'Designer' and I were amazed as we pretty much 'stumbled' on this find - 'Designer' had seen a Travelzoo deal for the place a while ago, and had decided it was worth a shot. The gift cert stayed in her stash until this Saturday - we happened to be in the area for LACMA's Muse ArtWalk, and she had pulled two deals from local restaurants for our post event meal. It was only when we realized last minute her other deal was not available for use Saturdays, that we ended up with Gonpachi.
It turned out to be the highlight of our week, at least in terms of the space.
Despite (or because of?) its location on famed Restaurant Row in Beverly Hills, alongside luminiaries as The Bazaar by Jose Andres and Matsuhisa, we weren't expecting any sort of authentic
Japanese experience, but perhaps a scenester-ish LA interpretation of Japanese cuisine. So we were excited to discover that the place is owned by a famous restauranteur in Japan, who was very concerned with creating an authentic Japanese experience - even importing a lot of the building materials from Japan. The setting is gorgeous - with natural, flowing spaces constructed of wood and stone, three wings surrounding a lush, serene central garden. We passed through a bar that opens out to the koi pond before entering the main dining room, and toured private rooms on the second floor that includes a traditional tatami room with shoji doors. Third wing is a more sleek, modern looking sushi bar that is enclosed but also ultimately leads out to the garden.
Starved, but wanting to sample a hopefully representative variety of menu items, we decided quickly on the 5-course tasting menu called "Gonpachi Experience" ($45 per person). The names of the courses were somewhat cryptic, but as we both like surprises - and thus the idea of omakase - that was part of the charm of the menu.
The first course was the artfully plated Chef's omakase of five daily zensai. We loved everything in this course - which tasted as great as it looked - fresh and flavorful. From right to left was: seaweed salad, tuna sashimi wrapped around avocado, mushroom cap stuffed with crab, a fried shrimp dumpling that looked sea urchin inspired - topped with a light sauce that reminded me of nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) and sprinkled with nori, and finally pickled radish with sesame.
What we ended up getting was a mix of standard types of fish / seafood. A shrimp roll that tasted dry and tough (it took a combination of gnashing and yanking to bite through the piece - and it was unfortunate that we could tell by the looks of it before we even bit in, that it would not taste fresh at all), and bluefin tuna that was completely tasteless. The albacore tuna sashimi was flaccid. Even the salmon sashimi, which is one of my favorite fish and hard to go wrong with - was not very compelling: the knifework simply wasn't there, the pieces were cut too thick, and the texture what I would describe as 'al dente' - not ideal for sashimi - and oily. The yellowtail was probably the only decent tasting piece of fish on the plate - and I couldn't call it good. It's possible this was an anomaly specific to the prix fixe courses, and the a la carte rolls / sashimi are perfect - but as the spirit and intention of omakase is for the chef to introduce the diner to the freshest fare available for the day - this was disappointing for us. We really wanted to love the fish so that we could recommend the place as one of the best mid-tier Japanese dining experiences in LA to friends - but based on what we were served this Saturday night, we could not. Hopefully it was a fluke and the next time we venture out to Gonpachi, the quality will be there. Kind of important for a Japanese restaurant with half its menu based on sashimi & nigiri, for them to get the fish right!
Perhaps it was the buckwheat, or the preparation (hot), but this one was not a favorite of our meal. We wanted more layers of complex flavor in the broth, and the noodles to be more smooth and pliable.
Feeling stuffed, we took a quick stroll around the other wings of the restaurant, checking out the museum-style displays of artwork, vintage samurai armor, sake barrels and teaware upstairs, and took in the beautiful central garden one last time before heading out.
And, I'm happy to report that Gonpachi according to their site also offers daily, Happy hour specials: 5pm-7pm & 10-close: half-price sakana (appetizers and house specialties) and 2-f o r-1 select draft beers, house sake & wines, well cocktails and sakegria - at the bar. Will definitely be back to check out their Happy Hour.
Valet parking: $3 only!
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5.5 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 100%
Gonpachi Beverly Hills
134 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Look for reservations: Opentable.com/Gonpachi