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


nixtress said...

Followed a link in Tastespotting over here. You should be careful! You write so well that you make even this so-so place sound amazing! I only wish I could write so well : ) Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

Jeni said...

You're like the Chinese Murakami. Can you draw the murph shot then?

hannehanne said...

I followed tastespotting to get here too! The restaurant looks lavish, at least. Do you have any must-go places for sushi in LA? I'm going to be visiting in the near future and I'm a bit lost on choices. There's just so much out there.

JadedOne said...

I wonder if they have any of those types of restaurants up here in SF? I've been to a place called Tanto that serves tapas style food and according to my mother in law (who's Japanese), she said this is a mostly business man kind of restaurant. Nothing near the monstrosity you went to though. It's actually a really small place. It was really good nontheless. No handmade soba though!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Jeni, haha. That was such a cool exhibit.

Nixtress, thanks for stopping by! The place is definitely so-so, but truly beautiful.

Hannehanne, thanks for stopping by as well. Feel free to email me at and I might be able to suggest some places. Just want to know what kind of sushi you're into.

Jadedone, it was really awesome watching sobaman at work. Wouldn't that be funny if that was an actualy Japanese superhero. SOBAMAN! unleashes his terror on you with a strand of purple noodles that have a life of its own. I WOULD not want to watch anyone make bukkake soba. sick. get your mask on! haha.

H. C. said...

Nice write-up, but so-so restaurants don't necessarily die in lalaland if they offer something else to compensate -- e.g. Geisha House and their scene, Takami and their view, etc.

Of course, there's some gimmicks that's just total failure: Ha.da.ka.

Burnt Lumpia said...

Nice write-up! I too was all set to go to Gonpachi after reading your descriptions of the food. But like you say, it doesn't seem worth it. Thanks for the honest review! And nice work with the anime;)

Plague said...

Yeah, but Gonpachi has the lovely Chidori working in the sushi bar, so that's reason enough to go for me...

Courtney said...

Great soba animation! All your posts always leave me salivating, even if it's cartoon pictures.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

HC, haha. I've driven by Geisha House and really have no interest in trying that place. It just looks so hollywood.

Burnt Lumpia, no you should definitely try Gonpachi out. It's really beautiful inside. Your experience may definitely be better than mine. I like the more hole-in-the-wall, loud places.

Plague, who is that? The sushi chef or some hottie employee? I've heard about the staff changes after the initial walkout.

Courtney, thanks for stopping by. Believe me, it's better that I threw in some cartoons. The pictures were simply ugly.

Ellen said...

Nice pictures! You'd do Terence proud. I like the video too, whihc is pretty amusing. It's funny, but I never consider going to the restaurants on "restaurant row." I went to Tanzore when it first opened and was sorely dissappointed. Luckily the prices were discounted by 30% otherwise I would have been pissed!

Plague said...

Chidori remained after the initial exodus of staff. She usually handles the sushi bar and knows her sake.
And she's hot as hell.

Works at Mako too, I think.

All that aside, I've enjoyed my meals here, but I've only sat at the sushi bar and avoided the large room.

han nah said...

Your experience reminds me of my experience at Tengu(minus the decor) which was so-so...

Yet, I would like to see soba being made. I love soba noodles and can you taste the freshness of the noodles? Is it worth a trip based on noodles alone?

Yuzu said...

I love the drawings! Why can I only draw food that looks like Hello Kitty made it? :P

I've yet to visit the Murakami exhibit. I'm waiting till next year when the madness dies down and people will have forgotten that the exhibit is even there.

Rasa Malaysia said...

I went there not too long ago and wasn't impressed with the food at all. The restaurant itself, yes.

Rasa Malaysia said...

By the way, if you like Shisengumi, I think you should try Honda-Ya, they now have a branch in Little Tokyo. I personally like Honda-Ya much better than Shisengumi.

pleasurepalate said...

I have to say that your illustration skills are stellar. :) Also, thanks for the detailed review of Gonpachi. I've been wondering about that place for awhile. Even with the food prices, I might be willing to splurge on it, if only to get a look at that Kill Bill exterior.

JadedOne said...

Water just came out of my nose hahaha!

One Food Guy said...

Great illustrations, D!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Hi Yoonyang!
Yeah right, I need to take some lessons from your man. He's a master at retouching photos as well. Missed the both of you at MNS! Thought I would see you guys there.

Plague, I didn't venture off into the sushi bar side. it looks great though. The only female sushi chef I've seen was in the Korean movie OLDBOY. Maybe the large room is to be avoided period.

Han nah, hola. I've never heard of Tengu. Definitely go and try the soba noodles. It was fun watching him to do it. Lemme know what you think of it.

Yuzu, thanks haha. Hellokitty-made food really has no's very 2D but the colors make up for it.

Rasa, both Honda-Ya and SSG are great izakayas.

PPalate, definitely go and check it out. Everyone will have a different reaction to it.

JadedOne, just wanted to remind you that the Bukkake Soba is made in a very limited quantity. Depends on Sobaman's... mood. haha.

OFG, thanks Scott.

Cindy. Lo. said...

I love your ratings,
I feel like I can trust you for it!
By the way,
I always order agedashi tofu too!

SteamyKitchen said...

Guys, we MUST go here when I come visit - I'd love to see what $18 million looks like in a restaurant!

Sat, Dec 15th - meet up after my class?

Daily Gluttony said...

you've really outdone yourself this time with the anime izakaya, man. that was pretty effin cool. seems like a pretty restaurant, but i'm not sure if i'll make ever make it here since i try to stay away from restaurant row whenever possible. ssg & honda ya are much more of my cup of tea. btw, have you guys tried the new ssg izakaya/shabu-shabu in monterey park?

eatdrinknbmerry said...

CindyLo, thanks for stopping by.

SteamyK, haha. an $18 million dollar is impressive, but the bill isn't. Sure, we can try to meet up or something.

DG, pam you're alive! I totally want to go to the new SSG in Monterey Park. We miss you guys and haven't seen you forever. The Valley and Garvey Restaurant Rows fit more in with my budget haha.

christianne said...

I think the anime is rad!

I think I'd like to see what $18M looks like in restaurant-form too. Enjoyed the review!

joanh said...

cool! just heard about this place recently. i totally hear what you are saying about the restaurant row restaurants.. was underwhelmed w/ woo lae oak and it's crazy prices too. mm, thinking about honda-ya and SSG!

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