Gonpachi's patio overlooks a stream and Japanese garden
I love a restaurant with a lagoon, a pond or a stream. It must be a result of spending much of my childhood toggling between the Luau and Trader Vic's, but in any case I love a good theme restaurant. Add the koi pond and babbling brook to an immense ode to a Japanese temple, and you've got one of the coolest looking restaurants in town. But most theme restaurants feature sky-high prices for forgettable food. Gonapachi is L.A.'s rare exception to that rule, where prices are quite reasonable for good if not awe-inspiring sushi, soba and skewers. My friend Charles always has his birthday in the best places -- once he took over the top floor of Clifton's Cafeteria. Gonpachi has zillions of private rooms -- the place is way too vast to fill most nights, and I hope they're going to be able to stay open. There's happy hour deals like $3 beer and good fried chicken snacks, and healthy portion of $5 sake. We all decided to get the $24 set meal, which turned out to be a ton of food. The first course was five appetizers, including seaweed salad and a spiky fried shrimp dumpling. Then there were skewers of ground chicken and eggplant, tuna and California rolls, a bowl of warm housemade soba in broth and dessert of pleasantly honeyish ice cream with green tea mochi squares. Plus we raised around $60 for Project Angel Food, since it was Dining Out for Life Night. If you haven't been to Gonpachi, it's like a little vacation in Japan, and a whole lot less expensive. Get there now before all the half-empty restaurants of La Cienega sink into the giant recession vortex.