My name is Brian and this is my first post. But I'll be doing more in the future on restaurants in major cities of California. I'm always looking for good restaurants in San Diego and LA and hope to find suggestions from people with similar tastes. I've cooked and eaten Asian food my whole life, but I'd say my tastes are in between Asian and Western. My favorite is authentic Japanese, authentic Italian, and then Chinese. By authentic, I mean I regularly travel Japan and Europe and try to find places back home that capture at least some of that. They definitely exist in California, but on the level of maybe several per city. That's why I'm here. =)
My first review is on Gonpachi in Beverly Hills and it's a mixed review. Here's some background info: Gonpachi in BH is the American branch of a famous restaurant in Azabu Juuban, the "Beverly Hills" of Tokyo. It's most famous for being the place where Prime Minister Koizumi took President Bush for dinner on his visit. The main branch in Azabu is sometimes known as catering to foreign tastes (as opposed to Japanese clientelle).
I'd say Gonpachi is good at some things with great atmosphere, but somewhat expensive compared to better Japanese food in LA. I went with a group for a special occasion and we had a great time regardless - this was a lucky case where good atmosphere and above average food were what we were looking for.
Surprisingly, the Tempura was the best by far. Sushi was great and second best - I know better places for only sushi but this was more than good enough for an Izakaya. These are both what I'd order next time if I get invited back.
Yakitori was sometimes overcooked but otherwise great. We tried most types, and I'd recommend the beef tongue and chicken - the beef tongue was surprisingly good and comparable to high end in Tokyo (or above average in Sendai).
Soba was good, but it ought to be better for a place that specializes in it. They'd actually be better off shipping soba from any random shop in Nagano - I'm not kidding because someone once mailed me better soba (I bought it myself, but I left it in their car).
The renkon (lotus root) salad was good. Other dishes were good.
The building itself is beautiful and pretty great. The best part was the bathroom, reminds me of higher end restaurants in Japan. The only parking was Valet and it was $5.50 - I'd appreciate validation considering what we spent. It doesn't make any business sense to me, and the restaurant could use more customers.
Overall it's somewhat expensive for the level of food but that's probably just BH, and great ambiance in any case. If I ordered only sushi and tempura for our party, we'd be completely satisfied. Maybe on a different day it would be different - consistency for me is critical in restaurants but it's impossible to tell from a single visit.
In LA there are better and cheaper places for food such as on Sawtelle but without the atmosphere. In Irvine Hondaya is an example of cheaper but better - the food there ranges from average to exceptional for a reasonable price. In San Diego I'd suggest Yumeya in Encinitas - it ranges from great to exceptional for a reasonable price. I use the word exceptional sparingly, but I recommend these places because you can find some dishes that are just that (mixed with some above average or great dishes). In San Jose I'd suggest Tonto's but I'm sure there's better places (I just don't know as many up north). Each place I recommend serve primarily Japanese clientelle, and in the long run those are consistently the best and most reasonably priced places.
I also like Tajima in Convoy since it's closer to me, but the main branch isn't really an izakaya and it's more a great casual place.
If you have any suggestions especially between LA and San Diego, let me know!
If I have time, my next review will be of Din Tai Fun in San Gabriel Valley (LA).