At Gomachu, tofu is fun, and possibly even exciting. It may even be sexy — the jury is still out.
I realize I’m pushing the boat on a foodstuff that, while globally praised for its nutritional value, has about as much visual appeal as a manila envelope. But something transformative happens to tofu when it meets goma (sesame seeds): it kicks off its earnest, humorless uniform and embraces a host of possibilities.
Of course, there is much more to Gomachu besides tofu. It’s essentially an izakaya bar with a generous menu, but before we start with the other dishes, let’s deal with the tofu. The way its presented at Gomachu is a far cry from the average stodgy packet of supermarket fare. Instead, it’s looks more like a scoop of gelato. If this tofu could talk, one gets the feeling it would speak one of the European romance languages.
Indeed, these are no side dishes: front and center are a scoop of kin-gomadofu, made from roasted golden sesame seeds, and, in a separate dish, a light coffee-colored scoop made with a soba noodle base and black sesame seeds and topped with roasted nuts. Accompanying them is a tray containing five different dips ranging from light and zesty, such as yuzu, through to kuromitsu, a sweet treacle made from brown sugar and, of course, a nutty creamy sesame dressing. Do not forego this dish; it’s the payoff for years of eating the bland stuff.
Before leaving the topic of tofu, be sure to try the black sesame tofu wrapped in bacon and given a quick tempura frying. The accompanying salt and sesame dip adds extra umami to the bacon, and the dip is good enough to eat on its own.
Another dish you’ll want to make room for is Gomachu’s nabe (hot pot). Once ordered, your server will take away the little cut-out in your table for the gas flame to make way for your nabe. The pot is a two-in-one affair, with two very different broths separated by the yin and yang design of the pot.
On one side, fulfilling the yang role, is a tōgarshi (chili pepper) stew, which is as spicy as anything you’ll find in a Korean kitchen. Meanwhile the chicken-based broth, playing the role of yin, will have appeal for people with a more delicate palate.
In both broths you’ll find quite possibly some of the tastiest gyōza dumplings, filled with scallions and morsels of fried chicken from Miyazaki Prefecture. Chef Kazuhiro Seto fries the chicken pieces just shy of being burned, giving them a deep, succulent flavor.
When you’re through with the nabe, your server will return with noodles, with which you can soak up the remaining flavors.
I had a few other fried dishes, including karaage (deep-fried chicken) and kujo negi (scallions cultivated in Kyoto) fried in a tempura batter. While these were good, they were overshadowed by the triumphs of the previous dishes. Thank you tofu. And sesame. And to the server who ran half a mile after me with my phone.
Dinner and drinks around ¥4,000; smoking OK; Japanese menu, no English spoken
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5