Wednesday, September 10, 2008

La Brace, Roppongi (Azabu-Juban)

This place should have a nickname in my team, but it doesn’t. We have ‘The Oyaji Place’, ‘The Duck Place’, ‘The Weird Chinese Place’, ‘The Too Much Food Place’, etc. For a while Burdigala was ‘The Good Value Italian Place’, but that was mainly because of the bread (which changed, along with the increased price and downgraded appetizers; what happened there, guys?), so I think La Brace owns the title now with their Y1200 pasta lunch.

Interestingly, they’re similar places in the sense that you get tablecloths, suited and attentive waiters, pasta sets, etc. La Brace makes it happen on the pasta though – it’s actually interesting and not just a choice between Bolognese, clam and risotto. Actually the Bolognese that my friend had on Friday looked really good…but the sort of creativity that I’m talking about is a pappardelle that actually comes with rabbit like you might expect, or gnocchi made from purple potatoes and with a dollop of fresh cream on top. The set salad puts me in mind of something I read once (in The Man Who Ate Everything) – ‘thoughtfully composed’. In this case it’s just lettuce with some meat, but last week it was three different slices of meat, which is a bit of bonus. If you spring for the Y2200 set, you’ll get a mixed appetizer with some meat, some cured fish, maybe a little fried fish, and a corner of salad (this being 4 things on a square plate). You’ll get to choose from a bigger set of pastas (I think 7 types instead of 4). You’ll also get a dessert, which is an odd mélange of things (how do you say that in Italian? Mescolanza?) – from memory, it’s bits of ice cream, sorbet, jelly and cake, all on one plate. Confusing and mismatched (chocolate cake with lemon jelly?), but not unwelcome. I usually find the higher-priced set to be worth it despite the price, but it depends on whether the additional choice in pasta opens up something really interesting or not.

If you’re quibbling over medium-expensive Italian lunch places, you’d compare La Brace to l’Osteria to Burdigala. The cheap lunch at La Brace is several hundred yen cheaper than either of the others. The salad is the best of the three, the pastas are usually more interesting as well, and the service is equal. The coffee might be better at l’Osteria (which I think is slightly superior to Burdigala, and at no extra charge for cappuccino), and the bread is better at Burdigala despite the downgrade (Yes, I’m obsessed with their change of bread. It was either in 2005 or 2006, and I still haven’t gotten over it. The original bread was that good!). So on balance the cheap set is the pick of the three, and the expensive set is almost always a clear improvement, with more interesting pastas and the tidy mixed antipasti plate. Only downside is the location at the top of the Juban shopping street (i.e. near Savoy or Food Magazine), which is a bit far depending on where you work. Come to think of it, I've been there for dinner too. Prices a bit higher, but everything mostly the same in a good way.

Pour me another cup of coffee...

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