken 'Banh Mi' Sandwich
VSC offers three types of sandwiches: shitake & tofu, green onion sardine and lemongrass chicken. The lemongrass chicken was made with an orange aioli, probably mayonnaise and a little Sriracha mixed together. 8" sandwich for $5.00

Viet Soy Cafe Fish Noodles

Dill & Turmeric Fish Noodles (Bun Ca Thi La)
Like Mexican restaurants that serve their weekend menudo, Viet has his fish noodles on Sundays only. I'm more than glad he recommended this, because 3 hours after lunch, I almost drove back to Die-perion Avenue and risk my life running outside of my parked car to eat this again. The portion was small and I think he did this to strategically drive me crazy. I loved this dish. Viet said this is a Hanoi-style dish, and Hanoi food in general, has a much lighter taste than its Southern counterpart. The fish was sauteed in a pan and mixed with turmeric, dill, fish sauce, sugar and soy milk, served over bu'n noodles (rice noodles). And of course, a nice sprinkle of freshly fried shallots. I've never had this before so I have nothing to compare it to, but I will surely order this again. This Sunday. $7.00

Viet Soy Cafe Fish Noodles

The reviews and the overheard discussions on VSC did not disappoint me. While I'm curious as to how it would do in areas like San Gabriel Valley and Westminster, even Hanoi, you have to appreciate it for what it is. It's a cozy, quaint, tasty, health-conscious addition to the Silver Lake/Los Feliz/Atwater Village area with a nice, hard-working owner. A lot of people are vegetarian/vegan in this area and VSC is exactly the type of place they want. Even for a carnivore like me. This beats a coma-inducing meal at my other breakfast joint, Eat Well. If I were to open a restaurant, I would want a space exactly like this – 15-20 seats, 10 things on the menu. When you don't have too many items on the menu, you have more time to focus on making something the best it can be and you can actually talk to your patrons. Thanks for reading.

A-hem, A-hem, A-hem***
Viet Soy Cafe will be closed for a few weeks starting 11/25. Viet Tran is opening his other restaurant, Viet, in the Atwater Village, ACROSS from Indochine Cafe. Viet will feature Hanoi-stye Pho (more subtle than Saigon-style Pho and less toppings), cha gio egg rolls, banh cuon crepes, and much more.

Viet Soy Cafe
1997 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 663-7888
Sunday - Thursday 10am-3pm (closed Friday & Saturday)
Master-Cash Only!

Viet (Atwater Village)
3133 Glendale Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90039
(323) NOT-SURE Read more!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Gonpachi, Beverly Hills - Soba & Anime Food in A Lavish Place

Gonpachi Main Entrance

What would you do with $18 million dollars?

Would you retire and travel the world? Would you help out a village in an underdeveloped country? Would you buy a ticket on Virgin Galactic? No, these are all a waste of time and money. Instead, let's build a Japanese mega-restaurant over the old Ed Debevic's Diner and name it Gonpachi. That's exactly how much it cost to build Global Dining's third location in Beverly Hills. According to articles, it's a true import, meaning they shipped out the same exact building materials out to LA. Let's see what $18 million dollars buys you.

This week, I drove down to Beverly Hills for a company function at Gonpachi. I couldn't be more excited. My foodie friends, Tokyoastrogirl, Rameniac and Pirikara, had written/told me about this super-sized izakaya. An izakaya is a Japanese-style pub serving various foods. To me, it's like a tapas bar. You can get your sushi. You can get delicious chicken, beef & pork skewers cooked over charcoal. And the best part, wash the former down with thirst-quenching Kirin & Sapporo on draft or fine, silky sake. All of this, while being as loud as you can be. When I was in Japan, I remember one night when we went to THREE izakayas in the span of about 4 hours and managing to squeeze in a little bit of karaoke. Izakayas are a way of life for many Japanese businessmen. After a long duel with work, nothing is more satisfying than hot food and cold beer... for 4 hours straight.

I parked on the street and immediately raised my head to follow the outlines of the tall structure against the sky. Big. I approached the main entrance and came upon a quaint outdoor garden with trees I couldn't identify. Beautiful. Of course, there were the ubiquitous koi ponds to my side... with koi about 14" in length. Nothing as big as the ones I've seen in Asia. I followed the pathway lined with lanterns you'd never see at Pier 1, which lead to the building and a man awaiting me at the door. Manager. I walked in and followed the waft of alcohol being drunk by my coworkers. I thought to myself, I probably just walked by $250,000 worth of landscaping. Where's the other $17,750,000?

Gonpachi Outdoor Lanterns

Gonpachi Leaves


After about an hour of having drinks, the foreplay was over. It was time to get down to it. We walked together down to the main dining room and everyone just gazed around like it was the Sistine Chapel. Only two stories high, yet breath-taking. I thought to myself, any second now, a ninja is going to jump out and mince us. It felt VERY Kill Bill-ish.

Gonpachi Robata Station (Yakitori)

The main area had about 12 tables and 8 booths. The private rooms upstairs required a minimum of $350 on the check and just seemed too tame for our group of 10. To my right, were four cooks hustling and bustling behind the large charcoal grill station (robata grill). I give those guys props for manning that grill with 30 skewers at a time, inhaling all of that smoke. Almost as amusing as the TSA staff sitting behind those x-ray machines for 8 hours. Or Sandra Lee standing in front of her four microwave ovens, cooking thanksgiving dinner. BBQ smoke, x-ray radiation and Sandra Lee – all are detrimental to your health.

Straight ahead, was the sushi bar and it was simply handsome. The lighting, the length and overall design of the sushi bar made Sushi Gen's bar look tame. I couldn't imagine how much the omakase sushi dinner would cost.

Gonpachi Dining Room

For some reason, the second you're seated at a table in an izakaya, you must order beer and sake. It's like an appetizer that really gets the party flowing. We must've had 7-8 beers each.

Gonpachi Second Floor "Sake Room"

A view of the $350-minimum private rooms. Looking at it, we really felt like WE were outside of the building.

After we were served our drinks, the servers immediately pointed out dishes we should try. I must've heard the word 'soba' 100 times that night. Apparently, it's one of Gonpachi's pride and joy... fresh, hand-made soba. To further dazzle you, they specifically built a windowed noodle room for you to watch as the chef mak soba noodles from square one. I took so many photos that I had to put them into an animated GIF file for everyone to see. The whole process took nearly twenty minutes and it was obvious that the cook was winded. These guys make the pizza makers at Mozza look baaaaaad.

I must apologize for not having any photos of the food. The lighting was horrible and the pictures were beyond salvageable. So, to tie in with the Japanese theme, I decided to anime-ize my food. I tried my best to model the food and am aware that some things are ambiguous. Plus, last week's grand opening of Takashi Murakami's exhibit at the MOCA in Little Tokyo had its influences on me.

Gonpachi Anime Food

The heart and soul of an izakaya is the yakitori dishes. It means "grilled bird" in Japanese and the Japanese aren't kidding when it comes to grilling chicken. Drumsticks...NO! BBQ chicken breast... NO! Chicken McNuggets... HELL NO! How about the gizzards (stomach), heart, butt and in some izakayas, the testicles. Oh man, my favorite parts. I was very sad to see that Gonpachi had all the 'safe' parts. No offals, skin or butt... only thigh and wings. Boo. Here's what we had.

Usually, this is ground chicken meat with ginger and garlic. Gonpachi went a step above and threw duck in the mix. This was absolutely delicious. For $4.50, it better be. I could taste the ginger and garlic, and the basting sauce was awesome. As a group, we probably ordered 30 of these. This is my 2nd best tsukunu skewer I've had, with a place in Japan being #1. Theirs was served with a raw egg yolk mixed into the soy/sake dipping sauce. Amazing.

'Negi' means green onion/leek. This is a standard skewer and quite boring to me. Shin Sen Gumi makes a great version of this. I actually like the green onion/leeks the most on this skewer.

Chicken wings. Very good, but again, I'm going to give the points to Shin Sen Gumi.

These are not the pork blood cubes you see in soup noodles. These are 'beef tongue'. One of my most favorite parts of the cow. I don't know if I'll have anything better than this. I've had chinese, japanese and korean-style... and most places will only serve this sliced thinly. At Gonpachi, you get a CUBE, no... NUGGET.. of goodness. For me, this was better than the Wagyu skewers we had. Juicy, with good bite to it. Man. They're not messing around.

Gonpachi Anime Food

Sushi & Tapas
In addition to the skewers, the Japanese also serve small plates we know as tapas.

Really, have you ever had a bad piece of o-toro? The 'o' in otoro means 'big'. The 'chu' in chutoro means 'middle', implying a less fatty piece of tuna. I watched as two of our female coworkers rolled their eyes in ecstasy as they devoured the pink fat.

Tuna Tartare
Didn't try it.

A perfectly-cooked piece of salmon. Moist and flavorful... how all fish should be cooked. Those are not popcorn kernels, they are supposed to be salmon roe!!!

Miso black cod, a japanese classic. A paste made out of miso paste, sugar, sake & mirin is used to marinate the black cod over night... and the result is a fish you really can't turn away from.

Gonpachi Anime Food

Agedashi Tofu
I always have to order this simple, yet satisfying dish. Soft tofu cubes are dipped into a batter made with ice cold water and potato starch and then deep fried. It's served slightly submerged in a bath of soy sauce, dashi, sugar and sake. Not the best I've had, but not the worst.

Wagyu Steak
Uh oh, wagyu time. The most spoiled cows in the world. This wagyu was simply pan fried with salt, pepper and butter as it should be. For meat this expensive, it's a waste to mask it with razzle-dazzle sauces. I think this was sitting out too long and the meat had cooked itself - so so. I've had better wagyu. The kind that makes you shake because it's so goddamn fatty. You feel SO guilty when you eat that because it's not far from being beef-flavored butter. Those things that look like the clippings of someone's fingernails are actually garlic chips.

Tempura is tempura. But not here, I could not identify the fish that was included in this dish... it was so good. The only evidence I had was the blue tail. Scallops were also tempura'd - I love anything scallops.

And now, for the most talked-about dish of the night. The one that gave a man carpal tunnel syndrome! Hot soba noodles in soy/sake broth. The soba was good, but I was expecting a little more chew/bite to it... like in udon or ramen. This was even more chalky than the packaged version. I don't want to discredit the hard work that young man put into the noodles, but they were only so so.

The gluttony did not end for another 2 hours as the beer, wine and sake continued to pour. Even when people were eating dessert, I was eating sushi, toro and more skewers. Who needs dessert here when anything could be 'dessert'. For many of my coworkers, this was a great experience. There aren't too many places out there where you have so many things to try. Gonpachi isn't that expensive... the problem lies in the fact that the menu is quite extensive. It all adds up.

So what do I think of the $18 million dollar Gonpachi experience? If you take away the beautiful garden, the second story private rooms, the poor carpal-tunneled soba noodle man, Japanese wood and lavish cook stations... you're still left with food that is a little above average. The sushi I had does not compare to Sushi Zo, as it shouldn't, because it's not solely a sushi bar. The yakitori selection is slim and not as 'authentic' as the izakayas I've eaten at. The tapas served were cooked well but very expensive compared to places like Honda Ya/Kappo Honda. And not to mention the fact that because this is a more expensive place, you're more inclined to act more formally in public. There was no loud cheering, drunk people singing as I've seen in Japan... just the quiet hissing sound of chicken parts being grilled over charcoal. Hey, if this place doesn't do well, there's a new Asian-film studio out for rent. Kill Bill 6 ? Crouching Tiger 4? Sandra Lee Does Japan?

But I certainly had a great time and I must say that Gonpachi is one of the most beautiful restaurants I've seen. I can't dismiss that. Beverly Hill's Restaurant Row is geared towards a certain class of people with certain tastes and the new addition of Gonpachi is more than right for it. Look at the Woo Lae Oak korean restaurant next door... a place I've tried and will never go back to because of the ridiculous prices. You've got Fogo de Chao, the $60 per person dinner which serves the same style of meat any other churrascaria will serve for less than 1/2 of that. If you have the money for Gonpachi, go for it. If not, try any of the fore-mentioned places and you'll have yourself a good, gastronomic experience.

Thanks for reading.

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

Blog Widget by LinkWithin