Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ganpachi, aka, "The Kill Bill Restaurant"

You've been reading all about our amazing culinary adventures in Tokyo.  But our final night in Tokyo we didn’t have any dinner plans.  Most of the guys were leaving on a midnight flight that night, and I wasn’t sure if they’d want to just head to the airport early, or if our teammates in Tokyo would want to do a last group dinner, so I purposely didn't plan anything.  Thus, last minute, we had to come up with something.

I had ideas.  If left to my own devices, I certainly would have just gone back to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, as it was just downstairs from my hotel and office, and they also had the same uni pasta that I had previously at La Table de Joël Robuchon and couldn't get out of my mind.  But the guys said it was too pricey.  I wasn’t suggesting going for a full tasting menu again, I just wanted to go sit at the bar and get the spaghetti.  But they all very clearly said no.  Sigh.

So, next I suggested visiting an izakaya, one Japanese experience that we hadn’t done thus far.  I found one that was only a 10 minute walk away, and was very highly rated.  The menu was almost exclusively seafood, just my thing.  And it was casual style, had beer for the guys, and was reasonably priced.  But … one of them really didn’t want more seafood, and another kept suggesting the restaurant that Kill Bill was shot at: Gonpachi.  When put to a vote, you can guess what they all voted for.

So, to Gonpachi we went.  I was a bit sad to be wasting my last Tokyo meal on a place I really didn’t want, but I was having a good time hanging out with them, so I decided it was worth it just to have fun with them.  Plus, they were all quite good sports when putting up with my ridiculous itinerary all week.

We arrived a bit on the early side, and the place wasn’t busy.  A huge three story establishment, with a large open kitchen in the middle, counter seating along it, tables on the sides and on the upper floors, all looking down into the kitchen area.  The entire interior was wood.  Our booth reminded me of being in a barn stall.  The staff were very attentive when we first walked in, but service quickly dropped off.

Being a casual place, the table had piles of share plates, chopsticks, napkins on it, to use as we wanted.  The menu turned out to all be designed to share, or so we were told.  We were originally ordering dishes just for ourselves, and switched to share style at the server's recommendation.  Except, many of the dishes came with a single piece, or just a pair, and there were four of us.  I don’t understand why he told us to order family style, and didn’t suggest doubling up on things?

Service continued to falter.  I asked for water, it never came.  Then, eventually two waters came.  Dirty plates kept building up, and were never removed, even as they couldn’t find space on the table to put new dishes.  We ran out of share plates, particularly at dessert time.  And the desserts were incredibly not shareable, another thing they didn’t mention when we ordered two for four people.  Sigh.

I don’t need fancy food, or someone to fold my napkin when I get up, but this service really wasn’t good.  The place is clearly popular only due to Kill Bill, and I’m pretty sure every single person there was a tourist.  When I looked it up later, I found universal acknowledgement that no one recommends dining there.  Yet, it was totally and completely packed when we left.  And, the guys did like it.  To each their own, I guess?

They started with beers, I went for a cocktail at the suggestion of the waiter, the signature Ume Syoga Cooler, ¥680.  It looked pretty good, with a full slice of lemon, a slice of lime, and a pickled plum inside.  There was no particular flavor that stood out, but at least it wasn’t too sweet.

Next I went for the Lemon Sour, supposedly fresh squeezed, for ¥580.  It wasn’t good at all.  Not balanced, way too sour.  I didn’t bother finishing it.  Price was good for a cocktail at a restaurant though.
Classic Caesar Salad. ¥650.
The first dish we received was the Caesar salad.  Yes, we were in Japan, our last night in Tokyo, ordering a Caesar salad.  Not my choice.  Amusingly, this was the only dish that came with serving chopsticks.  I tried a bite, and it was generic bagged grocery store quality to me, but the guys liked it and devoured it.  I half expected them to order another.

The ¥650 price was good for a decent sized salad.
Assortment of Tempura. ¥1280.
Next, tempura.  Besides the salad, this was really the only dish that was easily shared.  Except, most of the items had only one each.  There were two shrimp, which the people who claimed them liked.  There was a potato that I got, which wasn’t good, not cooked enough.  Someone else thought they got a fried cheese ball (leftmost item).  The idea of a cheese ball sounded great to me, so I eagerly went for the other item that looked similar (bottom right), only to find that it was just a pile of grated daikon.  And I had a huge mouthful of it.  Blech.

I also got some sort of fish.  It was a bit oily, but reminded me of fish and chips, a mild, flaky fish.  My favorite of the tempura, third favorite bite of the evening.  There was also some oily broccoli.

All served with dipping sauce, which they at least gave us each a little container of.

Again, price was decent, ¥1280 for the basket of tempura.
Ganpachi Supreme: toro, foie gras, kuroge beef. ¥3,500.
A charcoal grill is the main draw of the restaurant, and offers a variety of grilled dishes, mostly different cuts of chicken, not my thing.  But they also offered "special skewers", all of which sounded fantastic.  Luckily, they were available as a trio.  This is the dish I was planning to order if I’d been ordering alone.

Of course, they told us everything was for sharing, so we got an oder, and it came with one skewer of each.  The foie was a single piece, the others had two small cubes each. Sigh.

Two of the guys didn’t care at all about the foie, so two of us split it.  Described as "foie gras with balsamic sauce and fresh strawberries on top."  I was obviously going for that one.  It was pretty good, melt in the mouth, roasted over the open grill.  A rustic approach, and a good one.  Served drizzled with balsamic and sliced strawberries for a bit of sweetness.  Clearly my favorite bite.

I also got to take a bite of the toro, "tuna belly with wasabi and grated daikon radish".  I only had a single bite, since there were only two small cubes, and we had to split each tiny cube two ways.  The tuna had a good sear and was still totally rare inside.  Pretty tasty, my second favorite bite of the night.

Finally, the kuroge beef, described simply as "Japanese kuroge beef sirloin".  I wasn't into beef at all on the trip, which was strange because I do like beef in general, and beef in Japan is good.  So I let them fight over the beef.  Of course, they loved it, and ordered not one, but two more skewers of it.  The second time I tried a bite, since they were raving about it, but it still wasn’t my thing.  Yes, well seasoned, decent sear, but just too rich.

Unlike the other prices, ¥3,500 did seem a bit pricy for just a few bites of food.  But, I guess there was toro and foie.

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Seiro Soba. ¥800.

Next, soba noodles, served cold with green onions and dipping sauce.  Not exactly sharable, served with only two containers of dipping sauce for four of us.

I didn’t like these at all.  Apparently handmade daily from buckwheat flour ground with a stone mortar, but to me, just cold slimy noodles.  Serious meh.
Gindara. ¥1,350.
And finally, my other pick, gindara, or, miso glazed black cod.  I love miso. I love black cod.  And this dish can be very, very good.

At Ganpachi it was … mediocre.  Served skin on, with a decent miso coating.  The fish was mild and flaky.  Good, but not nearly as good as it can be.

¥1,350 was a fine price for the size of fish.

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Kuzumochi and Kinako Ice Cream with black sugar syrup. ¥470. Pumpkin and Coconut Flavored Zenzai. ¥630.

I was pretty unsatisfied at this point, so I demanded dessert.  The others didn’t seem to want any, so I settled on ordering just two, even though I honestly didn’t really know what any were, and I wanted to try them all.  In general, the desserts on the trip really disappointed, at restaurants and at our office, but these at least sounded more authentic Japanese.

The first was Kuzumochi and Kinako Ice Cream with black sugar syrup.  I had no idea what any of these things were, but I do like mochi and ice cream!

I thought the ice cream would be flavored, but it seemed to just be plain vanilla ice cream, served too cold and frozen solid.  Alongside were utterly flavorless mochi cubes.  Once I got home, I looked up "kuzumochi", and found that it is mochi made from kuzu powder, rather than rice flour.  Apparently, kuzu has no flavor.  I also looked up kinako, and found that it is a roasted soy bean powder.  I'm not sure where it was in the dish, perhaps dusting the kuzumochi?  Or maybe some of the mochi were made with it?  Or maybe it was supposed to be flavoring the ice cream?

The dish was served with a single spoon, for all of us.  Since we’d run out of share plates, and only had chopsticks, it was a bit amusing to try to avoid mixing remnants of food left on our plates into our ice cream, and, eating ice cream with chopsticks isn’t exactly easy.

¥470 was a fine price, but it wasn't good, and no one found anything redeeming about it.

Next, was pumpkin and coconut flavored zenzai.  Of course we had no idea what this was either, but it was fascinating.

When I got home to look it up, I found that zenzai is red bean soup.  But, this was not red bean soup. although it was soupy, and it did have red bean.

The soup, or sauce perhaps, was very brightly orange colored, and very runny.  Inside of it were glutenous balls with a nice chew.  I didn’t taste pumpkin nor coconut, but I guess they were in there somewhere.  And a little red bean on top.

This one was at least very interesting, but I’m not sure I liked it.  And again, served with a single spoon.  We all tried eating it with chopsticks, but the best technique seemed to be dishing some onto our individual plates, and just licking it up, as the soup/sauce was so runny.

Memorable, fascinating, but I'm still not sure I liked it.  ¥630 was a fine price for a composed dessert.
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