Update February 17, 2010:
Lunch, 3 small courses at Y1800. Salad, good grilled white fish with veg, scoop of excellent ice cream with pistachio crumbs. Service as rough as before, a touch odd.
January 22, 2009:
Lest one think that EOITwJ has descended to reviewing nothing but smoky oyaji lunch spots, here's some genuine fine dining. The experience had a few low points, but the food was great and this is well worth a visit as long as you know what you're getting into.
Japanese attitudes toward Western food remain a little odd - and I'm not talking only about 'Yoshoku', or pretend Western food. French food is still perceived as a bit of a luxury item, even when it's bistro and should be casual and friendly. I really enjoyed Reims Yanagidate when I visited over the Summer, but have held off on visiting the bistro version for ages. Multiple factors against it - I'm mildly against the Maru Birus on value grounds, I love Viron (nearby and similar food), and Le Remois's value equation seemed out of whack for a bistro. Finally though, when the Curmudgeonly Old Bastard (COB, now 50 and hence even more curmudgeonly!) asked me to go out, I picked LR.
In fairness, I'm probably the more curmudgeonly out of the two us. It really annoyed me when the staff refused the COB's request to substitute meat for his fish course (。。。難しい。) despite the prices being almost identical on the menu, and it also irritated me that in ordering the mid-level course (starter-fish-meat-dessert, Y7500 plus service) I was denied the opportunity to choose my fish course among the two on the menu. Once we got over these complaints and ordered some champagne (the wine list is small and perhaps well-chosen; I don't know. I DO know that there were a number of interesting varieties of champagne, and the prices were actually very reasonable - of the bottles I knew, prices were only 30-70% above retail.) we settled in to grouse enjoyably at each other and eat.
The starter was grilled white asparagus - not the green-wrapped-in-bacon on the menu, and awfully early to be seasonal. It was tolerably grilled, though not quite shaved and a bit fibrous at the bottom. The lettuce-n-tomato salad on top was quite nice because of the dressing. The fish-of-the-day was 'soi' (looks small and mean in the pictures!). Neither of us knew this fish, and both times I asked, the staff said "It's a white-meat fish." Thanks. It's difficult to find in dictionaries, which often means that the lookup produces a fish no English speaker has heard of outside of leading fish universities. In this case - 'Fox Jacopever'. Mmm hmmm. It's a small, delicate white fish, like a largish whiting, and was done up with beautiful skin, moist meat, American sauce (lobster reduction), and a cute presentation where it was 'jumping' out of a small bowl with a wide rim. The two pieces of toast and the grated cheese were odd and unneccessary. The COB's terrine seemed excellent to me, but we'll let him weigh in on that.
Meat courses went similarly well - confit for the COB was very juicy and one of the best that I can remember (though he disagreed, having perhaps more recently eaten his own cooking). Lamb Navarin for me was quite good - a bit strong on the lamb, but tender and with the fat fully rendered. A nice tomatoey sauce and plenty of herbs to go with the white beans that filled out the casserole.
Creme brulee for dessert was forgettable, which is unfortunate for a place that's trying to turn out perfect bistro-style food, but the pear sorbet that topped it deserves mention. I don't know how people get that lovely oily texture in their sorbets (perhaps it's oil?), but I covet it.
The atmosphere is suitably 'bistro' and the service is attentive but suitably rough (for the atmosphere, not the prices), but the food was good enough within its genre to make me forgive those failings.
Chef has 4 restaurants. Does that make this a 'franchise'?