Category Archives: Vegetarian

Cinematic Japanese Food

Have you seen Kill Bill?

Remember the restaurant that housed the big fight scene when Uma Thurman killed all those guys?

Did you know that is based on a real restaurant in Tokyo?

This is how many conversations begin, which culminate in a trip to Gonpachi. As one of the most well-known Tokyo establishments, Gonpachi offers a casually minimal, though consistently adequate foray into non-sushi Japanese cuisine. Of course, they have a sushi bar as well, though the real draw here is the atmosphere.  Gonpachi, run by the massive restaurant company Global Dining, has locations in Ginza, Shibuya, and Odaiba as well, in addition to Fukuoka and Bevery Hills (!) but any Tokyoite can tell you that the one to wow visitors with is the Nishi-Azabu branch.

The soba is not only homemade, but arrivers can watch chefs knead the soba dough through big pane windows. The tempura is perfect, as are some of the “grilled things-on-sticks”. We recommend the duck with wasabi, the toro (bluefin tuna belly), the foie gras, and especially the Gindara, a stupendous black cod glazed with miso and grilled so the consistency is soft and flakes off into bite-size morsels like sea bass. Everytime I’m there, I ponder just asking for 10 orders of gindara.

The drink menu is not only extensive and covers all the basics, but they threw in a few interesting cocktails to wow your parents. The dessert menu was created by Stephane Vieux, which means the presentation always competes with the combinations of tastes; for an unforgetable end to your Japanese barn dinner, indulge in a Warm Chocolate Cake & Sesame Ice Cream or the Kuzumochi & Kinako Ice Cream with Black Sugar Syrup.

Ok, I need to admit something. Almost all my Japanese friends hate this place. Seriously. To them, this is not fine dining, barely Japanese food, and overpriced stereotyped Lonely Planet fodder. I don’t necessarily disagree in premise, it is after all, a big wooden barn decorated to look like a Japanese restaurant on a movie soundstage. Although for visitors, Gonpachi may just fullfill the basic Japanese sterotypical dishes which are so often lost in the modern Tokyo of nouvelle and fusion. This is the kind of restaurant that your family will write group emails to their middle-aged European friends about. Just ask Quentin Tarantino.

Gonpachi

03-5771-0170

1-13-11 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0031

http://www.gonpachi.jp

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A Tokyo Mexican Restaurant Primer

The last thing you’d expect to be eating in Tokyo is Mexican food. In the greatest culinary capital of the world, inundated with myriad options of all types of Japanese food, curious oddities from other parts of Asia, Thai, Chinese, Indian, and Singaporean food as good and authentic as the best found in those countries, why would any foodie consider eating food from Mexico?

Well, believe it or not, there are some crazy folks who, after living in Tokyo for so long, crave other types of sustenance. For those spicy-searching creatures, I’ll take a quick look over Tokyo’s Mexican restaurants. Please don’t be too depressed. You couldn’t have expected Oaxaca.

La Fonda de La Madrugada – Harajuku

Harajuku station: Jingumae 2-33-12-B2.

This Disney-esque mock up of what they want you to believe Mexico looks like will make you vomit. [ed: That was eloquently put.] This mistake of a restaurant is what happens when a developer decides that interior design is more important than food quality and service. Who cares if half the dishes are just tasteless doughy/meaty things soaked in canola oil? At least it’s festive! While the menu is certainly more diverse than most of the local Mexican joints, the food is all saturated in grease, the waiters are untrained, slow, and uninformed, and the food, well… if a waiter doesn’t spill a plate of it on your lap (this happened to my friend), and they don’t charge you for multiple plates that were never ordered (this happened to my other friend), and they don’t mess up your order and bring you other dishes (this has happened to almost everyone I know), the food will probably make you vomit all over Omotesando Street (this happened to me). Still, the mariachi band is nice.

La Jolla – Hiroo

03-3442-1865. http://www.la-jolla.jp/

Hiroo Station: Hiroo 5-16-3, Koyasu Bldg. 2F.

We award our La Jolla our Runner-up prize. A relative newcomer on the Mexican scene, and located in the foreigner haven of Hiroo, La Jolla has in freshness what it lacks in style. The food, while approaching Junkadelic’s grandeur, is served drably and people often complain of feeling like they are eating in an office building. In terms of offerings, it seems like they photocopied Junkdelic’s menu, though they get props for deciding to add more variations, like fish tacos. We expect that as La Jolla grows up, it will focus on its ambiance a bit more, for although the food gets high marks, the complete dining experience is still lacking that bit of excitement.

Junkadelic – Nakameguro

03-5725-5020.  http://junkadelic.jp/

Naka-Meguro station: Kami-Meguro 4-10-4. Open 6pm-2am.

One of the only palatable Mexican restaurants in Tokyo, Junkadelic shines as a (not-so) hidden gem in the backstreets of Nakameguro. Frequently full of the salsa-seekers and huge-ass-margarita sippers of Tokyo’s international community, Junkadelic retains the position for the second year as Tokyo Foodie’s Mexican Restaurant of the Year! The chimichangas, fajitas, and burritos are large, fresh, and affordable and though some complain about the authenticity of the cuisine, the taste more than compensates. Start with a large order of nachos, try a few GIGANTIC and strong margaritas (in flavors locos likeguanabana and mora), order a main dish or 3, and make sure you ask for chipotle salsa – it’s not on the menu, but they will smile their devious smile when you ask, and it will be the wings on your new-found Mexican angel. Junkadelic was started by a Japanese guy who lived in San Diego, traveled around Mexico, and couldn’t find any acceptable Mexican cuisine when he returned to Tokyo. Theinside is decorated like a Mexican courtyard during a family reunion, and they project skateboarding videos on the wall, acompanied by **not-cheesy** mexican music.

Other Ones

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but there really isn’t that much edible Mexican food in this city. There are other places to be sure; Corporate places based on plasticized Tex-Mex upscale Taco Bells line Roppongi and Shinjuku (La Fiesta, El Borracho, El Patio, Salsita, Rosario) and overpriced attempts at Fancy Mexican Food (The new La Colina in Tokyo Midtown, opened by the aforementioned Fonda De La Madrugada, and just as under-performing, though costlier).

We tried to warn you. It’s not our fault.

We came here for the sushi anyway.

The Pure Life

Pure CafeWalking into Aveda, the spa and shop in Aoyama in which one could not possibly help but feel pampered by the bio-organic raw materials, offers of massages, aromatherapy, and yoga mats. Not to be overlooked though, is the attached Pure Cafe, a little bit of edible pleasure which leaves one walking out essentially levitating. Every day, Pure puts together sets, and you can choose your essentials, from soups, sandwiches, salads, cookies, and other dishes like vegan lasagna and torte.

I feel required to cover at least the iceberg of the Tokyo vegan scene, and even as an avid omnivore, I wholeheartedly recommend this spot to both my health-conscious friends, my hippie compatriots, and my omnivorous foodies. People often get scared away from veggie food, but Pure doesn’t just mash together a bunch of moldy vegetables into unrecognizable pate, they create simple dishes with simple sauces, food that looks like what it is, and that makes you feel like you are eating a gourmet forest. Also check out their organic wine and beverages and coffee and apparel to go!

Pure Cafe

http://www.pure-cafe.com/

5-5-21 Minami Aoyama

03-5466-2611

Modernizing the Quaker, Aggrandizing Porridge

Bio Ojiyan CaféOjiyan

For those of us who grew up on oatmeal, eating a bowl of porridge hardly seems sufficient for dinner. But toss on some organic kimchi, grated daikon, raw tuna, and *gasp*, a hot dog that looks like a flower, and you’ve got yourself one grown-up bowl of ojiyan. This Shimo-kitazawa mainstay, although half-hidden just downhill from the quiet west exit, is frequently crowded, with fashionable hipsters and tired musicians drinking a wide array of teas, juices, and interesting natto-covered oatmeal bowls.

There are myriad varieties of toppings for your basic ojiyan concoction, and interesting seasonal ones abound in set-form as well. The homey atmosphere and large windows opening up to the street seem to swell with the rotating art exhibits which cover the exposed concrete all the way back to the couches in back. It’d be hard to remain stressed in an environment like this. The food is light yet filling, and the ambience always makes me feel at home. I’ll be moving in next Wednesday.

Bio Ojiyan Café

http://www.mfs11.com/

Shimo-kitazawa, West Exit.

Exit, turn left, and walk 2 blocks downhill

(Also a branch in Harajuku, but we recommend the relaxation and understatement and unpretension of the Shimokitazawa one.)