First Taste: Gonpachi Beverly Hills


Fittingly enough, L.A.'s newest, biggest Japanese restaurant turns dinner into a movie. At first, it seems like a love story. You enter through a strategically-lit open-air garden that leads seamlessly into a gorgeous bar space where young couples sip, listening to one another and the tinkling water below. But things get weird as soon as you leave the bar. Heading to the dining room you pass a man making soba noodles, enclosed in a glass cage like a zoo animal. The dining room is a nighttime scene in a Japanese village. Electric lights dangle across the pointed roofs of enclosed grills, looking like old-fashioned streetlights beneath the black ceiling. The movie is becoming a period piece. Some of the food made me think that this might be a serious restaurant. Those grills certainly aren't props. Beef tongue was charred and meaty, cut thick to showcase a pleasing rubbery snap. Those soba noodles, strong and resilient, came in a wonderfully deep duck broth. And black cod with eggplant dissolved in the mouth like chocolate. But the service turned this show into a comedy. As if to make up for the sometimes interminable waits between courses, smiling bussers performed a series of gratuitous plate changes, sending a barrage of clean china back to the beleaguered dishwasher. When they were out of the sake we ordered, the replacement they recommended was so different it was like being shown a Shiraz in place of Champagne. And when I pointed out a mistake on our check to our affable server, he affably explained in detail what had happened, affably dropping the f-bomb while he did it. Who knew the film would be rated R for language? So should you buy a ticket? Unless you're in the mood for some slapstick, wait until they find themselves a new director. (134 N. La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, 310-659-8887)

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