Hidden in the basement of a red-bricked building close to the Sun Mall Arcade, curious visitors will find a fascinating little restaurant called “Gorilla Shokudo”. With a warm welcoming smile, the staff waves customers through to have a seat at either the counter or one of the tables.
Gorilla Shokudo, or “Gorilla Kitchen” is open during lunch and after a short break again for dinner with a differing selection of menus. The surge of customers during lunch is remarkable, so some time might have to be spent outside waiting. However, those knowing what awaits them inside have no trouble spending a couple of minutes by the “Noren”, the fabric divider characteristic of Japanese restaurants. Groups of customers might be seen joking and laughing before being invited into the warm sanctuary.
The menu will give newcomers a hard time in the beginning. For one, it is available only in Japanese, so remember to bring a friend who is fluent in Japanese if your Nihongo is not up to snuff. The other challenge lies in deciding what to order, the sweetest of troubles.
With a choice between five dishes, the menu is not too extensive during lunch hours, but the quality of each item makes it difficult to choose one over the other. There are long-sellers such as Karaage (fried chicken) and an assortment of battered fried fish and vegetables available every day for those who want to play it safe, or seasonal specialties that give each visit an unforgettable note. The juicy karaage come in plain, together with a spicy sauce or in a variation that changes every month. Seasonal dishes include Japanese hot pots that are popular during the cold months and culinary guests from the Thai and Chinese kitchen.
At night, Gorilla Shokudo also offers All-You-Can-Drink alternatives including a set number of dishes in different price levels, in addition to a larger menu.
With constantly changing offerings, even regular customers cannot know its exact contents. It all comes down to the whims of the chef, Kazushi, who has been honing his cooking skills since before the restaurant opened in 2011. Prior to this job, he pursued it simply as a hobby, but he has since evolved into a true master of his craft. Today, he spends most his time in Gorilla Shokudo swirling from one corner of the kitchen to the other. Next to here, he can also be found spinning records as a DJ at music events. His ability to multitask the pots and pans and plates to provide the fruit of his dedication might just stem from this passion.
The restaurant holds a special place for its returning customers, and it has been doing well enough to warrant the opening of a second store, also in Sendai. People from all walks of life, ranging from salarymen in black suits to university students who bring friends or professors, find their way down the stairs and into the Kitchen.
The love that went into turning this place into a home is apparent. The cooking in all its variations tastes rich and portions are big enough to leave customers full and happy. Bright drawings contributed by local artists Kazutoshi Nakagawa and Daisuke Yamada are scattered all over the walls, setting the place further apart from its chain restaurant cousins. Other items further add to the story of Gorilla Shokudo that got its name from a friend who once gave his creativity an outlet under the moniker “Gorilla Candles”. While this friend has now moved onto new challenges somewhere else, his legacy to Gorilla Shokudo serves as a fitting example of how this place acts as a canvas for everybody, be it as the chef providing all the goodness, artists putting their own touch onto the walls or customers letting out sighs of ecstasy when digging in.