December 24, 2009
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on December 2009
“The Kogi BBQ that’s got LA buzzing finally comes to Tokyo!” proclaims the website for Red Hopper, a Korean fusion restaurant located beneath the tangle of train tracks around Yurakucho station. A few minutes of Googling led us to the website for Kogi Korean BBQ, a Twitter-fueled lunch truck that’s been making the rounds of Los Angeles serving so-called Korean/Mexican cuisine (kogi, we learn, means “meat” in Korean). We’re fairly certain that Red Hopper doesn’t have any official relationship with Kogi, but it would do its Californian counterpart proud.
Despite its location in salaryman central, this is anything but your average izakaya. The bright red ceiling and concrete floor give off an instant pop-art vibe that’s accentuated by the chalkboard-style scribblings and sheets of newspaper and posters covering the black and off-white walls. A stream of seasonally—though perhaps not thematically—appropriate Christmas music piped over the speakers during our visit added an extra jolt of whimsical incongruity.
Red Hopper was mostly empty when we popped in early one Tuesday night, though all of the regular tables had already been taken. The rest of the seating consists of tall bar-style tables—not awful, but backless stools don’t really lend themselves to unwinding after work.
Though Red Hopper claims to be a Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant, the eclectic menu also includes elements of American, Japanese and Chinese cuisine, mostly served in tapas-sized portions. In the interests of research, we tried to sample dishes from as many corners of the globe as possible. Our first round consisted of avocado and shrimp Caesar salad (¥780), seasonal vegetable chijimi (¥780) and avocado and buldak spring rolls (¥500). The latter, made with Korean-style spicy chicken, were crisp and refreshing, though the shiso flavor was a bit too pervasive for our tastes. The chijimi, with squash and zucchini, was better—thick and moist, with two different sauces for dipping. And the salad? Just plain odd.
Next up, we knew we had to try the kogi. Red Hopper’s signature Korean tacos are served with beef, pork or chicken (¥300 each), or you can get a sampling platter with four tortillas and all three toppings (¥1,000). Our flour tortilla came stuffed with marinated chicken, rice noodles, lettuce and tomatoes, and topped with a tangy fusion sauce—an odd taste combination that blended surprisingly well. Our friend went American instead and ordered the Hamburg steak with garlic sour cream sauce (¥1,280), a heart attack-inducing dish that proved to be the surprise hit of the night. The accompanying potatoes, also drenched in thick sauce, were the closest we’ve ever come to a true baked potato in Japan.
All in all, while Red Hopper may be one of the most gastronomically schizophrenic eateries we’ve visited in a long time, the funky interior and solid menu, featuring several standout dishes, make this a place we’d be more than happy to check out again. Maybe once they’ve stopped playing Christmas music.