Sunday, September 13, 2009

Souvenir, Toritsu Daigaku

A deeply nostalgic trip, this, for several reasons. First, I used to do nothing restaurant-wise but look for places like this - reasonably-priced bistro French. Finding this took me back to those days (hey grandpa). Second, even though I've spent very very little time in France, the faux nostalgia created by a good bistro is comforting. And third, it was raining hard. It's been a long time since it rained much.
But first, furniture. Today's public service announcement is to let you know that Meguro Dori west of Meguro station is a haven for furniture stores of all kinds - new, used, funky, Danish, it's all there. There wasn't so much that required picture-taking, but I realized along toward the end that it would be worth snapping off a few establishment shots. This place is among the funkier, with a nice selection of used / vintage / dead stock furnishings and homewares plus a good selection of new hats of all types. Hey, everybody's got a business model.
By my row of bottles, ye shall know I am hip.

So if you keep walking on Meguro Dori for nearly an hour, you'll come to Toritsu Daigaku (City College, I'd say). Along the way you could take a cunning right turn and go to the larger and hipper Gakugei Daigaku, but furniture stores beckoned, so we persevered on the straight course despite onset of night and early symptoms of rain.

You know I had done a little advance work on the Worldwide Netz, right? Not to the extent of booking a place, but I had this idea...past the station and just when it seemed like the commercial area would peter out, there was a French flag, lace-curtained windows, and a narrow entryway. Souvenir was actually booked for the night minus the two counter seats, which we slotted into. For the rest of the meal, this cute Bibendum-head lamp watched us eat.

Really, these tables were reserved. They didn't fill up until 8 though, so for a while we could observe, without being rude, the graffiti. When I ordered wine, Sadaka san the chef pointed out that you could see the signature of the vineyard owner in the corner, so real French people have visited here in the past. If I was invited to sign a restaurant wall, I would do so.

A nice thing about Souvenir is the pricing - it feels old-fashioned after a year when I spent a lot of time reading Tokyo Calendar. You can get 3 courses for about Y5000, but the price of additional courses doesn't go up too fast after that. And everything comes with dessert and coffee. I won't even complain about the service charge being added, because that would be petty.
And with that, here's some food. Usually I don't get things like poison cru, because I think there are better places to get fish like this in Japan. If I'm going to pay, I want the damn thing cooked. But I'm forced to admit that this lightly-dressed buri was nice. A good harbinger of the coming winter season when the buri will really be tasting good.
As a fan of Prepared Food (as in, please do something beyond serving me The Highest Quality Ingredients Incredibly Fresh), I tend to go for things like this. The menu description sounds better, no? - Crab and Scallop Terrine. I was envisioning pieces of both held together with ethereal cream, but I got this monotone slab that's actually pictured on the web site. And I liked it. On the web it looked like a pulverized mousse, which would be boring. Here it was revealed to be shredded crab mixed into the scallop mousse, which had reasonable texture and was delicious. Keep this in mind for home preparation. Attention to detail - the tomatoes were peeled. The sauce was a bit nutty, I thought sesame, and that didn't go all that well. Sorry.
Mmmmmmm, pork. My meat consumption has been very depleted, so I honed in on 2 meaty mains as part of a 4-course dinner. The first was this salt pork with lentils (and I love lentils). I felt more like the pork (filet) was brined than salt-dried, which I guess makes sense, but it had a great texture that came apart almost like a cooked fish in sheets and a perfect salty flavor. The lentils were OK.

Not my other meat main, this is your average cous cous a l'Arabe or something. Very good merguez sausage of pure lamb (which is made in Kobe by either an arab or a Frenchman, but definitely not a Japanese person), this would have fulfilled my sausage cravings if I had ordered it. And it had come with three sausages. How I wish it was easy to get good sausage in Japan...I envy the plethora or perfectly normal rough-ground, anise-flavored sausages that sit around every supermarket meat case in America. Somewhere along the line I've lost the 'after' picture to go with this 'before', so it looks horribly dull - in its finished form, you pour on spicy soup and vegetables from the small turreen that accompanies the cous cous.
Arrr, come here me pretty. A truly excellent beef cheek, soft but still a bit fibrous, not overly gelatinous, flavorful, and with delicious sauce that bore all the hallmarks of having been cooked since last week to intenfisy the flavor. Another attention-to-detail point, instead of lazy mashed potatoes, Sadaka san serves this semi-soubise accompaniment, thinly sliced onions simmered into a paste with cream. Similar texture, but wildly different sweet and oniony taste.
Dessert is included in all courses, with your choice of about 8 things, all apparently of the waiting-in-fridge variety. This cherry clafoutis was average at best.
But this scoop of banana sorbet was very good! And I don't like bananas that much, banana desserts even less. So well done on this score too, chef - leaving out the cream and sorbeting is an interesting touch. 

Ahhhhh, an excellent dinner with a nice bottle of Burgundy to lubricate its passage. Personally I don't think there's a better Saturday night, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place to do it than out in the hinterlands of Toritsudai at Souvenir. Sadaka san seems to have been there for quite a while, but his restaurant is timeless and he shows every indication of being able to go on forever too.
Poisson has two s's, you big silly.


  1. Jon

    Pleased to have recently discovered your blog all the way down here in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Memories of 9yrs working in Otemachi '92-01 (also in Investment Banking but better keep that quiet...)where I found solace searching the surrounding neighbourhoods for lunch places to try. No blogs in those days. I've been to a few of your listings, albeit years apart. I spent numerous evenings in your beloved "Mon Naka" enjoying what is a great neighbourhood.

    How can I contact you directly via email?


  2. John,
    Well, I spent about 9 days on the South Island one time, so it's very serendipitous.

    Why not try emailing eoitwj at gmail? It usually works!