Category Archives: Azabu Juban

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

What the hell is this food?

Grill Manten Boshi

Grill Manten Boshi is a type of restaurant that is certainly seen fairly often in Tokyo, and yet, I don’t think there is yet a name for it. The décor of false brick and dark wood is decidedly western, as is the menu of California wines, beef and tongue stew, onion soup, and gratin. And yet it is a kind of charming, idealized western character that is itself uniquely Japanese. I will admit that the Azabu-juban branch of this popular chain is the most convincing, with its basement location in a smaller building better lending itself to a cozy old-world feel. In the Ikebukuro location, at the top of the Tobu Department Store’s Spice restaurant area, the décor may seem rather contrived, however, the nighttime view from the 14th floor is a plus.

The menu features various sets, as well as reasonably priced main dishes that offer sizeable portions. Some notables on the menu are omelet rice curry, rolled cabbage, hayashi rice, and hamburg steak. All of which fit into this category of western-ish Japanese food. The truly remarkable dishes, in my mind, are the beef and tongue stew and the chicken mushroom gratin. The large steaks of beef cheek and tongue are soft enough to cut with a fork, and the rich and piquant stew is slow cooked and added to week after week. The gratin is smooth, creamy, with flavorful chicken leg meat and perfect with the crunchy grilled cheese on top. Grill Manten Boshi has been occasionally featured on Japanese television, showing how the chefs create such a uniform and smooth béchamel sauce for their gratin. All of the white sauce, once made, is folded into a large cheesecloth, and twisted to strain the sauce through. The process alone takes two chefs to handle. I certainly wouldn’t try it at home, but the result is a decadent dish, and nothing like the frozen gratin I sometimes pick up at the grocer.

The main draw of these restaurants, as you might guess, is not the camp décor. At the typical fast food omelet rice joint, it can be hard to understand why this spongey egg dish, often with orange tomato rice, was created at all. The omelet rice at Grill Manten Boshi, however, is moist and melds well with the heavy beef stew. The dish is simple, and does not try to put too many tastes one plate (ever had a fast-food omelet rice with tomato rice, half-curry, half cream sauce, and tonkatsu on top?). Grill Manten Boshi’s execution of this and other western-influenced Japanese favorites, explains why these dishes became favorites in the first place.
Grill Manten Boshi (グリル満天星)

Azabujuban, Tokyo 1-3-1 Apoli Biru(アポリアビル) B1F

〒171-8512 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 1-1-25 Spice Ikebukuro Tobu 14F (スパイス池袋東武14F )

Reinventing the Wheel… (or at Least Adding Avocado)

SushiiiiiiiJapan has some customs that are regarded as indelible such as not wearing shoes indoors, or thou shalt not stick chopsticks vertically into food. At the risk of sounding blasphemous to my Japanese compatriots, California may have a thing or two that it can teach Japan about creativity in the sushi world.

Coming from someone who eats sushi daily and has learned to appreciate the subtleties in the texture of hirame, having avocado and waterfall-like salmon gnawing at my unagi eel definitely induced winces. My friend thought avocado was just a food Californians ate to show the rest of the world how pretentious they are. And I admit, telling Japanese people how to reinvent sushi doesn’t exactly help my case.

San Francisco and L.A. are full of restaurants which produce salmon/mango/macadamia nut rolls by the dozen, but finding these Calimaki institutions in Tokyo was a bit of a surprise. Still though, with a prime location amidst Tokyo’s foreign population in Azabu-Juban and a extensive drink menu with many top sakes and such novelties as white wine mojitos, Rainbow Roll sushi makes up in taste and invention what it lacks in tradition.
restThe restaurant’s namesake, a crab-avocado California roll covered in generous slabs of shrimp, salmon, squid, and nobiko is succulent and unique, as is the Dragon Roll, soft warm eel embracing avocado. The ambiance is sleek and modern, and though the basic sashimi selection was fresh and well-prepared, I wouldn’t go back unless I wanted to experiment. There are myriad impeccable sushi restaurants in Tokyo, but only one where making fun of Californians is so much fun. Don’t take your Japanese grandparents… They probably won’t get it.

Rainbow Roll Sushi

Monte Plaza 2F, 1-10-3 Azabujuban, Minato-ku, Tokyo
(One minute walk from exit A5 of Azabu Juban Station on the Oedo and
Nanboku lines)
Tel.03-5572-7688