Sunday, July 19, 2009

Enoteca - The Lounge, Marunouchi (Yurakucho)

Do you like wine? It's OK either way, but if you do, I think you must have been to or at least heard of the Enoteca chain. With 30 locations nationwide to serve you and 12 just in Tokyo (my favorites are the Tokyo Station's specialty 'champagne and half-bottles' shop and the Marunouchi 'Lounge' shop because they're within walking distance of the office), everyone can shop at Enoteca. If you're housebound, you can mail order from their site (though they're a little less generous than Village Cellars since they charge for shipping on anything less than a full case).

What you can't always do is eat there. A few of the stores have 'lounges' attached - Shinagawa (Wing, right across from the station), Osaka and...Marunouchi. (OK, there wouldn't be much of a review here if Marunouchi wasn't one of them). The shop is right in the middle of Naka Dori, meaning you can window-shop to your heart's content (unless you actually need to buy 4 Kate Spade bags, a new set of Baccarat glasses, or some suits from Brooks Brothers), enjoy the faux-European-with-modern-Japanese-slant atmosphere, stop for a meal at Enoteca, and then choose whether to go up to the Maru Birus or down to the Penninsula. It's a good location.

They're fairly liberal on their wine policy. It's not as good as going to Maru in Hatchobori, but you can pick any bottle from the retail side of the store and then drink it in the restaurant for Y1575 corkage. As you will know well, that translates into significant savings on pretty much any bottle they sell. It's also a handy improvement over their glass wine program, but they deserve a nod for going all out on the vacuum-pump system and having about 15 bottles available for your tasting (even if the prices are quite healthy).

This being a special 'visiting from the exotic West' lunch (it's nice that HK and Singapore are The West, don't you think?), we had to have champagne. The room supports this well, being bright and airy during the day even though there aren't full frontal doors like some of the other places on Naka Dori. There's a big U-shaped bar featuring a pig leg, and a few tables with comfortable benches and couches.

Strangest thing about this place - I loved the food. I would go back any time. We got through 5 dishes, each of which exhibited some degree of greatness. The organic vegetable salad was suitably fresh and bursting with flavor, and the salami plate was small but had excellent-quality meat (digression: I'm starting to get irritated with the number of times I've seen phrases like 'highest quality ingredients' or 'ingredient-driven' in restaurant reviews. It's approaching the level of 'infusion' in America - "buttermilk infused scrambled eggs' and the like. Since it seems likely to be a continuing theme, I guess I can either relax about it or else stop reading reviews! Seriously, even the supermarkets in Japan are now doing it - this is why you can buy vegetables whose packaging bears the name and picture of the farmer who grew them. And not just luxury vegetables - lettuces!).

The more prepared items were excellent - a pate en croute (sorry, no accents today. Le lapain ne travail pas.) was well-done, with the crust dense but flaky and not soggy, a layer of consomme jelly adding cool texture, and the mixed foie and meat hearty and filling. The salmon tartare was substantial for the price, and was an interesting version that was more heavily mixed with various vegetables and oil. Probably my favorite thing was...cold sliced lamb chops. What an odd idea, and something I've never had before. Cook a lamb chop just until it's done. Cool. Slice off the bone. Cut on a meat slicer so you end up with sandwich meat-thin, deeply flavored slices of lamb whose substantial fat melts in your mouth. Delicious, and with a side of ratatouille.

Maybe this'll be less good the second time, but there will certainly be a second time!

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