Monday, March 23, 2009

GONPACHI of Beverly Hills

It was one of those days.

After hours of fighting traffic and a failed attempt to get into a sold-out food festival (for which I discovered I could not buy tickets at the door), it was time, I realized, to search for a Plan B. Thankfully, that’s not hard to do in L.A.—although it may get confusing, with such a vast array of dining options.

I consulted my newly purchased Black Book of things to do and places to eat in the big city, and after calling various sushi restaurants listed in the guide, I felt more befuddled than ever. Adding to the frustration, many of the places I contacted were closed (it was Sunday) while a few others were not open until 5 or 5:30 (it was 3 in the afternoon).

I was starving.

But rather than compromise by selecting substandard casual fare, I chose to wait till the grander establishments threw open their doors. Simply put, I just had to eat well to make up for the road congestion and the rejection by the promoters of the epicurean feast back there. And okay, so maybe I also went shopping for a couple of hours and purchased a few items I didn’t really need to make up for the aforementioned snafus.

Contemplating Spanish tapas at The Bazaar inside the SLS Hotel (I recently read a rave review about their food), I cruised down La Cienega Boulevard. And then, like the ambivalent Aquarian it was my birthright to be, I changed my mind.

The austere gray building which read "Gonpachi" in contrarily small letters called out to me; I had seen it and heard about it before, but it remained one of the places on this restaurant row I had not yet experienced. Across the street sat my past experiences, like tally marks lined up in a row: The Stinking Rose, Matsuhisa, Nobu, Yabu….

Finding the perfect parking spot at the curb right in front of the formidable sushi-fortress, I eased my car into the slot (valet parking costs $5.50). Tapas will just have to wait.

Entrance to the restaurant is granted after you wind your way down a stone path through the large Japanese garden, complete with koi pond and soothing waterfalls, which is reminiscent of the majestic landscaping maintained by Yamashiro Restaurant in the Hollywood Hills. The interior is overwhelmingly spacious, with separate large dining areas and tatami rooms. Even the sushi bar, which is remarkably small considering the enormity of the edifice it sits in, is only accessible by a major trek down a long walkway.

The Nigiri Sushi menu is a bit confusing, as it lists the prices for a single piece as opposed to the standard two-piece order, but the selections are interesting (most sushi bars don’t offer shiitake mushroom sushi), and the king crab is as sweet as it is fressssh.

I also had to request a specials menu, since I just knew there was more to this Japanese palace than what the plainer Nigiri menu offered.

Sure enough, the other menu featured a Crispy Rice Tower for $14, for which I had immediate interest. Tuna and albacore tartare, it said, with avocado, garlic chips and garlic ponzu sauce. Sounded delectable enough for me.

The dish turned out delectable, indeed—and more importantly, for this blog, it was photogenic. Ingredients which had not been listed on the menu (but which I found delightful) were fried onions and shredded seaweed, both of which added the final touch, the perfect flair.

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