Monday, September 29, 2008

Kyutoku, Roppongi

There's a whole raft of restaurants in Roppongi Hills that I haven't been to recently and thus haven't written about. Now that I've been to it recently, here's one of 'em.

Kyutoku is commonly known as 'the three-bowls' place, because the normal lunch is three varieties of udon (or donburi) chosen from 10 or 12, for Y1200 (Y1000 with your Roppongi Hillz card). The udon is inaniwa style, so very thin and white - or as the outside wall decorations put it, 'sensitively spun as white thread'. I think it's a little bland, but perhaps that's my Western preference for strong flavors and inability to understand the delicacy and sensitivity of the noodle... I'm reminded of Fil Lewitt, who has recently written about this dilemma (in addition, of course to his other works including Hi Hai High: Zen and the Art of Backpacking). But I digress. Frequently.

The menu has changed since last time - at least I know the kamoseiro is gone. Now there's a tom yum and a kakiage don in addition to the plain (hot and cold), kalamiso (hot and cold), mushroom, yamaimo, clam, maguro zuke don, shirasu don and others to choose for your 3. It all comes with some pickles, another small dish (today, cold tempura yamaimo; is this nanban-zuke?) and a tiny dessert. It's strangely filling, but I think mostly because you'll end up drinking the soup that floats all the noodles.

Sensitively spinning...
03 5772 9109

Le Pre Verre, Omotesando

Wow, it was just last week that I found my new favorite restaurant, and whaddya know - I've found my new favorite restaurant! Amazingly enough, it's a bistro-style French restaurant...who would've expected that from ME?!

It's always pleasant when you're strolling around a neighborhood, taking in the sights, and your companion points to a restaurant and says "Hey, that looks nice!" and you have the luxury of saying "Really? It just so happens that we have a reservation there in 10 minutes." It's also pleasant when said restaurant is on an upper floor of the Gyre building in Omotesando (you may know this as the 'Chanel' or 'Bvlgari' building depending on your tastes) and has nice views over the rooftops toward Shibuya. So Parisian!

The concept here is evidently similar to the sister restaurant in Paris - nice modern bistro food (they say 'Bistronomie') in sparse, modern, stylish surroundings (50's-style tables with molded metal edges, paired with black and red leather-covered chairs; bright colors; chalkboard menus). The service was distinctive and odd; we felt that our waiter, a mid-60's fellow with a few remaining hairs and a pursed mouth, had lived in Paris and was doing his best to bring back some brusque, attitudinal service (and succeeding - like when he approached the girls at the next table and said "Eat your potatoes!" and walked away).

The real point is that it's real cheap. The set lunches come in 3 varieties with no choice of dishes except dessert - Y1300 for a main and coffee, Y2600 for entree, main, dessert and coffee, or Y3200 for the 'crustacean menu' (all of this from memory, but I hope accurate). If you order a la carte, it's Y4800 for 3 courses. I did this, and still felt like it was acceptable value. But Y2600 for the set lunch was ridiculous (in a good-bad-but-not-evil way). That started with a cured salmon topped with olive-and-something-unidentifiable-but-really-tasty paste. My duck terrine with wine jelly and pickled celery terrine was similarly interesting and fresh. The cheap main was swordfish steak, crusted with poppy seeds and surrounded by a brilliant orange sauce in painterly splotches. The expensive main was veal cheek, which I was mildly worried about because beef cheek can be so soft and sticky, and this was veal. It was really nice though - firm enough, beefy enough, the sauce not too heavy. Desserts were simple but good - a baba with extra rum on the side for me, and some slices of chocolate terrine with vanilla sauce for her. The poached fig dessert looked nice, but wasn't to be.

The wine list is a little expensive for the surrounding food prices - not a lot of bottles under Y6000. This is because of the wine philosophy though - all biodynamique, small-production. There's a good list by the glass and carafe that takes a little of the sting out of the prices, especially when it's lunch time and you don't want to work through a whole bottle.

En garde, you filthy aubergine!

03 3486 1603

Jim Thompson's Table, Akasaka

I like Thai food. I really like Thai food. I could mostly eat just Thai and Japanese and French food every day, with perhaps a little Mexican, American, and Italian thrown in for variety. But only those. A Thai buffet is therefore an awfully tempting proposition, especially if it also includes some Japanese and French items. Jim Thompson's doesn't, but we'll let it go this time. Maybe they'll pick up their game in the future.

Akasaka Biz Tower is a nice development; there are a lot of places I'd like to try (mainly Delirium Cafe!). One downer if you're looking at JTT as a lunch destination is the Y1000 taxi ride to get there. Couple that with the Y1800 buffet price, and you're looking at an expensive lunch. As a Friday 2-hour splurge, however, it's pretty cool.

The buffet had about ten items - two kinds of woon sen (yam and also fried), fried chicken, larb, curry, tom yum, fried and regular rice, some desserts... more than enough variety. It's tasty too! Maybe missing a little of the spice that you get at my personal favorite, Tinun, but I think they're going for a bit of refinement to match the decor (high ceilings, flowy drapes, Thai furniture). Buffet drinks were limited to iced jasmine tea.

Now that I think about it, I can imagine some other pretty good ways to use Y2800. But with good company and a lazy schedule, this was nice!

Shiver me timbers! I like how the web site manages to show JT's house in Bangkok and also Photoshop in some pictures of contemporary homewares to subtly reinforce the point that the JT empire covers ties, dining AND couches now...
03 5545 7760

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ichidai (一代), Monzennakacho

Per earlier comments, I feel like I've been eating out in Tokyo for a good while now - especially in Monzen Nakacho and at French restaurants. I guess I should stop being surprised by this, but I was pretty well knocked back when I went into a tiny sushi counter a few days ago and knew the chef. This was a bit different though - not the fun reunion atmosphere I found at Pivoine or other places when this happened.

There's a funny little street in Monzen Nakacho called Tatsumi Shindo (I think...辰巳新道. Some pictures here). Imagine a bricked alley about 3 meters wide, with nothing but tiny counter restaurants, many of which are karaoke. The places are all so small that the bathrooms are communal affairs not inside any restaurant. I always wanted to go someplace on this street - you know how I love little 'secret' places. But every shop has frosted windows, or no windows, and the soft sounds of enka wafting out to the street are less than friendly to foreigners.

I finally decided I was going to brave at least one place the other night. The clear outstanding candidate (trim and neat outside, nice sign, sprightly green noren) turned out to be sushi, and there it was. I did the ceremonial door-opening, the one where you think "What the heck am I getting into?", got welcomed, and was stuck.

I recognized the chef, and vice versa, and he gave me a hearty greeting. I looked around and saw the disorganized chairs, the plastic bags of supplies cluttering the open counter space, the jumble of cooking equipment behind the counter, and the scruffy team already comfortably situated and suitably pickled at the bar...and wished I could leave. But I couldn't.

This chef left Sushi Zanmai about two years ago and struck out on his own. He said, "So, busy at work?"; I said "Yeah, this week was really bad"; he said "Well, I have lots of free time recently!" with a little desperation. Like the team smoking, drinking and shouting at the counter, he looked a little chubbier than he used to, and a little less washed, and his smile was forced.

I got through a bottle of beer, some fishes that aren't worth talking about, and wandered home. Where was the pride?

Hopefully I don't get beaten up on the street for this review...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Il Pacioccone, Aoyama

A November 2009 update from my September 2008 post below: having gone for dinner in the company of others, I still recommend this place. While we had some mussels (fresh, plump), a caprese (cheese a little too solid, but still good), and a bagna cauda (very good balance of anchovies and garlic but somewhat limited supply of vegetables), the highlight was again the sausage. In this case seasonal wild boar, bearing every sign of being encased in a natural boar or sheep-intestine casing. Perfectly-spiced, meat ground to the right consistency, stewed in tomato sauce, with some vegetables...excellent. It was heaving full on a Friday night, but the staff still found time to offer the house focaccia at regular intervals.
Roppongi Dori can look like a wasteland sometimes - the weird and inhospitable stretch between Nishi Azabu and Shibuya. I wandered around and found myself there at lunch time after a meeting in Shibuya, and as I wandered I wondered where to eat.

I've actually been there before, on foot, oddly enough. Right around the corner from Body and Soul were two places, one basement French (Tastevin, closed at lunch) and another Italian, which my friend had been to for lunch. Once I remembered that, I had it in mind as a goal, seeing as I'm unlikely to be in that neighborhood ever again. Unless I mysteriously end up working at Coke, which is across the street.

Il Pacioccone isn't a very hospitable name to say, and the staff on the ground floor seemed a little puzzled at a single foreigner dropping by for lunch. Once I got upstairs to the dining room, everything turned around nicely. It was busy, crowded, and decorated in a delightfully...tacky faux-Italiante Rennaissance neo-villa style. Or something. But there were lots of wine bottles, italian signs (like the emergency exit! Is that really up to code?), and other trappings of the mother country.

I get the feeling that most people go there for lunch and have a pizza or pasta (Y1050 incl. coffee and a tiny faux-Italianate Rennaissance slice of chocolate cake with fresh cream). When I ordered a carpaccio (Y1050) and the daily main (sausages, Y1500), the staff started treating me like I was there to eat seriously, not offend them by charging through a pizza and leaving. The chef brought out a massive, freshly-baked focaccia, crusted with salt and including a few tasty fried onions. I stared at it until he cut it and brought a big plate over to me. Unsure of what to do (and basically eager to take the whole plate and thank him), I just stared until he said "Go ahead, take 2. Or 3. Whatever!"

Carpaccio was definitely wagyu as advertised. No mistaking the taste of that fat...somehow it was a bit tough though (in another nice move, another waiter brought me a serrated knife after seeing me try to cut the meat with a normal knife). Sausages were great! So obviously home-made, with a strong pork taste and tons of herbs. They came with these potatoes, wedges deep-fried with rosemary. I think there's a name for that. I feel like I read about it one time.

Dessert - nothing special. I'll try not to go faux-Italianate this time. Coffee - good espresso. Really all that was missing from this experience was a bottle of Chianti and an afternoon off...

I walked up from Shibuya, and then back to Roppongi Hills, so in theory it's within range. But it's about 10 minutes from Nishi Azabu crossing, so really not practical either way. Let your conscience be your guide.
That's amore! There's nothing like a gay tarantella, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ostrea, Roppongi

Coming out of the office after work and trying to think of a place to go (that wasn't Heartland) we were greeted by the puzzling sight of a new and attractive-looking restaurant where previously there was only...I'm not even sure, but it sure wasn't an oyster bar with a big beverage selection. Almost directly across from Roppongi Hills, this seems like a convenient after-work destination. Evidently they have lunch too, but I have a feeling it's not going to involve oysters flown in from various bits of Japan, Australia, America, etc.

There were about 10 varieties of oyster nicely labeled in the iced case at the front, as well as a few happy red little crabs. We stuck with Japanese ones, none of whose names I can remember but all of whom were fresh and tasty. Nicely-done service, on ice with some lemon slices, and vinegar and cocktail sauce on the side. At Y300-500 each these aren't cheap, but somehow I've convinced myself that it's not that bad for Tokyo either.

Additional food menu sounded nice, but we didn't get into it. Just a bagna cauda that seemed OK but didn't get full marks for excitement vs. what I'm told is the benchmark at Kiora in Juban.

Drinks menu wins some points from me - diverse beer selection, a number of wines by the glass, sherry, cocktails...the mojito came to the table well-pounded and full of mint; the martinis came to the table still on ice in glass pitchers, to be poured by the waiters, who then waved a bit of lemon peel over the glasses ritualistically. And at oddly good prices - simple cocktails for Y690 are a real oddity to me. NZ Sauvignon Blanc for Y1000 is less accommodating, but sitll nice to have on the menu to go with the oysters.

All in all, this is an excellent after-work destination, and I'll have to try it for lunch now that I'm back on schedule to have lunch in Roppongi. Branches in Akasaka-Mitsuke and also Ginza 8 (Jewel Box building? in any event, near Fal, which is convenient).

Ahh, opened 9/5. The oysters are actually listed on the menu here. We had mostly Sanpoushi and Kakiemon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Suji's, Roppongi

While looking for Suji's web site, I saw another reviewer describe it as 'unwelcoming'. I don't know that I'd agree with that - it's just like being in America. And how can anything American be unwelcoming? On a rainy day when you've woken up to find yourself employed by a different and significantly more Japanese company, little touches of home are welcome. As long as said touches don't include Republicans.

The food doesn't count as 'little touches of home' though. Everything is WAY too big for that. Puts me in mind of how much weight I gained when I moved back to America for a couple months - coming from overseas, and being a plate-clearer by nature, I started eating twice as much as I was used to. The lunch menu at Suji's is pretty well-stocked with Americanisms - many burgers, some salads (e.g., Cobb), pancakes (choco-chip!) and omelettes even at lunch...very comforting stuff that will leave you stuffed. I had a...let me see...ah, Blue Madness Burger, which included bacon (Delicious! Really great bacon!), blue cheese, two big slices of tomato, and a whole lettuce leaf. Comes with fries - more of the 'wedge' variety, which I don't like at all. Comes with a little cole slaw - finely-chopped, quite wet, tasty! Comes with the beverage of your choice - bottomless coffee or canned soda. I had an A&W Cream Soda. Howzat!?!

Downside - the prices. Seriously, what's up with them? My burger was Y1800 including soda (there are simpler burgers that are 'only' Y1500). For that price one could go to the Oak Door and get a burger which would be slightly smaller, a bit more perfect, on mildly tastier bread (Suji's is very wheaty, which some didn't like), with better (thinner) fries, accompanied by ketchup in a tiny copper saucepan, in really nice surroundings. I think this place should be a LOT cheaper, especially considering the way-out-of-the-way location (Azabudai, I think, near Aux Gourmands on the way to Tokyo Tower from Roppongi Crossing).

Can't help it, the name still makes me think of tendon

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Moti, Roppongi

Nothing says love like a succession of massive days in the office over the weekend, toiling away for your failed firm. And nothing puts the cherry on the icing on the cake like a big glutinous mass of Indian food plus some hot 'n' fresh naan.

As an aside, in 1998 when I was working as a consultant for Elmhurst Hospital (suburban Chicago), there was someone on staff whose name was Nan. I always thought of Indian food when I saw her. I sure do like asides, don't I?

This dark and rainy Sunday, my team took a break from work to get some nice, hot dinner. Breaks up the monotony of conbini dining hell that we've endured for the last 3 days! Somehow Indian became the go, and since we were summarily disallowed to go to the newish Indian place behind the office (cleverly named 'La Loggia', which lets the new restaurant keep the signs from the old Italian place!), we ended up at Moti. A nice bonus is that you can get there from Roppongi Hills with only about 3 seconds of outside time.

This is a place that I don't like to go for lunch. It's just not good enough, even though it's close to the office. Generally I would say to walk to Spice Garden near A-Life (more humble, but cheaper and somehow tastier too) or else all the way to the North side of the crossing to go to Raj Mahal. Or Diya, inside Roppongi Hills.

The food for dinner was OK. Saag chicken - thick and gluey, a bit spicy. Not bad. Mutton Masala (extra spicy order) - actually fairly spicy, mutton tasty and with not too much nasty bit. Finally a Malai Kofta, which was three balls of chick-pea flour (I think) in sweet and salty yellow glue. The naan were hot and fresh (garlic and regular). This was all a little better than I've made it sound above! Bill for 3 including tea at the end was Y7500.

I think this place is a bit of an institution. The semi-gaudy Indian decor is kinda neat, the food and service are OK, it's a little more expensive than I'd like...all in all, maybe worth a visit once?

Naans away!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Salut, Ebisu

Update March 13, 2010: This place rules. It's exactly as described below, prices are still the same, room is still cheery, food is better than I remembered - mains in particular, where my fennel-stuffed, bacon-rolled rabbit loin was artistic and delicious. Chestnut + cream+ ice cream + candied walnuts + crunchy chocolate topping (like shredded chocolate phyllo) also really good. You should go.

Original post, September 18, 2008 - just after Lehman Schock!

Have I ever mentioned my motto, my life philosophy, dare I say my 'North Star'? It's simple:

"Never let the sudden, spectacular, crushing, public failure of your company keep you from eating out."

With that in mind I headed out on a weeknight, looking for something hot and French in Ebisu. Taking the long way around, I actually walked over from Roppongi, which produced first a healthy appetite, then exhaustion as we walked around Ebisu for a while looking at options. First choice, spotted on the way over and gone back to, was Artichaux, which turned out to be closed for a private party. This turned out well, because far on the other side of town we eventually stumbled on Salut, which is exactly the kind of restaurant I like. An added bonus is that it doesn't appear on Dominic's blog, which means it's the only French restaurant in Ebisu to hold that honor.

How do I like thee? Let me count the wayz, yo. Clean, simple decor. Attentive but not intrusive staff. Reasonable prices (3 courses, Y5880 + 10%). Wine list with a LOT of bottles around Y5000. Properly-sized menu (8-10 appetizers, same # of mains, 4 desserts). Thoughtful, interesting food. Decent desserts.

Everyone likes the same things as me, right? Right. I'm a big sucker for seeing a Vin de Table on a wine list, because I feel like it's a neat opportunity to discover something interesting for a reasonable price. The one we drank last night was a French merlot called Quintessence. It cost less than the amuse at the similarly-named restaurant in Tokyo... The rest of the wine list has plenty of cheap bottles that I hope are just as interesting and tasty, then escalates into the realms of expensive.

Menu! The amuse was a bit of toast with pureed hamo (the bony fish) and a little slice of kamo (the bird). Something sweet was slathered on top, and it came together well. To start, I had the boudin blanc, which was 2 links nicely presented, very light and airy and topped with sauteed chanterelles (must be the season. A Ta Geule, elsewhere in Ebisu, had a big basket of them outside, but no table for us!). These were more like a meringue sausage than anything else! I had an uneasy feeling that it was really shirako, but enjoyed it. The other appetizers I saw were the pie of pork trotters at the next table (looked good!) and the shellfish (something sorta sazae-looking) cooked escargot-style that were across the table from me.

Mains: My 'pork three ways' turned out to be more or less choucroute garni; a big pile of cabbage and beans and bacon stewed together, then topped with a sausage, some boiled pork, and a thick slice of crisped pancetta. The other main was a quail, butterflied out to within an inch of its little life and then grilled up tastily. It came with that light, delicious lemon soup that traditionally accompanies 'finger foods' like quail and lamb.

Desserts: actually some proper items there. My peach chou was neat - take a regular chou and slide in a poached sliced wedge of white peach. Classy! And the pot de banane was the sort of all-in-one dessert that's popular these days (banana pudding, some kind of mousse, some kind of jelly and some kind of ice cream) but all seemed to go together well.

There you have it, my new favorite French restaurant! Until the next one comes along.

Seems like they only have a Yahoo site
But the lovely Camille31 wrote about it with some pitchers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Baggio, Roppongi

One of the happiest days of my life was when I learned Baggio was doing lunches. Until then they were hit-or-miss, mostly miss, with no pizzas, only pasta, and some months no lunch at all. Frankly not so interesting; pasta doesn't pay the bills. So when I found out a few months ago that they'd have pizza at noon, I went three times in a week.

Baggio pizza is really the best. Can I repeat that? It's the best. I know people like to fantasize about things like the fancy place in midtown, or go to Savoy for super-fresh pizza, but Baggio is a more balanced and, dare I say it, better experience. When you go for dinner, they have 4 sections of pizza on the menu; a sauceless section, a saucy section, a sauce-n-cheesy section, and some other mystery section (I think the squid ink pizza is in that section). I can't remember a bad pizza; for me the crust gets it just right by being not too thin, and nicely chewy instead of crunchy around the edges. If you start with a strong base, pretty much anything will go well on top. Maybe it's the oven, which is (of course) clearly imported from Italy and holds pride-of-place right in the middle of the semi-open kitchen? It's been rumored in the past that the staff takes vacations to Italy to practice pizza-making in the native environment.

Oh, I got carried away there. For lunch they only have pizza sets (salad and coffee), and you can only choose 4 pizzas (marinara, margherita, 4-cheese and daily special, which seems to be specially the same every daily - something with shirasu.) The pizza is full-quality but slightly smaller than the dinner size, which makes it just right.

There's always another section of menu at dinner, both specials and regulars, pasta and anti. Some carpaccio (fish), various oven-baked mshrooms and scallops and things, salads, pastas... and they're not bad. But you wouldn't want to let that distract you from eating a ton of pizza, would you?

Seems to have disappeared from Gurunavi...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shanghai Dream, Roppongi

Inspired by my last visit to Hutong and realization that I don't know enough about Chinese lunches, I maneuvered today's lunch into a trip to Shanghai Dream, known (to me) as 'the orange-fronted place'. This is on Roppongi Dori's south side, on the way to Nishi Azabu (near the horrible Charleston Cafe, or the quite good tempura Kawana 川奈). It's not my new favorite, but it was good. It seemed more Chinese somehow.

In fact, we ended up there because we tried to go to the more classy place across the street and were told that my friend couldn't smoke. No such problem here; lots of Chinese people smoking away.

Plenty of lunch sets for Y1000. I had the pork kakuni and agetofu in thick brown sauce (I'm sure there's a name) and it was great - nice and sweet, the pork very tasty, the fat soft and not-objectionable (but still extremely thick, so I didn't eat all of it), and the tofu deeply fried so there was plenty of the good bit (the fry) and less of the waste bit (the tofu). My friend had the 5-thing fried noodles (五目焼きそば) which actually seemed to be deep-fried noodles instead. The gomoku was in thick sauce (あんかけ) and had so much seafood that it should have just been called that. Good stuff, and good value when it also comes with some kind of corn-chicken soup, some pickles, and a single dim sum. Plus an ashtray, can't forget the ashtray!

The ambience felt like the real deal - modern but strangely timeless, dim lights, people smoking and speaking Chinese. Service was extra-brisk but not unfriendly.

Not my new favorite, but more than worthy of sen yen now and then.

Whaddya know, it's not really called Shanghai Dream, or even 上海夢. It's 小天地. Hmmm.

Livedoor site...

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...

Ammirare Firenze, Kamakura

Well off the beaten path for this one, but I was joining my friend for a (pretty terrible) sort of community-themed live music event near his house in Kamakura. And when venturing into the wilderness like that, I always figure one should make the most of it and explore some local fare.

After hours of searching the internet for an appetizing-looking place in Kamakura or Yokohama (I figured it’s on the way and bigger, so there must be something good, right?) I got frustrated and gave up for the day. There was a place I had seen in Tokyo Calendar, but I couldn’t find it on line. Turns out it was Ammirare Firenze, and I could find it on line, but it didn’t look as good in the Web as it had in the magazine. Anyway, I booked it up and let it fly.

Given the amount of time that it takes to get to Kamakura and some sudden rain, we were almost 90 minutes late (I called to advise, twice). The staff accepted this with good humor; it seems they’re open all afternoon anyway, which is a nice touch for a place sort of midway between the station and the beach. There’s a very nice terrace outside, partly facing the busy street and part facing some modern buildings across an alley (a situation that reminded me a lot of Thailand for some reason). Despite the ceiling fans, we sat inside, which was modern, brown/stone, dark and cool.

Good value menus! I think the basic 3-course lunch was Y1800. I had the Y3000 which included appetizer, pasta, main, dessert and coffee. This was just over a week ago, but I’m already limited in how much I can remember. Two things stand out: orrechiette with clams and kalasumi (which you’ll see on the web site and in the magazine ad) was nice – good flavor and texture. As yet another aside, this is the dish that has since inspired me to make orrechiette twice, neither time working out very well. The main of pork cutlet (like a Weener Shnitzel or somethin’ like that) was surprising because it was so porky in such a tasty way. Glass wine was sensibly priced and goodly value.

There you go – pleasant, a few memorable items, good value…good for a Saturday lunch in my book! If you’re in that odd bit of neighborhood, and feel the need, you could do worse.

How do they make that pasta?

Hu Tong San La Ju, Roppongi

Duck! To my knowledge, this is the only place to go if you really want a duck lunch in Roppongi (Café Eight is known for it, but only at dinner, and their lunches are insipid – I think of it as bad Chinese diner.) The too-much-food and too-tasty Y2000 duck lunch is well-met by lots of other stir-fried and noodled options, many of which are in the Y1000 range, and those nice gyoza that come to the table too hot to eat in their own cute little pan.

As part of the Kiwa Group (along with Wan Zhu Ji, which has branches in Monzennakacho, Kiba, and Hatchobori among their 43, so I’m all over it), Hu Tong goes in for what I think of as the ‘country Chinese’ décor. I don’t really know what that means (other than what I’ve seen in kung fu movies!), but the walls are white and rough, the furniture is dark wood and rough, the service is Chinese and rough…there’s a theme.

The food is definitely tasty and authentic, based on my deep exploration of Chinese culture and cuisine while growing up in southern New Jersey. The duck is pretty good (a lot of meat on each piece, but not enough crispness to the skin), the fried things are tasty in a very-oily-but-fresh way, and the noodles are often very tasty (black sesame noodles are my very favorite, especially the ones with no soup, or even better the cold ones that are special to Summer. Just to be explicit, we mean 黒ゴマ坦々麺 (汁なし), or 冷やし坦々麺 or something like that.). Yesterday I had the chicken and chili stir fry, which is an awful lot of soft and tasty chicken with lots of bamboo and pepper mixed in. Not that spicy, come to think of it. I’m also a fan of the aforementioned gyoza, but trying not to overeat quite so often these days…

I think this is the go for Chinese lunch. Chin Kinichi has its points, Eight is OK once in a great while for a strange mood, I haven’t been to the place across and just West of Roppongi Hills by the pedestrian underpass, and I’m not sure about the place with the orange front that’s on the South side of Roppongi Dori on the way to Nishi Azabu. Just like the New Jersey thing, I’m not such an expert on Chinese food, even Roppongi lunches!

Group web site

Uotei, Monzennakacho

I’m a little unsure what Uotei is supposed to be – izakaya? Sushi? Just a fish specialist? [As the first of many asides that I assume I’ll write soon, I’ve spent most of the last 4 years thinking it was called Sakana Tei, and only just learned from the web page that it’s actually Uotei. Ahhhh, the mysteries of restaurant naming.] I do know that it’s always got a seat at the counter when I go, is always fresh and tasty, and is always just that little bit more expensive than I wanted to pay, all of which lets you know the chef is not only a keen chef but a businessman in the Japanese sense (wait for a market to bear what you charge). Recommended if you have the money handy.

The star of my recent visit (just after leaving the unfortunate Hyakumi) was undoubtedly an unfortunate tailagai, who was relaxing quite peacefully in half his shell, various organs and bits intact, until we ordered him up. At that point a flurry of sharp activity descended on him, and we were shortly presented with tailagai 3 ways – the main meat roughly chopped, some sort of skirty-bits, and yet another set of slices of some other part. My very perceptive description doesn’t do justice to his tastiness, and probably demeans said formerly-living creature a little bit, but who has time to learn the bits of an obscure shellfish? At Y3000, he was the formerly-living embodiment of the cooking / businessing philosophy espoused above.

It’s pretty much always like that – there’s a loverly counter with a very old-fashioned case for the fishes. It’s not refrigerated, so the bottom is lined every night with what seems to be a custom-cut piece of crystal-clear block ice. Very pretty, cold as…well, ice, and another of the subtle hints that they’re thinking things through here. The top of the case features a selection of fresh vegetables available for you. This time we had some asparagus, which was peeled and steamed and chopped and topped with mayo and katsuobushi and delivered to us with the fish still dancing.

Only complaints I have here are the price (just that little bit too high…I resist going too often as a result) and the master – if you’re picking nits, you’d say that his smile and service mentality are impeccable but extremely fake. Depends on what matters to you and what you want to pick on. But this place is worth a go at least once.