Mountain View must have done something right. The city now houses half a dozen excellent, reasonably priced Japanese restaurants, providing variety from sushi to ramen. Gochi Japanese Fusion Tapas joined the pantheon in August.
In other hands, that mouthful of cuisines could be a mess. But chef/owner Sakae Motoyuji worked for eight years with Masahiko Takei at the original Gochi restaurant, in Cupertino. They skillfully blend ingredients and textures, eye appeal and health concerns. The wide-ranging menu offers options to please traditionalists as well as adventurous diners, those with big expense accounts and the rest of us. A long list of the day's specials sits on your table while you peruse the voluminous regular menu or the vegetarian or gluten-free menus.
Among the fraction of menu items we sampled, one favorite dish was unagi meshi, rice cooked in a rough-hewn clay pot with vegetables and onions, laden with chewy seaweed and tender barbecued eel. Other Korean-type clay pot dishes include braised ground chicken and pork dry curry. Some are starred, pointing you to the heading "Good Things to Know." One is that starred dishes come with a rare poached egg. The other Good Thing to Know is that hot dashi broth ($2.50) is recommended for the seafood pots. It adds a cleansing sweetness after you've devoured every molecule of crunchy, toasted rice that sticks to the bowl. Clay pots are for sharing. The "small" size, feeding two to three people, ranges from $18 to $28.
In Italian fusion, Gochi's offers six cheese pizzas ($12.50). Really. The crust is thin and crispy. We devoured the okonomiyaki-style pizza, bubbling with strips of cabbage, pork and squid. The mentaiko topped with spicy code roe, snow crab, mushrooms and bacon has legions of fans.
As a light counterweight, I'd suggest tomiyo itame ($6.50) sautÃ©ed pea sprouts in garlic sauce.
Seaweed salad (in $5 and $8 sizes) is a bed of regular baby greens topped with crunchy daikon and an assortment of supple, nutrient-rich, non-fishy vegetables of the sea. I would call this California fusion.
The deep-fried shrimp balls ($8.50) are like lightly coated meatballs. With a pleasant tempura dipping sauce, they were good but not as special as other dishes, such as another tempura dish, a daily special of savory, rich, immune-boosting maitake mushrooms served with a dashi dipping sauce.
We will go back and sample the izakaya portion of the menu, the half-dozen hot or cold udon noodle dishes, any of the starters and desserts.
In many restaurants, "tapas" are excuses to charge a lot for small plates. Gochi isn't cheap and requires $10 minimum per person. But it isn't a dive.
Service is welcoming and friendly, although you have to be comfortable with being called "guys." There can be issues with pacing. Everything may come at once or, if there's a large party, energetic waving may be required to flag down a server for your check.
Gochi is short for gochisou, meaning a treat or "delicious hearty meal," according to the restaurant's website. Takei worked in many Bay Area restaurants before opening in Cupertino, in 2005. In Mountain View, they extensively remodeled the space long held by Sushi Tei, next to Peet's Coffee & Tea on Castro Street, on the other side of El Camino from downtown. Parking is a breeze.
The future, however, is murky. Petitions at the front of the restaurant explain the predicament that Gochi faces with a developer that has big plans for the site. Go eat there now.
Gochi Japanese Fusion Tapas
1036 Castro St., Mountain View
Hours: Tues.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 6-10 p.m.; Sun. 5:30-9:30 p.m.. Closed Monday.