Saturday, November 14, 2009

Comme d'Habitude, Sangenjaya

As the latest in our series of neighborhood explorations, Sangenjaya had a few things against it. I'm unreasonably biased against the Denentoshi line (dunno why), and as far as I could tell, Sancha was a bit too...industrial. Finally, the weather was gloomy all day. but after a late start we persevered and headed there. It turns out that the area around the station is pretty good - varied and homey, with a lot of cheap places to eat. The one thing that was deeply lacking was decent-looking izakaya, which is a grievous flaw in a Tokyo neighborhood. But oddly there are lots of French and Italian places, and one of the most notable is Comme d'Habitude (Chez Taka), which is some distance south of the Mishuku crossing, midway between Sancha and Ikejiri.

When we arrived at 6:30 they said we could squeeze into the last two seats at the bar, but warned that the service would be slow since they were crowded. Then they thought better of it and told us to come back at 7 if we still wanted to eat. After walking further down the street and finding nothing with exceptional appeal, we went back. With all 16 seats full, and 4 people serving, it was certainly as crowded and slow as it's going to get.

Fortunately the menu offers ridiculous value - and I don't say that lightly like some others. This is 4 courses of solid French food for Y4000, and you can pick each course. Amuse, two starters, main, cheese or dessert, drinks and snacks...if there's a better value to be found, I understand your desire to keep it to yourself. Amazingly, they say they've recently reduced the price to stimulate demand...we ordered cold starters, soups, meats and desserts, as pictured below. I've been considering upgrading my camera since I've got an old model that refuses to take pictures when you leave the battery at home, but at least for this occasion there was a mobile phone standing in. Onward:

Have you noticed that I'm a sucker for horse? This was lower on the scale of horse that I've eaten - either a different cut or a different slice of it, the texture was very chewy (in that way where you chew and chew, and it's soft, but you don't seem to make any progress). Good meat though, and the vegetables and leaves on top (including celery leaves) plus the accompanying pesto, were a lovely introduction.

Country terrine was OK; I prefer a rougher grind, but I guess the chef deserves some notice for going with this fine mince mixed with cubes of various types of meat.

Being seasonal, I keep ordering chestnuts this month. A creative touch here, I think - chestnut soup with smoked pork belly. The pork was smoked and caramelized within an inch of its life, an approach that I always think has just a touch of cotton candy to the taste, and of course matched very well with the soup. Actually it was better to eat together, since the soup softened the unctuous fatosity and heavy smokagitude of the meat.

Another creative soup (we just picked 'em; the other stuff is more normal), this is a piece of fried fish submerged in gobo soup with deep-fried gobo shavings on top. Starting out crunchy with fry, then mixing together and staying textured with gobo, and fish flavor...good stuff.

Duck confit (actual Challan duck if the menu is to be believed) was OK but probably a low point since it was a bit dry and salty. Even for confit. Still more than edible, with nice mushrooms.

Somehow the chef managed to preserve the integrity of this bit of beef despite cooking it super-soft in red wine. Perhaps because it wasn't the expected cheek meat, it also left the sauce a touch tannic with wine and didn't make it as sticky with collagen as you'd expect. The vegetables have a homey atmosphere, but you can't argue with good, fresh vegetables that are steamed and plated.

I love pears in any form, and I'm very pleased that we've come into autumn pear season when the green 'La France' pears are in stores (Japanese 'water pears', the big brown ones, are very nice, but don't do it for me the same way). Pears in a tart are especially nice, especially when they're cooked well and come with a scoop of deep, bitter caramel ice cream. Decent tart, terrific ice cream.

Wait a few minutes more and you can have the souffle (pronounced soo-full). This was a genuine souffle, airy and a bit spongey on top, with chocolate sauce drizzled into it. I could fault it for being undercooked inside, but it still tasted great, and I'll spare you yet another repetition of my comments on value.

One bad thing about seeing pictures from restaurants on the internetz is that you aren't surprised when the petit fours are served on cute animal-themed plates. I apologize sincerely for spoiling the fun for you too. These were actually slices of fruitcake, believe it or not. They were pretty authentic; I might like a little more date, a bit more batter and some liquor to moisten it up, but it was a real fruitcake all right. And I enjoyed the plate regardless.

I could get used to a place like this.

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