Friday, October 31, 2008

Oriental Princess, Roppongi

Ahhh, Oriental Princess. You know, this was the first place I ever had lunch as a Lehman Brothers employee? Thanks Scottie! Phew, that seems like a lifetime ago. I love their slogan - "Spicy Asian Diet"!

The Princess is a basic Japanized Thai place. For lunch you can get a couple choices - curry plate with 2 curries and some woon sen and some salad, maybe a beef salad, maybe a pasta (this always happens at Japanese ethnic restaurants, doesn't it?). The food is competent, not too spicy, and adequately meets the need for Thai if, for example, it's raining and you don't feel like walking all the way to Golden Burning or Bangkok.

The new twist (to me, at least) is the buffet - now Y1200, all the lunches include a buffet of woon sen, tofu, salad and a few pudding-style desserts (mango and berry, I think). This seems like an attempt to replicate the Jim Thompson buffet, but it's not an especially good attempt. On the other hand, it's Y600 cheaper, and NOT a taxi ride away, meaning you save a solid Y1500. It's worth that difference.

I think I could survive on a diet of spicy Asians...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ciao Bella, Roppongi

Faced with the upcoming decampment from Roppongi, the denouement of my Roppongi lunching career if you will, I feel a burning need to get around to as many restaurants as I can manage. And if I have to spend a bit to do it, well, them's the breaks. We also need one more leisurely lunch at Cicada...

Ciao Bella is kinda tucked away behind Baggio and Piatto^2, on the east side of the Aoyama tunnel entrance. You wouldn't know it's back there; I saw it on the gurunabi map and then met the French place next to it when I went to have a look. Both of these places are in the high Y2K's (to coin a phrase) for lunch, so I wouldn't ordinarily do it. But again, as our happy and odd times here wind to a close... The French place looks a bit nicer (as French places do to me, when compared to Italian) but was Y200 more and also featured the special set menu of pig's trotter and tongue so:

Ciao Bella has a sort of industrial-Tuscan motif going on - yellow walls and tiled floor but exposed, black-painted workings overhead. And the chairs were really soft! We sank in. The open kitchen and bar take up the right side of the space in a pleasingly bustling way, and there are probably about 40 seats. Service was quiet and competent, as it should be for the 5% surcharge.

The food is described as 'cuisine nature', which may mean it's organic or something. For our Y2600 we got a starter, pasta, dessert and coffee, plus two thimble-sized hot breadrolls. Starters included my very nice squid stuffed with squid bits, pancetta and bread or else an oyster-and-autumn-vegetable frite. Pastas were both very fresh and obviously handmade - mine a short, springy one (like last week's picci, but short and thick) with ground pork and eggplant sauce; the eggplant was interesting, still a touch crunchy but not objectionable, it almost seemed to have been quickly deep-fried. The other pasta was linguini-ish, and a very thick one at that (on my Marcato, I bet it would be a 6 or maybe even 5) with very wild-tasting fresh mushroom sauce. Dessert was worth mentioning - a mille feuille of vanilla cream and pears poached in red wine. Coffee was worth forgetting, except for the strange finely-ground brown sugar it came with.

Well, another one off the list.

Service charge for lunch? Seriously?


Houblon, Ginza

Boyz, this is it. You think you've been to a Belgian beer bar in Tokyo? If it wasn't Houblon, you haven't. They have the atmosphere, they have the food, and they have a menu big enough to break the camel's back, with 300 types of beer (some of which are even in stock!).

There's a rash of Belgian places in Tokyo. Not quite as bad as Spain bars, and better for me because I prefer Belgian beer to Spain bar. They're all variations on a theme - how many beers do we have? Houblon leaves the competition in the dust. Actually it doesn't even recognize the competition as competition. The point is the beer, and they have 300. More than a whole page of the book (the beer menu is bound in black and thicker than a steak in Texas) is devoted to raspberry beers. There is more than one banana beer. There are rafts of golden beer, brown beer, red beer, abbey beer, Wallonian Ale, and all manner of foolishness. I admit, we ran into a few that were not in stock, but what kinda tool orders oude geuze on a regular basis?

Food is sorta Belgian-bar-in-Japan styled (not surprisingly). Beef stewed in beer. Namaham with potato salad. Mussels (not bad, not bad) and frites (pretty good, pretty good!). Nothing to write home about, but if you're there for the food...why did you go there, and how are you reading this?

Hoist a few.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Aladdin, Roppongi

"I want Indian."
"I want to eat a lot."
"Let's go to Aladdin."
These things go together.

Aladdin's Y1200 lunch buffet is the thing to do when you want to eat a lot of mediocre curry and tasty lamb (used to be Y1000 but has increased due to 'rising food costs').

Let me skip the service and atmosphere dimensions. The buffet includes soup, several kinds of rice, salad (of a presumably Iranian type that has chopped tomatoes, onions and somewhat unidentified green things), pita or this interesting fried rice cake thing (imagine taking watery rice, spreading it thin in a pan, and cooking it until the bottom dried out and got brown and toasty), three curries, a meat item (lamb patties or lamb chops), and a bizarro item (today, spaghetti!). And dessert, always some kind of pudding, often rice (today basmati, which was nice except for the skin on top).

I kinda like the food. The spices are different - today one of the mystery Iranian items was a vegetable-based cakey thing that included a lot of mint. The spinach-y looking curry is definitely not saag; it includes a lot of a spice I can't identify. It's worth mentioning that the lamb items are a high point; it was the lamb chops that Bjorn first mentioned when he was trying to convince me to go there (I was opposed because Scott decided years ago never to go there again after getting poor service despite being a very regular customer). The lamb chops are beautifully soft, with the fat rendered out, and come in a big ol' bin that means you can eat as many as you want. In Australia this many lamb chops on a rack used to cost me $30.

Right now I feel a little sick, but that's just the buffet action in action...

We guarantee that your lunch fees will not be used to fund nuclear research.

Matagi, Nishi Azabu

I feel like this review should be written in grunts, sort of like the noises that would be made by a wild boar as he snuffles through the undergrowth just before being blown away by a shotgun wielded by one of Matagi's 'sourcers'. While new to me, coming through the pages of a back-issue of Tokyo Calendar, this place is evidently well-known to both epicureans and wild game alike. Though for different reasons.

In the bathroom, there's a calendar hanging over the toilet. This month it shows a cute lil' chipmunk in closeup in a woodland setting. I thought this was great! Then my eyes wandered up and I saw a small shotgun. Then my eyes wandered down and I saw some bullets! And the name of the gun shop that sent along the calendar. It's that kind of place.

Mounted deer heads on the wall. A stuffed wild boar. A stuffed trout. Some preserved giant mushrooms. More or less one giant table that would seat 30, with a fire pit down the middle. The staff brings a pot of charcoal, which they carefully arrange directly on the sand in the pit, then put a grate over the whole affair and leave you with your plate of deer. Or boar. Or bear. Really! Guys next to us were eating 8-inch wide wild mushrooms. Hostesses in the booth opposite us were eating nabe which looked delicious. With a little coaching on how long to cook things, we decided that neither the deer nor the boar were too strong, too tough or too anything. They were tasty! Since it was a casual Tuesday night and my friend had already eaten, we couldn't order any bear or nabe, but we'll be back. Glasses of red wine were strangely tasty, once they warmed up from their unfortunate refrigeration.

The regular customers (the ones that gave each other the secret wink and had their personal chopsticks waiting for them, and I'm not joking here) ordered sashimi to start. Evidently there are grilled fish options too (the slogan is 山人料理、海人料理). It's rustic and yet civilized - for example oshibori at the beginning and end of the meal, properly warm and moist, with a bit of 'clean' smell that some will like and some will find mildly offensive (based on our sample of two).

As the Old Cowboy in the Big Lebowski said, "Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you." On this night, neither of us did any eating. But I think I can claim some moral superiority because I walked out under my own power, while the bear was still cut in pieces and refrigerated in the kitchen...

Mmmmmmm, bear.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Derriere, Nishi Azabu

After a large pizza lunch, what do you need? Coffee and cake!

Derriere is a cute little cafe, ideal for ladies who lunch with their kids and bankers who don't work on Tuesday afternoons. They have a big cooler full of beautiful, traditional-style cakes (4 types of chiffon! see the web site) and serve coffee with it. Some kind of crazy tradition in Japan, evidently, serving coffee with cake. Is the shop's name amusing to anyone else?

Several types of mille-crepe (one with montblanc-style pureed chestnuts on top). 4 kinds of chiffon, all very tall and with very, very beautiful icing. Tiramisu cake. I had the 'mahogany' chiffon - felt like I had to order it after I asked the staff why it was called mahogany. Turns out it's because the cake is chocolate. Get it? I'm here to tell you, it doesn't look at all like mahogany. The neck of my first good banjo was mahogany, as is the body of my Anderson, and this cake looked nothing like either of those instruments. But it was a good cake, and the fresh-cream icing was thick, light and tasty.

I felt mildly hard-done-by when two coffees and one cake were Y1800, but that's life in the big city.


Pizza Salvatore Cuomo, Nishi Azabu

I had to wait very very late for lunch (thanks chief), and it's hard to find much that's open at 2:30. Fortunately the Salvatore on Nizhi Azabu's fabled 'restaurant street' was still open (last order at 2:30, closing at 3. They were pretty keen that we not dally.).

My friend announced in advance that the pizza here is better than the Salvatore in Roppongi Hillz (the Garden level place, not the 5th floor one that I've written about). This is true. Y1200 gets you a small salad, a drink of choice, and one of 4 types of pizza. I plumped up an extra Y300 for 'Big Size', as the waiter said when he delivered it (was he talking about my ass?). The Margherita was fresh and tasty, if a little watery (oily?) on top, and with the cheese not perfectly fresh. Savoy would beat down on this pizza like a frightened child. Baggio would sniff disdainfully. But it was OK for lunch yesterday.

OK, OK, I'll eat and get out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sumishou, Nishi Azabu (炙り処 すみしょう)

Continuing with our theme of random places on the north side of Nishi Azabu crossing, I wandered into a tiny one today. (This is also in keeping with my theme of averaging one post per day this month...hang in there.) I didn't notice until after I ate, but Sumishou is a motsu specialist - your choice, grilled, stewed or dipped in vinegar, as long as they're intestines! This means I won't be back for dinner, but lunch was OK.

Tiny, tiny place (why does a smaller size require two tiny's?) with a counter so close to the wall that you couldn't stand there, and a table with seats for 6 and a grill down the middle. I suspect there's an upstairs but couldn't see it. How could they stay open with 6 customers plus perhaps some drinkers on the sidewalk? Another cute feature were the Shimoda decorations; there was a sign for local clams (地はまぐり), so maybe that all goes together. I don't know about the image of blue water, white sand, and roasted intestines though. Somehow...

Lunches are don or teishoku for Y700-900, which represents about the level of value you expect as you move away from Roppongi (good!). Today's specials were negitoro don or torosanma teishoku (must be autumn! I would have realized it today if I hadn't already been beaten about the head by restaurant and supermarket proprietors all month, wielding thin, shiny fish and yelling "Sanma! It's Autumn!". Damn their eyes. Arrr! [Something's broken. Let me turn off the Pirate Mode. OK.]). I broke with the specials and had the lots-of-mushrooms hamburger bowl, which turned out well since it came with wakame salad, some pickles, and miso soup with fu (Y850, and I thought about stopping before I finished, but soldiered on).

Nothing interesting, but at least something different. A Once In A Lifetime Experience, as I like to say. And never for dinner!

I don't think it's possible to find a place that's not on tabelog...

Bless / Shinanoya, Den-en Chofu

I must say, I'm feeling grumpier and grumpier about restaurants. There's a certain price band where I'm happy, and outside it, I'm having trouble motivating. For reference, Y8000 for a course is just about OK, but I would get nervous when service is non compris. Wine should be available with a few selections around Y5000 and a significant number less than Y7-8000. Are you listening, restauranteurs of Tokyo? I thought not.

Seems like there are so many places above the price band. From the magazines I've been reading, I would swear that Y8000 plus service is the starting point for a nice dinner these days. Y10,000 is quite normal. Beige wants Y17,000 for the basic course, Pierre Gagnaire more (but I do recognize that these prices compare quite favorably to their establishments in Paree, even after the precipitous fall of EUR/JPY). And that's why I cook...(badly, this weekend). But conversely, there are a lot MORE places below the price band. Bless is one of these.

The decor is 'smart cafe', with a very nice bar, good banquette, comfortable chairs, and interesting colors and fixtures in a bright, not-at-all-too-hip environment (this was supposed to be positive, in case I'm not getting that across). The menu is semi-French, semi-Italian, with a bunch of wa-fuu thrown in - tarako-tofu milk spaghetti with shiso? Check!

The real reason I'm writing this about a restaurant where I haven't really eaten is that I have drank there. Drunk there. Consumed beverages there. This was in the context of wine tastings sponsored by the Den-en Chofu branch of Shinanoya. Great, great stuff, those - for Y3500, we were able to try 5 wines at each. This included several major bottles at each - at the first, a bottle of Sassicaia and a famous red Bordeaux 'second'. At the second, Chateau Margaux's 2nd, both red and white. Then various other interesting things, with a solid mix of prices from Y2000 on up (this 3 de Valandraud was interesting, though Y6000 retail...). This is a great, great way to try things you'd never get into otherwise (Y18,000 bottle of Margaux's second white?).

The food was extravagant at the first event. Honestly, the admission felt like it covered the price of the wine, and the 4-5 small plates per person were too much food. We ate lunch before going, and then couldn't eat everything. Ham plate, cheese plate, vegetables, mushroom pasta, liver mousse (which was too liver-y)...extra glass of champagne at the end... and the food was OK, making this the kind of place I'd go for a casual dinner if I lived in Den-en Chofu, which ain't gonna happen!


Friday, October 24, 2008

Burdigala, Roppongi

Wow, after all these years, who would've thought that I hadn't posted about Burdigala yet? There used to be a time when Burdi's was really a refuge for us - the place where we'd go on days where the morning had just exploded and we had crunched something out by 1 PM and said "Lunch?" and then just vegetated across the table from each other. It's the slight remove from Roppongi Hills, the tablecloths, the uniformed wait-staff, and most importantly the bread.

At various times I have been less pleased with Bur's. At some point they raised the prices (something like Y1250 up to the current Y1470 for starter, pasta and coffee. There's also Y1800 for starter, fish/meat and coffee.). At some point, the starters were always soup. Soup, soup, soup. At some point, they changed the bread. The bread is, was, and will always be the point, the central feature, the piece de resistance, the nom de plume, if you will. (Accents be damned.)

B's is of course affiliated with a group of several restaurants and bread shops, so one should expect the bread to be good. It used to be a free-flowing supply of good sourdough loaf cut into half-slices and accompanied by saucers of butter. The starter was interesting sometimes, the pasta was interesting sometimes, but the bread was worth the price of admission. We used to speculate on the possibility of a 'bread-only' lunch, perhaps with a bit of water or a thin soup to help get the bread down, much like competitive hot dog eaters do.

And they changed it. Now there's a fluffy, floury ciabatta-style bread (which is good) and some smaller, more dense walnut and/or poppy seed bread. It's OK. It just doesn't make me say "this is proper bread and I want to eat more and more and more until I am stuffed and can't face my pasta" the way the previous sourdough did.

The rest of the food can be god or bad. Sometimes the starter is really good - today a sort of chopped-ham terrine with mixed salad and a few cubes of something red (not beets. Dyed daikon? Dyekon?). Sometimes smoked salmon. Sometimes potato soup (that's supposed to indicate a decline). And one time, I swear to this, and everyone else in attendance will attest to it because they too were scarred, it was eggs yolks and red wine, loosely whisked together. Is that really traditional Italian? It scared us off for a while.

Pastas are smallish and less inspired (bacon and mushroom cream sauce, but not in a crappy way. Some kind of seafood in white wine. Some kind of risotto, but nothing too fancy.). They are sometimes tasty. Meat and fish items are small, but quite tasty in the 4-5 times I've had them (e.g. a lamb chop, a roasted fish fillet, or some seared scallops).

The kitchen is large and impressive. The grill area in the lobby is impressive. The chef's hats are tall. I have been twice for dinner and been disappointed both times. I can't explain it, so I just go for lunch. Today was good, and could be the beginning of a Burdi-renaissance if not for the existence of Provinage...


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Provinage, Roppongi

UPDATE: Per YM's comment below, we did indeed go back, and can now confirm that the Y2800 lunch course is more or less like the Y6000 dinner course at some restaurants. Her main was two ankou medallions in separate sauces (one the signature Americaine, the other I can't remember), my main was two thick-ish lamb chops with nifty roasted-potato, lamb-stuffed tacos. Yow!

Here it is, my new favorite lunch place! And it's been ages since I gave anything a Recommended tag! Yay Provinage! I love you! I want to go back again and again! Please change the 一皿 lunch though; I'm going to get bored with the seafood-parsely terrine with lobster sauce that you've had on the menu all week.

Did I really say that? That I'm going to get bored with a terrine containing hamo and assorted shellfish (I found a bit of akagai!), delicately napped in a sauce made by laboriously boiling lobster shells 'n' bits? And a delicately poached egg with delicious mushroom sauce? And a cup of hearty soup containing store-made bacon and confit? And a fresh, well-dressed, salted salad? And a nice piece of baguette? With butter? For Y1300?

No, I don't think I said that. Couldn't have, because I went back and ate the same thing for a second day in a row. With more people (2 the first time, 4 the second time). Didn't have the ice cream today, but we DID hang around so long that they brought us mint-lemon grass tea after a while. Anyway, if I got bored, I'd have to have the long-form course for's a sore temptation.

Provinage reminded me of Merveille (how I love thee...), the decor, the food a little in its apparent cleanliness and precision (based on the terrine and sauce), the service a little. I really need to go back to Merveille for the umpteenth time so that I can write a reasonable post about it, but suffice to say that I really like Provinage and wonder if the guys trained with Matsumoto san at Merveille...

Dinner looks appropriately priced for the quality and ambience, and it's a great oasis in the middle of Roppongi (sharing a wall with Pizzakaya!). Let's go!


Beccaccia, Minami Aoyama

I still remember the first time I felt really abused at a restaurant in Tokyo. It was at Stefano's in Kagurazaka, a few years ago. I loved the food - hearty, delicious Northern Italian from the Veneto region - but hated the bread charge, service charge, non-included tax, and the fact that we were refused tap water. I love the Japanese system whereby everything is included in the price, and it pains me when the bill isn't what I expect. Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy.

Beccaccia wasn't quite so bad - only bread and service; I also should have seen it coming. But why do so many restaurants have service charges these days?

This is a semi-secluded basement place, but near Creations de Narisawa, and quite close to the restaurant block in Minami Aoyama (e.g., l'Oasina). It probably seats only 10, and there were three staff. The staff were very nice, speaking some English to us, explaining the pastas, etc.

Food-wise, there were 6 fresh pastas! This is crazy. Three with egg, in various widths (cf tagliolini), one ravioli, and two fresher egg-less pastas. After a nice bitter-salty plate of roasted radicchio with parmesan (Y1600 plus service), I had the pici with fresh porcini. This was a production - I sort of knew how to make pici, but got to watch the chef do it. He started with a block of pasta dough, cut off a thin strip, and then rolled the strip by hand on a well-floured board. This means that every strand of pasta I subsequently ate was hand-rolled shortly before being boiled and covered with sauce of fresh porcini. Interesting texture - very smooth and stretchy. The porcini were decent; I'm not sure what great ones taste like, but these were decent.

That's pretty much it, other than the mixed cheese plate (special order, cheerfully received, Y1800 plus service). Food that I ate was good, beef being eaten at the table down the way looked very well-prepared, wine list had many sensibly-priced bottles that we avoided (since I'm taking Bjorn's lead on the 炭酸水). Service was good. I just couldn't fathom why it came out a touch over Y10,000 for some lettuce, a pasta, and a cheese plate (sorry BD). Actually I can fathom it using my itemized bill, but I'd prefer to be grumpy!

Never again. I'm cooking this weekend.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mantra, Ueno

Newsflash: The Ameyoko Center Building in Ueno (long, thin triangular one behond the Doraemon statue) has a big ethnic market in the basement. Fresh ethnic spices like lemongrass and cilantro, 'ethnic'-looking cuts of meet like pigs feet and fish heads, big bags of lentils, imported pre-mixed seasonings (e.g., rendang mix, just add beef). I've been to Okubo and Kinshicho, but this is clearly the place to go in comparison. I stocked up and then made dhal with Thai rice for dinner...

Mantra is across the street and has a lunch buffet with 4 curries, some rice, some naan, and some salad (with wakame...). At Y1300, it was OK value and I ate too much like I always do at buffets. The keema curry is clearly made with older mutton; it has a strong taste that makes some people want to exchange their bowl with their neighbor's! The 'vegetable' saag seemed to be all corn in addition to the spinach gloop. The chicken curry was decent. This was OK on the day, but no compelling reason to go back. Even if I made another trip to the market, I'd get kaisen don from one of the wacky semi-open places dotted around there.

Keep in mind that there are also lots of places to buy seafood, as well as a number of Korean specialty stores.

Nutz, I just realized that the same buffet is Y1000 on weekdays...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Aux Amis Tokyo, Marunouchi

Continuing with our series on overpriced Marunouchi top-floor restaurants, here's Aux Amis. Unquestionably terrific views combine with an unquestioned 10% service charge to produce a slight feeling of discomfort at payment time. Nuts. Why does this happen every time I go to the Marubiru upper floors? In this case, Aux Amis came about because Lauburu was pronounced to be 'too heavy' (maybe so! But so am I!), and the suggested alternatives were Le Petit Tonneau (blecch, won't trouble you with a full review but I will mention that it's worth going if and only if you can have a table in the front window) or Harmonie (farther from home, but should have gone here). I felt reasonably positive about dinner until debriefing later, when I realized that I was focusing on the conversation, possibly to distract myself from the food.

Ahhh, the view from the top. It's cool. It's kinda the same view you get from the Shidome buildings, or sort of from the Park Hyatt. I like it, but being one of the guys I had to sit with my back to it!

The food is supposed to be classical French, I think, with some modern touches, I think. At this time they're running a special duck menu (I know, I know, that sounds good!) which meant you had to have some duck unless you ordered from ze carte. We had the standard menu, amuse+4 courses for Y8500 (plus 10% service). The mixed seafood starter was definitely uninspired - tuna tartare (oh, please), some other carpaccio (like tai?) with tapenade, smoked salmon. Hmm, italicizing foreign words is even more pretentious than my usual style! The hot appetizer was a yuba packet filled with mushrooms. I love yuba, and I'm fond of mushrooms in a more platonic way, but this did nothing for me or the other 4 people who had it. Sorry guys; that's a 5 point deduction for improper blending of Japanese influence. My second starter was cabbage roll a l'Alsacienne, or was that a l'Ancienne? (just being pretentious some more!) It was two tiny roll-kabetsu filled with dabs of foie gras; it's rare that someone makes foie taste like liver in a way that makes me say hmmm... but there it was. My duck a l'orange-ish main was distinctly tough. The dark-roasted duck breast across from me was a bit softer and more flavourful (help, help! I'm even italicizing words that I spelt in British style!). Dessert...look, I'll just stop complaining.

The wine list is a bit heavy on glamour - separate pages for the different areas of Bordeaux and Bourgogne; I didn't order, so I don't know what we paid, but we got a pinot that was a little flat. The by-the-glass pinot I had later was much better, with some of the Australian 'strawberry' style that's so attractive to immature drinkers (like me!).

Arrrrrggghhh! Damn you Maru Biru! I'm cooking this weekend.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Shochu House Ando (あんど), Ginza

How do people find places like this? Ando is tucked away in a medium-size Ginza side-street building that's otherwise crammed to the gills with hostess clubs. In fact, judging from the size, layout, and tacky, tacky furniture...there's no way it was not previously a hostess club. They stay open late, have only young, male staff, and have massage and nail service on Tuesday nights. I think that may indicate the type of crowd they're aiming for... Fun to check it out!

There was a little food, but I didn't do any ordering or look at the menu until later, on the web; some kind of roast beef tsumami, edamame, etc. On the menu, there are fairly attractive pictures of nabes and things. Seemed pretty intense for a place staffed by two young guys who also had to take care of the customers and sing a song now and then.

Obviously drinks are the feature. I was going with the flow despite disliking shochu and picked a black-sugar shochu that's 'mellowed' by being mixed with water and left for a week in a crock (this was on the specials board). I found it drinkable, but I'm not hurrying to add shochu to my list of vices; beer, wine, shochu and the occasional cocktail get that done quite well among themselves without welcoming any interlopers. There's a biggish menu of other shochu, and the website has a column.

Service was fun - I felt a little like a guest in a host club! Karaoke only starts from 12, and the other customers were gone by then, so we had the place to ourselves for a while. 2 customers, 2 staff, all singing in turn. I'm not quite sure whether the owner is Sakano san or not, nor why he introduced himself as "Billy", but I liked it.

Actually it's right around the corner from the Shichirinya that I went to, and closer to their other branches, but there's a few more places around there...forgive me for not knowing all of the entertainment establishments in Ginza, OK?


Rick's Spain Bar, Kayabacho

I'll do my best to resist all urges to make stupid jokes. Rick's is a Spain Bar (what is it with Spain Bars in the last year or two? Why can't we have Italian Bars or French Bars?) mildly tucked away in Kayabacho (but near Miyakawa, and near Talo the Belgian beer place, oh and down the street from that jazz bar with the Avantgarde Duo speakers, so only mildly tucked away.) It has a barrel outside, another barrel inside, all with stools around them, some counter seats, and an upstairs seating section.

Sensibly-priced drinks include Spanish beer and cheep-ish glass wine (in small glasses though, ). Oh, and sherry, of course! I get sherry about half of the times that I go to Spain bars, but I regret it every time: "Nice one re-trying something you didn't like last time, old son, but you still don't like it." This time I gave it a miss, just starting in on the tinto.

Food: this is the thing that really drives me nutz about Spain barz. I love namaham. I (heart) chorizo. I like those boiled octopus things they do. Anything sur la plancha is groovy too! But it's always a lot too small in portion, and a bit expensive therefore. The nama at Rick's was a little warm, the fat was melting. The thinly-sliced octopus in spicy oil was absolutely delicious. I can't remember anything after that.

The service, for some reason, really hit the spot. The owner-looking guy was always somewhat frazzled but very, very earnest. I respected him. The younger guy in the football jersey, also good. I have to mention the times when I like service since they're so rare...

Not today, not tomorrow, but soon.

Incidentally, all the pictures in the bathroom are Casablanca, hence the name. Is North Africa really so related to a Spain bar in Kayabacho? And where was the piano player?

Miyakawa (宮川), Kayabacho

Miyakawa is fantastically located - central to the happening nightspots Kayabacho, Hatchobori and Nihonbashi! This explains why it was almost fully-packed when we wandered in at 8 on a Friday, as well as why they were taking last orders at 9 and kicking us out at 9:30.

Glasses of beer. Sours in any flavor you want as long as it's artificial lemon. Yakitori. Random assorted other foods. Not a lot of that 'vegetable' crap here, just focus on meat. So much focus that it sells out...tsukune were already gone by the time we got there. Bonjiri was down to the last skewer (which we ate).

Other things, surprisingly good! We all wanted to avoid the crunchy bits like nankotsu and liver, and all the normal things like negima were really good. Wings were surprisingly good and required a further order. Karaage had an interesting batter, and the further weirdness of leaving a bone in, but also required another order for exploratory purposes. Actually, so did the shumai. Shishito, we started with 4 skewers and that was pretty much enough. Uzutama, 2 skewers did it. They were oddly tough.

I think this came out to Y3500 per person. Considering the ridiculous amount we ate, and the quality, that's a good deal! I thought this area was dead until I did a research trip last week, and now I know that there are plenty of things to check out if you're in the area and mood.

Cheerful, cheap. And they have their own logo!

4eme, Nihonbashi

It's not every day that you get to have lunch in a strange city (just Nihonbashi in this case, so actually closer to home for me, but not Roppongi). Might as well make the most of it! In this case we were accidentally released early from obligations, and found ourselves on the street barely after 11, with over 90 minutes blocked out for lunch. As one should always do when in Nihonbashi randomly, we tried to go to Merveille. And as is their prerogative, they were fully-booked for Friday lunch...note that they open at 11 though! I think this is a result of the securities industry being in the area - lots of OLs, lots of early starters.

Back to Coredo, which my previous-night's research had determined to be the place most likely to yield tasty luncheon (good sir). In fact I had already settled a bit on 4eme, on...wait for it...the fourth floor! hahaha. This is simple 3-course french lunch (or more, or less) with some cheap glass-wine options and a bit of view out to the street in Nihonbashi.

Across from me was the steak lunch. It looked small but turned out to be sufficient, especially with the bread (especially the rosemary focaccia).

On my side, things started with a vegetable terrine. This seems to be getting popular lately - cram a lot of veggies in a mold, fill it with aspic, and slice it out. Very dramatic, not always terribly interesting or tasty, and the beauty goes away as soon as you try to cut it. In this case it was mediocre but accompanied by taponade and some saffron mayo. [Aside: this reminds me of the place we used to go for lunch when we were working at Chubb in Ashfield, NSW. It was called the Busy Bee or something, and was basically a sandwich and salad place, but you could pick your own 'fillings', as they were called. One of them was 'tamponade', which we ordered frequently and with great glee.] My main was a roasted salmon, whose skin was crisped to within an inch of his life, but who was still reasonably attractive. He came with some vegetables. Dessert, I'm afraid I've forgotten you completely. Coffee came in large cups that were oddly curved and hard to hold. Y500 class wines were really quite tasty!

Lest you think I'm being surly, this felt like good value in a Y1800 lunch course (Y1500 for steak since it had only a salad instead of starter and dessert). There are also 1-course options, or 4 courses. And dinner, of course.

Where do they get these names?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sushigin (すし銀), Roppongi (Azabu Juban)

Tokyo will surprise you every time - there's always something hidden away, even without resorting to secluded areas or invitation-only restaurants. We went to Juban specifically looking for something new, and since the really delicious-smelling giraffe curry place is takeout only, we had to keep looking. Much faffing around with French and Italian places later, we ended up settling on sushi next to French.

Downstairs and through opaque doors, Sushigin isn't super-inviting. Based on the inside appearance, the look of the counter and chefs, and the quality of the food, I'd have to guess that this is one of those places that's open at lunch mainly to make a buck by providing some food while they're getting ready for dinner. There weren't any other customers.

Lunch sets were Y1500 (plus some mystery charges that I think made the total bill Y3400 for two) and were either chirashi or nigiri sets. Chirashi was not the 'chopped' chirashi that I like, with lots of little pieces of things placed, nay, scattered over the rice - it was more like a kaisen don, with whole slices of everything filling the top half of the bowl. Fortunately I ordered the nigiri, which was 7 pieces (including good quality items and not a bunch of bintoro) plus a few slices of egg, plus pickles, plus soup, plus a whole tekkamaki. Tolerable value, and it came with a 20%-off coupon, so maybe we'll try it again. Not for dinner, since it looks like it could be painful.

Fish heads, fish heads,

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Azabu Choko (麻布長江), Roppongi (Nishi Azabu)

Hmmm, Chinese lunch. Not something that usually floats my boat, but something I've mentioned wanting to learn a bit more about recently. In this case we came to Azabu Choko quite by accident - wandering down the backstreet hills from Roppongi to Nishi Azabu, not settling on anything, finally getting to Gaien Nishi Dori and deciding to go to Gonpachi but getting sidetracked by this place.

Fairly normal stuff, but I had a kaisen yakisoba that was interesting - the noodles seemed to be whole-wheat, and had actually been scorched in places, so they were really tasty on their own - more chewy and flavorful than I expect any noodle to be. The seafood was fresh-ish too. The whole thing was absolutely drowning in ankake, which reminds me of New Jersey Chinese food and is the basic concept and texture that put me off eating Chinese food for many many years (roughly 1991 - 2001, I'd say. I was off Indian for a large part of that period too, which I can't understand now.). Sets didn't come with too many additional gadgets, but volume was large, so the value was right on.

Look at the web site, it seems like it might be good for dinner too. Although it also says the lunch courses start from Y3600, which is clearly not true.

How weird is this, it's the only branch of a restaurant in Kagawa!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Les Enfants Terrible, Azabu Juban

Update: August 11: Recently heard and then saw that this place is gone. Sorry I've been so tardy to update.

Update: November 08: Salad Nicoise, small and disappointing compared to Lyonnaise (I really think they accidentally gave me full-size the first time). Pan-fried fish, something tai-ish, excellent, served in skillet with vegetables (definitely their theme). Baked tuna cheeks a la Basquaise, also excellent, served in cast-iron pot. Glass wine still expensive. Service still good and chargeable. Bread tolerable, chargeable, but refillable without additional charge.
Out for a walk after work, I had a goal of finding someplace new and different. I walked through Moto Azabu (didn't want to go to Bon Pinard alone), Hiroo, then got lost and ended up circling around Shirogane. Somehow I wasn't able to decide on anything (I don't know where all the restaurants are in Shirogane, but I missed most of them), and accidentally found myself back in Juban. Then I saw something promising, which turned out to be something that had also looked promising in a magazine recently.

Les Enfants Terrible is related to the (recently recommended) Les Enfants Gate (imagine the accents, please), and more distantly to the dear, departed Club Nyx, which used to offer pretty good French regional food from a 2nd-story establishment on the north side of Chuo dori in Ginza. It caught my eye in the magazine because the decor is dark and elaborate, almost like 'gothic bistro'. Like many evening establishments, I hear it's a bit overdone during the day, but it works well at night. I took a seat by the tall, open front windows.

Skipping the wine (weeknight, no half-bottles, glass options too expensive), I went straight for a Lyon style salad. This unfortunately came with a healthy compliment of liver in addition to the bacon I was expecting, but I got it all down and even enjoyed some of it. The rest of the salad was nice, and for Y1000 this is a good deal. With bread, it would be an excellent lunch. I also had the confit, which was excellent. It appears on the web site or tabelog, but the pictures don't do justice to the presentation (in its own skillet), the near-perfect-but-slightly-dry taste and texture of the confit, the really-just-perfect deep-fried potatoes, or the bit if salad.

Service was also a bit 'gothic bistro', but somehow managed to balance their remoteness and faint hint of vampirism with a level of attentivity that meant I didn't even mind the 10% service charge. And that takes a LOT of doing.

The site is not so good, but we pays our money and we takes our chances.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Genji Sushi, Roppongi

Do you like California rolls? How about Caterpillar rolls? I have to admit, I always liked them historically but became more of a purist (some would say 'snob') once I came to Japan.

Genji Sushi is actually "Genji Sushi New York", and makes good on the promise of providing New York-style sushi, complete with all the searing, inside-out rolling and cream-cheese stuffing that that entails. They have exactly one store in Japan, a kiosk-y place near the Family Mart in the Roppongi Hillz Metro Hat. In America they're really all over the place (in Whole Foods for the most part, like in Marlton and Silver Spring, so I'm not sure if they're a department or a separate company with good placement). Sushi in Alabama and Kentucky? I guess.

There aren't that many ways to get takeout lunch sushi around here (aside from the kaiten place, the Zanmai, the place above La Brace, the place near Shiraishi...OK, there are a few), so I tried Genji a few weeks ago. It was a pleasant surprise, since it's fresh and well-made and looks good as well as tasting good (for reference, it beats the takeout sushi from Eashion, no question). I went back today, which is a thumbs-up rating.

Put your cat clothes on... Interestingly, they have 'breakfast', which is makizushi and tea. And open until 11 PM.

Tamagawaya (玉川屋), Mitake (Okutama)

Hiking in Okutama - recommended! Two hours of train (from Monnaka) gets you way out to a place that's still in Tokyo, one presumes for tax reasons, but has all the rocky river ravines (gorges, you might say) you'll need. And the Old Time Road that you hike on has a delightful combination of paved road (sans autos), gravel path and rocky track, through forests, along hillsides, through tiny settlements, and down to a big lake (a dam, actually).

My advice to you would be that you should NOT leave lunch until 2 or 3 PM, or perhaps take something along to nibble on. In the event that you DID leave it until this late, and took the bus back from the lake to Okutama itself, and wanted to eat soba but were told earnestly by the tourist center staff that you had a choice of two places - above the station or next to the station - and thus took the recommendation of a guide pamphlet and took the train back to Sawai (18 minutes or so), you would then find yourself waiting in line to be seated at Tamagawaya, and then after being seated waiting interminably to receive a soba that would prove to be very light on actual soba, not to hazard a guess but not even 50%, and it would be a dicey period until you actually got some food down and started to return to normal humor that allowed you to finish sentences like a normal person.


Huit, Nakameguro

Cafe Life (in capitals) appeals to me, but I've never been able to relax for hours in cafes. It's always something - the chairs are too hard, or too soft, or there's not enough to read...and I can't just sit and stare. The police told me that if I get picked up for that again, I'm going away for good.

Huit has some attractive characteristics - dark, semi-shabby interior set off by huge windows; view through the cherry trees to the Meguro river (with concrete banks and concrete bottom), great bread and pastries (their selling point), casual French menu, books on shelves, good prices. Despite having been around for a few years, it ties to the current Bohemian theme, and it'll make you feel a little like an artist in Paris. What's not to like?

I had a slice of pate de campagne (with salad, bread and coffee Y1250) and a banana muffin (Y230) while listening to selections from an astrology book pulled off the shelf. Everything was good and made me want to come back, as well as wishing I lived closer.

Livedoor site...

Roy's, Roppongi

Did someone say 'hula'? Roy didn't. I think the menu here was exciting a while ago (either the 80's or 90's; before my time in any event) but now suffers from being done by many people in many restaurants. 'Ahi Tuna Tartare' was already a cliche by 2000, I think.

Roy's DOES have a lot of things going for it; I don't mean to be dismissive. The setting is a bit classy ('tablecloths' connote class for me in a lunch place, in case you were wondering) even if it also gets noisy with tables full of moms and babies (and ukulele music overhead). The service is pretty good too. Even when it's busy they don't forget you inappropriately. There's something of a view out the windows, over the roof of Asahi TV. The food also isn't bad.

The general pattern is that Y1500-2000 gets you a salad, bread, main dish, dessert and coffee (there are more expensive course options with assorted appetizers and better mains, but you don't really need to spend Y2500+, do you? Times are uncertain. Save your money.) The salad is quite nondescript compared to, say, La Brace or l'Osteria, but they do give you fresh pepper from truly enormous grinders (we're talking 50 cm+. I read one time that you can judge the quality of the food by the size of the pepper grinders - the longer they are, the more the restaurant is trying to distract you with theatrical elements so you won't notice the lackluster food.). The mains are sometimes good, sometimes lacking. I had a grilled chicken risotto recently where the chicken was great. There are also other pastas that are interesting and tasty. But my most recent main was grilled salmon with asparagus in lobster sauce (this for Y1600, I think. Seems like they're moving the better things a little down-market to keep more people coming in?). The salmon was moderate, the asparagus was peeled and quite good, but the lobster sauce was none of those things (who ever heard of peeled lobster sauce anyway?).

Still, as a slightly leisurely lunch with a decent chance of good food and fair value for money, and the added benefit of being inside and not out in the rain, this is worth your dollar. Yen. Do remember to book or at least call ahead; it gets full especially when it's raining.


Geez, I had no idea that so many of the restaurants in Roppongi Hillz were operated by the same group. That's disappointing. It's also suspicious that I think all the other places are quite boring...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Daruma, Monzennakacho

I was browsing a food magazine at the barber over the weekend and they had a feature on 'Downtown Izakayas'. Since everyone thinks Monnaka is so shitamachi, there were of course a few places. Daruma is the most downtown place in Monnaka, I think.

For a long time I knew it as 'the grubby-looking place that's always full and has a strange old guy standing outside who wants to shake my hand'. I worked up a pretty good line in going up to that guy after work and saying "Geez, it's always full, huh?" Finally I got in.

The menu is super-standard. Maguro cubes, butakimchi, tsukune, a big pot of (motsu) curry that's always on the boil, unohana, edamame, etc. I was just really surprised by how tasty the butakimchi was, and I wanted to go back to eat it again. It was good the second time too. Drinks are limited to beer, sours, etc., and in fact there's the super down-home touch that you don't get to choose the flavor of sour that you want - they deliver a mug of liquor and soda, and you make use of the bottle of lemon and lime syrup scattered along the counter! Service is loud, brisk and somewhat friendly. I think this is sorta Kansai style!

Geez, Tabelog scores this a 2.9. Snobs.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ruri, Monzennakacho (るり 母ちゃん料理)

[Jan 2011: Long gone; I think this space is an udon now, but it's on its second iteration at least since Ruri left.]
I like to think that I'm a good judge of restaurants from the outside - the style, the menu, and signboard are all indicators of the care and concern of the owners for their premises, which I think extend directly to the food. Just so you know, I like a clean, simple exterior (flashing lights are bad), handwritten menu (lamination is bad; pictures are helpful but not a great sign - anything to indicate it changes periodically is good), and discrete signage.

This place Ruri is a strange contrast - the exterior looks very simple and elegant (a lot of white, somehow, and light wood, which is more normal outside than inside), there's NO menu (which is usually a scary indicator price-wise, right?), and the signboard says in a very straightforward fashion "Mom's cooking". Oh, and there's no gap in the doors, so you can't see in at all!

Anyway, it wasn't so scary inside; very bright, simple with a little clutter, big collages of pictures of mom (seriously! 留理子さん). The menu is brief and to-the-point, with a couple sashimi selections, cold tofu, boiled vegetables, noodles (hijiki soba! That's different.), stewed beef, fried chicken...all just like Mom used to make. I had both the kakuni (billed as 'wafu kakuni', which meant that it had been stewed only in dashi (I think) and was basically white - but still with most of the fat rendered away and a great taste) and the karaage (a weird sort of dryness; some different kind of batter that went on smoother and fried up darker. His chicken was pretty lean to, so it wasn't drippingly juicy inside like Mom used to make.). All in all, good food.

Funny thing is, I'm pretty sure he told me that it's not HIS mom. If I understood this correctly, the original owner was going out of business and he bought it from her. I can't see why he would leave all the pictures of Mom on the walls, but there you go. Anyway, this place is worth a visit sometime. You can be like the sad salaryman that I talked to; like so many, his wife was waiting at home but he didn't want to go.

Argh, I didn't blog it first. But this review is pretty poor and the place wasn't bad.
Ha, this page has a big list of Monnaka places and the Ruri review is funny.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

L'Oasina, Minami Aoyama

Typically, the phrase "Homeopathy and Natural Food Kitchen down the street from the cemetery" is not one to make me come running. It fails on so many levels... On a random night when you weren't expecting to go out to dinner, weren't expecting rain, and can't see the homeopathy or cemetery from the front of the restaurant...any port in a storm. And it worked out well! I would consider going back if they accept my petition to lower the markup on wine.

From the outside, l'Oasina has a bit of French country going on - white walls, brown wood, plants, an easel with the menu. Inside, there's a lot of white paint and dark wood again, with a communal table surrounded by shelves selling homeopathic goods (one presumes) and a counter with 5-6 seats. The menu is neat - it's a bunch of photocopied pages with cute line drawings illustrating what you get in each dish (the vegetables-in-aspic terrine, for instance, shows you the precise location of all 14 vegetables that get layered in). The regular printed menu has the drinks list (not wine - you have to browse the shelf / fridge or ask for advice) and a very few dishes that I guess are always on (paella, tapas, nama ham, 'bean dish').

The food was really good! I'm not sure where the homeopathy comes in, except for quality ingredients, balanced servings of meat and veg, and interesting presentation. The country-style pate came on a roast plate (the big silver platter that you would ordinarily throw a turkey in the middle of!) and included a surprising amount of raw and pickled veg (including pickled beets, love the pickled beets). The roast pork was indeed roasted, and came with a few roasted potatoes, 5-6 stalks of asparagus (peeled at the bottom, even!), some 'stick broccoli'. The bread was fresh and hot, the olive oil was delicious. Good food, well cooked!

Wine - everything is vin natural, or biodynamique or whatever phrase appeals to you. The reds are kept in charming white-painted, glass-fronted wooden cabinets that are built into the walls. The whites are in the fridge. The labels are very charming and individualistic in a way that really appeals to me, and the prices are...high. The chatty counter guy recommended a white to us that was very yellow, and presumably so on purpose (it's like that on the web site we found for it). It had a strong floral smell and also a strong oxidized taste. 'Challenging' or 'difficult' would be the right words for this. Good in some circumstances...bad when you find it online the next day and realize the markup was almost 3X. BAD L'Oasina, BAD.

Thought we were going back until I found out about the wine...

California Grill Yoshi, Roppongi (Azabu Juban)

Is this a trend? Recently we had lunch at Suji's, now it's another American-style place? I liked this better for atmosphere and cost reasons (I can't help it, I'm just a sucker for similar food at 50% of the price), and it didn't hurt that today's weather is beautiful instead of pissing rain.

Yoshi hides himself away in a parallel street west of the Juban shoutengai. He also hides himself away up some stairs and around a corner in a building that has the same bare-concrete walls as my apartment building. He also has a strict invitation-only policy which means you need to know someone to get in. OK, not really that, but I wouldn't have found this by myself. Except that I just realized I can literally see the building from my office window. OMG, how cool is THAT?!?

Yoshi seems to be angling for the same expat brunch crowd as Suji's, but with a fancier dinner menu (that looks nice on the web site!) and a more comfy interior. The lunch menu is heavy on burgers (including the Y2500 Foie Gras Burger that also appears at dinner), which come in a manageable size with some fries, salad, soup and coffee. Toppings include cheese (priced at a very sensible Y20. Why do so many places think cheese should be a Y100 option? Why am I so cheap?), thick thick bacon, pineapple and avocado. Buns are light and bunny. Fries are light and crispy, but preserving an appropriately smooth potato core. Meat was tasty and nicely-cooked. There's also a pasta option (looked pesto-y and sizable), a steak option, and a daily plate option (grilled pork with 'bibinbap sauce' today).

Worth a try, and quite possibly for dinner also. The corner booth that we sat in was nice, if you can book that.

Getta loada them scallops!

Piatto Piatto, Roppongi

Being a pure-blooded American of variously mixed Russian, Irish and German heritage, and coming from the tropical southern regions of New Jersey, it makes perfect sense that my definition of comfort food should be red-sauce Italian (and miso soup, but that's a different story). My home town is 2.3 square miles and 9,365 people, with 13 churches and about 300 Italian restaurants. I exaggerate for humorous effect, but there are a solid 5 of them, and more in neighboring towns.

These are clearly red-sauce places. They do steady takeout business in pizza and cheesesteaks [aside: "Philadelphia cheesesteak" is redundant. Anything superficially resembling a cheesesteak outside the greater Philadelphia region is an inferior simulacrum.] and feature formica-clad booths, faux wood-grained walls and the occasional jukebox. We used to have red sauce at home too. None of that "Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Night!" stuff, and I don't call it gravy, but still plenty of it. So it's comforting. This is why I like cooking up a big pot on the weekends.

Piatto Piatto is a mildly sketchy-looking place near Baggio, around the corner from the Saizeriya or Chen Kenichi's on Roppongi Dori. I've known it was there for years (yonks, really. A donkey's age!) but always thought it was pretty much beneath notice. So elitist! Now, I appreciate 'different food group' foods like McDonald's and american coffee as much as the next guy, and I obviously needed more places to write about, so I went. And had red-sauce Italian, surrounded by heavy-smoking salarymen and Pinai waitresses. I noticed on the way in that there was one female customer, but she was the one who came in with me!

Lunch special is Y950 which gives you a soup (continuing the homey theme, we swore this was ketchup soup. Also had some tubular pasta in it; not ziti, longer and thinner.), bread (continuing the homey theme, this was literally a thick slice of toasted white bread cut in quarters, divided between the two of us), coffee (continuing the homey theme, this sucked) and pasta. We both had the eggplant-spinach-meat-sauce spaghetti (there was also mushroom bacon cream sauce, which looked less good; cheap cream sauce is difficult), and this was large and tasty! There was plenty of spinach, the eggplant was roasted really well (or at least pan-fried to brown-ness before being sauced) and the sauce was meaty and tomatoey and, dare I say it, homey. Each table had various condiments on parade, including a dish of butter (in Japan, I know! Extraordinary!) and a dish of grated cheese.

I have to say, I wouldn't even mind going back despite the ketchup soup and white bread.

I can't find any sites!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chugoku Hanten, Roppongi (中国飯店)

It's funny, when I went to Shanghai Dream a few weeks ago, it was because we were told there wasn't smoked seating available at Chugoku Hanten. Now that I've been to the Hanten Honten, I've realized that Shanghai Dream is really a chain ten. There you go!

The food was pretty similar - Chinese lunch sets centered on a big plate of gooey something-er-other. This time I had...honestly, I can't remember all the way back to Monday. It may have been chicken with mushrooms. I just know it was in that thick, starchy sauce that says "Chinese Food dead ahead, cap'n!" Comes with rice. Comes with pickles. Soup. One tiny, dry bun. Y1100. If one person at the table orders tantanmen, it appears to be customary to delay their arrival until after the other guest has completely finished. However, they will look fairly good when they arrive (if a little Japan-ified, with less chili in evidence than one might like).

I've heard that this place is popular. I have to admit that it offers a lot of food for Y1100. And the atmosphere is interesting too - quite dark and formal, with the service staff in uniforms and all like dat. I'm not quite sure what the attraction is; I preferred the casuality and the dish I had at Shanghai Dream.

Calling Dr. Gohan...

Fifty Seven, Roppongi

I decided to buy myself a steak for my birthday. I dunno why, but that's what I was fixated on. This was probably unfortunate for my friend visiting from Singapore and his HK girlfriend (who may well have been expecting Japanese!), but they were good sports about it. Roppongi is challenging to me for nice dinners, especially after I learned that Monya has closed their restaurant here (which have met the fancy-yet-affordable-washoku bill perfectly, and been ideal for visitors!). But since my schedule was unpredictable on Friday (as predicted), it was good to stay close, and 57 really seemed to meet the requirement for 'steak'.

This is a place with two faces. The front bar is big and potentially glamorous. In fact you could be forgiven for not knowing there's a restaurant in the back (pay no attention to the people behind the windows...). This means that even as the night wore on and the bar got crowdeder, the dining area still wasn't so noisy. I think the bar gets more crowded even laterer though; it was fully empty when we got there for dinner at 7:30, perhaps half full when we left at 10:30. I feel like the space is made for something bigger: the bar stools are an awkward-sized step up from the main floor, and I feel like the multi-level-ness is potentially awkward for picking up (but obviously have no experience there). This carries over into the dining area too, which has good negative space between tables but also a very high ceiling and surprisingly strong lights that made me feel a little lost. Now that I think about it, the strong lights also showed off the floor which was bare and a little tired-looking - in my mind it feels a little bit like a bar during the day, when there's no glamour from darkness and you can see that everything's well-used.

The food was pretty good. The steak in question was all there, 300g (you can choose in 100g increments) of American-style NY strip, cooked really perfectly for my tastes (warm pink center, a little burnt outside, in case you're grilling). The 'rare poached salmon' was, well, rare, yeah. I like sashimi more than the next guy, but I don't need a whole filet of it; I think the two people who ordered it felt the same way but were polite about it. Today's carpaccio was decent (isaki?), better than the salmon. Steak tartare with Home-Style potato chips was bland and just not as fresh as the one I had at Viron...(aside: geez, I love Viron). The sides of 'sugar snap peas with mint' and 'spinach and parmesan' were really good! Desserts, not bad; white chocolate cheesecake definitely New York-y. 10% service charge.

I started this review feeling more positive, but now I'm thinking that I just liked the steak and peas.

Crowdeder is SO a word.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

La Loggia, Roppongi

Ahhh, La Loggia. Just the name conjures up visions of centuries-old houses, quaint streets, shady corners, authentic pizza, espresso counters, naan and curry.

La Loggia used to be a very mediocre Italian restaurant behind Roppongi Hills, near Aladdin or Cafe Eight or Gato Nero, depending on your perspective. It was mildly famous in my mind because it has an outside terrace, and the first time I went there it was so windy that the roof seemed ready to blow away. I think I only went once after that, because it was so darn bad.

Evidently the owners sold it. Now it's still called La Loggia, and they've preserved the mediocrity, but they play Bollywood favorites and serve up naan and curry sets. I had a yellow dal which was decent except that the lentils were still quite crunchy. My friend happened by after a while and ordered a 2-curry-and-tandoori set. The chicken piece was huge and red, and the keema curry was pronounced to taste "Just like American chili" (in a good way, I think). The naan were medium-sized, and quite thick and doughy, which to me makes them inferior to those at just about all the other places around. I also had a shish-something-or-other - not kebab, but the one that's ground meat pressed around a skewer tsukune-style. This was tasty. Y1050 all in for my curry-naan-shish-salad set.

Sitting outside on a beautiful day, watching people go by, flat-out skipping a meeting? Priceless.

Too small for a web site; here's a map

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Del Sole, Roppongi

Del Sole is a pretty standard Italian place near the end of Imoraizaka (also near Asahi TV and the old Golden Burning). It has two nice points - the spacious patio with umbrellas, which is great on a nice day (like today!), and the store-made gelato, which comes included in the lunch sets. Mysteriously, the (very normal) coffee is an extra Y200, which has me slightly annoyed right now.

The lunch menu actually has variety - 4 pastas, a sandwich option, a curry option, a cooked dish, and then some combinations of the above (half sandwich/half pasta, but you can't choose). These are generally Y1000. Oomori is Y100, and I can confirm from firsthand experience that it's really OO. Pasta sauces tend towards the boring - mushroom cream, tomato meat, keema curry. Gelato is small but tasty, and they bring a different flavor for everyone at the table, which always provokes a fun little debate.

Free coffee please.

The Kitchen Salvatore Cuomo, 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. Wait, didn't I say this yesterday? Ah well, another day, another lunch.

Let's not debate this - The Kitchen Salvatore Cuomo is expensive. The general lunch plan is about Y3000 for buffet, main, dessert and coffee. This can be construed as good value only if you're prepared to eat a LOT. I am, but I'd still rather pay less. I think for that price you can almost go to the French Kitchen buffet, which has got to be better. The way to go at TKSC, the ONLY way to go as far as I'm concerned, is the semi-secret 'foccacia lunch' set - Y1890 for buffet, sandwich, dessert and coffee. The reason it's semi-secret, and I'm getting around to my complaint here, is that they seem to have about 4 such 'special' sets every day. Yesterday I got there at 11:45, saw the restaurant mainly empty, didn't see the special on the board, and was told that it was 'already sold out'. I get the feeling that they may have sold it out around breakfast time, before opening...

But if you can get that set, and are still prepared to eat a lot, the value-for-money goes way up. The buffet is really nice - seared tuna steak bits, calamari fritti with fresh lemon, roast meats, stir fries, egg casseroles, roasted vegetables, cheeses, salad, fruit, corn dog on a's high quality for a buffet, and replenished often. Beats the heck out of the other Salvatore buffet in the basement, by the Garden. That's Y1500 for a mediocre buffet and main (pizza's OK though). The funny thing is, yesterday's 'foccacia' turned out to be a big plate with a thick slice of roast pork and a pile of fresh pasta mixed with grilled tuna chunks. Perhaps they just did us a favor since we were incredulous about the 'already sold out' thing? Either way, it was nice, and I shouldn't complain so much.

Dessert, you actually get a choice. Yesterday, blueberry panna cotta was a slice of somewhat gooey pudding (I would guess that they have to cut some corners somewhere, and industrial dessert production must be a good place to start). Other choices were 'banana ice cake' and I think something chocolate. 3 choices, so you can't complain!

More cheap lunches, please!