Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on December 2007
Sometimes, you look in the mirror and notice that your endless party life is taking a toll. That’s exactly how we felt recently—even though it was just the beginning of the New Year season. So we decided to ditch our usual diet of cheap beer and fast food and say hello to tofu and veggies. Gaya came highly recommended by our friends, so we decided to pay a visit to this vegetable paradise, conveniently located in a small alley off Aoyama Dori.
We knew we had come to the right place from the moment we entered and were greeted warmly by a smiling waitress. Knowing that Gaya is vegan-friendly, we anticipated its interior to be either crazy psychedelic or minimal and earthy. We were happy to be proven wrong. Though we wouldn’t call it chic, Gaya’s black-and-white color scheme and clean-lined furnishings still manage to create a sense urban sophistication.
Most of the restaurant’s dishes are free of egg, meat and dairy products, and everything is made with organic ingredients. That even applies to that izakaya essential—the booze list. Gaya offers organic beers, shochu, sake and wines. We started with a bottle of Argentinean Vita Organica Chardonnay 2006 (¥3,600) along with a “detox” salad (¥920) with a hope of getting rid of all the junk in our partied-out bodies. As self-described veggie aficionados, we have high standards for salads, and Gaya’s passed our test. It came with onion, tomatoes, ginger and chives, and the dressing, made of a wild mountain plant known as udo, had a kick but didn’t overpower the flavors of fresh greens.
Next up was Gaya’s innovative take on nigiri sushi. The brown rice topped with grilled vegetables, including red peppers, mushrooms, carrots and renkon, looked beautiful and tasted just as good. In particular, the hearty rice and flavorful red pepper were an excellent combination; the dish also came with a couple of tempeh-avocado nori rolls (¥1,280). If you’re craving something salty and spicy to go with the organic Echigo beer (¥680), try the chijimi Korean-style pancakes (¥840), made with whole wheat and root vegetables, and served with a spicy brown dipping sauce. Our favorite plate of the night, however, was fried soy “meat” with spicy Chinese sauce (¥840). Served with colorful grilled veggies, the hearty soy was crunchy outside and juicy inside—just like we were hoping.
After finishing a bottle of Vita Organica Cabernet Sauvignon (¥3,600), we proceeded to the dessert menu, where we splurged on apple pie with soy “ice cream” (¥700), chestnut tiramisu (¥600), gateau chocolat (¥700) and—get this—a cheese quesadilla with maple syrup (which is oddly referred to on the menu as “cheese pizza,” ¥840). The quesadilla drew big raves, thanks to the harmony of its salty and sweet flavors.
While we were more than pleased with Gaya’s efficient service and beautifully presented dishes, we felt that the portions were rather small for the price. We had to remind ourselves of the old Japanese saying, “Hara hachibunme,” or “Eat until you’re 80 percent full.” Do it for your body’s sake.