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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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Your evening is Ubcra

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Kyo Restaurant Ubcra

When I’m headed off to some romantic mysterious land, this is how I imagine the luxury dining car. Kyo restaurant Ubcra is warm, dark, and cozy, and its design takes full advantage of the small, rectangular shape of the building as small booths line the walls single-file and give you the feeling that you are entirely alone. For a little more excitement, seats at the bar provide a great view of the cooks preparing yaki-tori, and modern couches and tables at the balcony are a great place for people watching through the restaurant’s two-story glass front.

The extensive menu (in both English and Japanese) makes this upscale izakaya an ideal place to become a regular. Choosing from yaki-tori, sashimi, tempura, nabe, salads, and more, my favorites in past visits have included a light and crunchy lotus root tempura, fried to perfection, to be dipped in wasabi salt. Also notable is the tororo sashimi salad and the tsukune (I’ve heard a rumor that the chicken here is free-range but…). Of course, as it is Kyoto-style fare, yuba is featured fresh, wrapped around shrimp and cream cheese spring rolls, and in croquettes. Pages of options for drinks show a good mix, particularly of shochu, and the specialty cocktails are great, particularly the soy milk one (although stay away from the mojito, which tastes like soda with a little Listerine thrown in).

Having the same owner as the cheesy aquarium walled, over-designed Bar Luxis down the street, Ubcra is surprisingly chic and relaxed, with food to match.

Kyo Restaurant Ubcra

1-3-11, ebisu-nishi, shibuya-ku, tokyo

Phone 03 5428 5057

Open 7 days a week, 5pm-5am

Ecstatic palate, Spicy heart.

On entering elegance on a glass floor with lotus flowers under your feet, you emerge looking out over downtown Tokyo, from an unobstructed 35th floor view. In good weather, the city lights around Mango Tree Tokyo remind you of garlic and blinking red chili peppers in the sky. You sit and decide on the more expensive Course B (8400 yen) dinner set, because really, is there any other option, and really, it will be cheaper than ordering a la carte, right? (At this exact moment, you don’t realize that no matter how full you are after the dinner set, you will not be able to resist a couple mojitos, a bottle of wine or two, and maybe a fresh spicy papaya salad or delicious tender satay plate on the side.)

You are surprised by the first of the seven courses, a tiny surf clam salad with spicy sauce which you need to squint to see, but packs a pungency that surprised your taste buds, still recovering from the sweet aftertaste of that mojito. The deep fried chicken wrapped in some sort of Pandan Leaf is soft on your tongue and its sweet and spicy sauce relaxes you. You next receive a spicy mushroomy shrimpy Tom Yum Goong soup, and a “Steamed Pacific Cod Mousse Thai Style Flavored with red Curry”, yes you think you read that right, some sort of orange-colored cod-based Mousse filled with scallops and cauliflower, a novel concoction which is subtle but interesting enough to keep you staring. Well, by this point, your palate is cleared and you have to wait a bit, have some wine, “Take some time for yourself,” their menu exclaims, because you’ll need the rest before feasting on perhaps the most … (for lack of a better word) delicious thing you have tasted all month.

You decide to start a new paragraph to talk about this dish, because well, frankly, it deserves it. Grilled Standing Lump with Spicy herb served with Sticky Rice eeks with herbs, onions, leeks, lemongrass, red pepper, and cilantro, a gorgeous touch to an otherwise already spectacular beef. The thinly-sliced Lump (do they mean Rump?) is medium cooked and grilled with vinegar then covered with the firey mixure which makes you wish aloud, “Dear Mango god, Please let this never end!” All your friends turn to you and decide your outburst is caused by a broken heart, pour you some more wine, and hand you a desert menu, which is really a considerate gesture considering the rice noodle soup and persimmon tatine which came with the dinner set is a bit disappointing after that main course.

You order a glass of port, some organic coffee, and a divine coconut creme brulee (after which 3 of your friends quickly follow suit), because you decide it will sate your sad heart and your overstimulated hunger. This Tokyo jewel has a sister in London and one in Bangkok, and clearly prides itself quality and selection, on not being able to list every city in the world on their business cards, like some Gordon Ramsey carbon-copied mass-manufactured haute chicken fat. Today, Mango Tree has calmed your raging quest for culinary adventure and your emotional confusion has been embraced by the spicy constancy still lingering on your tongue.

Mango Tree Tokyo

Marunouchi Bldg. 35F

2-4-1 Marunouchi

Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-5224-5489

In front of New Marunouchi exit of Tokyo station.

http://www.mangotree.jp/