Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bistro Columbus, Kanda

I'm not at all sure how I came to be in Kanda. No altered states were involved; I just started in Ochanu, disgruntled because I couldn't find any of the things I wanted to look at in the guitar stores, thought of a place I wanted to go, found it full, kept walking to Akiba, and kept walking until I found myself in Kanda, thoroughly chilled and miserable. Columbus looked modern, stylish and clean in a way that said "We're modern, stylish and clean, but we've deliberately styled ourselves to look country-inn, and plus we have a kerosene heater that you can sit in front of". Thanks guys.

Once I got in, sat down and looked at the menu, it hit me - this place was previously recommended. It came up while discussing beer with one of my newer colleagues. I looked at the somewhat perplexing menu on the Internet, and I was somewhat perplexed as to the attraction. It's just big and complicated and perplexing and seems to lack focus - large sections for various themes. The decor doesn't help either.

From the outside, it's sort of stucco, or at least light and 'country' looking. Inside, there's a long light-colored wood counter, nothing fancy but with a bit of organic curve to it. The tables are also light wood, and with the low ceiling and dark trim it achieves the classic Japanese 'mountain home' decor. But the counter gives way to a pretty impressive bar - in some places these 8 seats, racks of bottles, and wooden cabinets are a whole store unto themselves. And the kerosene heater at the end of the bar goes right back to the country theme. But the whole thing is cozy, don't get me wrong.

To my mind, the menu maintains this multi-themed theme. There's a huge drinks menu, a lot of which is cocktails (big single-malt section, even, and a fair number of the display bottles are this). But they seem to have some wine focus, as brochures advertised Hiro's Vinos Yamasaki (though I would recommend the Yurakucho wine bar branch!). And they have a bunch of varieties of global beer, plus Japanese specialties on tap. The food is split up into, I think, sections to go with various things, like the 'Eat with NZ Pinot!' section. In the end, I just ordered ji-beer (Japanese country beer Echigo on tap, pretty darn rare) and a quick selection of items.

Yet another wacky 'theme' - pick two starters and get a discount. Geez, I can't believe I now think that's wacky. Has Japan really softened my brain to the extent that I no longer think volume discounts are normal? In yet another unrelated aside, someone at work recently forwarded a piece written by a consulting firm called 'Softbrain'. I explained that this sounds like 'mentally deficient' in English, but that's their name... Right, starters - marinated paprika and cream cheese was roasted peppers in oil with nice herbs and cubes of...cream cheese. But in a fresh and satisfying way. Cold seared horse (ahhh, I haven't acclimated to Japan to the extent that I don't enjoy the novelty of eating horse tataki) was excellent - soft, flavorful, and well-met with some oroshi ponzu.

As a main, I couldn't exit the NZ Pinot! section and its veal options. Yet another weirdness - veal is really rare in Japan. In this case it was with mushroom sauce, and was delicious. I have a feeling that some of my earnest Eating Out colleagues would describe this food as 'pap', and on a warmer, less rainy night, I might also. But it sure tasted good after walking in the rain for an hour! After, they have half a dozen store-made cakes and tarts, and the Dark Cherry tart was also very nice - not-quite clafoutis, a little heavier and maybe with some almond, a healthy sprinkling of cherries, and a thin layer of clear jelly on top.

While I rarely discuss such gauche matters as price, preferring instead to concentrate on the finer points of the search for perfection, all of this was surprisingly cheap. And the staff were attentive and friendly, with the bartender attempting to strike up a conversation in English at the end (not in a bad way). I may change my mind if I go back again, but for now this is an extremely pleasant neighborhood-place-plus-alpha (friendly, but with a lot of little touches to recommend it) and I recommend it!

Nothing to do with centuries of native exploitation, I promise

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