Friday, November 13, 2009

Mardi Gras, Ginza

Once in a while everyone comes to a point in their life where they visit a famous restaurant. Mardi Gras is a famous restaurant in Tokyo, being as the chef left another famous restaurant, Grape Gumbo, to set out on his own. I've seen it featured in various 'celebrity chef' features in Tokyo Calendar et al, so was surprised when a call the day before yielded a reservation with no problem.

Any complaints you may have hear are spot on - the restaurant does a good job of hiding its entrance under a bushel. The entrance to the basement doorway is cleverly hidden between two other buildings, with the small signs situated such that you need to turn your head to the right angle and walk at a certain speed just to see them. But once you get downstairs, it opens out to a sort of modern, sparse place with a high ceiling, a small counter, 8 or 10 tables, and a large and sort of luxurious-looking kitchen. The chef clearly designed this place for his own comfort, and during my visit spent a lot of time at the end of the island in the center, majestically overseeing the proceedings and frantic poundings and choppings of his two assistants. A far cry from other restaurants of similar size where one guy does all the work, dervish-fashion.

The wine list is on the aggressive side (this slice of southwest Ginza being dominated by one thing alone - hostess bars - there must be plenty of expense account abuse going on), but the waitress confirmed that the cheapest bottle was actually quite good (true). The food has options at all price points, ranging from small plates at Y1200 and Y1500 up to the steak for 4-6 people at Y15,000. I'd describe it as 'cheerfully confused', as it has some standard bistro elements, uses Spanish phrases to describe Japanese dishes, tosses in a bit of southeast Asia, and then leans heavily on meats. Interesting stuff, wherein one perusal persuaded me that one visit wouldn't be enough to figure it all out. Fortunately it was also enjoyable enough to justify a second visit. Here's the food:

Bread comes in focaccia form, but with two decent slices of tortilla as well (I was pleasantly surprised by this until I saw the Y600 cover charge; now I just feel like it was balanced). Actually the tortilla was very good - with the potatoes sliced thinly, and the whole thing baked very nicely, it felt very refined and adult. Score 1 for the Spanish influence.

Evidently a specialty of the house, Coriander BOMBS!!! get a lot of excitement on the menu. From descriptions I read elsewhere, I expected roasted garlic to play somewhere, but it didn't. As far as I could tell, this was a salad of coriander with a fish sauce-and-peanuts dressing. It looks small, and is not attractively priced for a small salad, but when you consider that all the leaves are coriander, it's actually not bad. And when you eat this much coriander, you probably won't be wanting more (not in a bad way; I just felt done despite loving coriander).

Pintxos are the previously-mentioned Spanish-named but mainly Japanese item. You must get this if you go - it's like a fun and tasty guessing game. With exactly 2 toothpicks each of around 15 varieties of nibble, it took a pleasantly long time to work through these and figure out what they were. The bits included stewed pork belly, confit cherry tomatoes, raw salmon, croquette, fried and vinegared fish (nanban), fried brussels sprouts, and some curious bits between gingko nuts and potatoes. Several of the items included cumin or other curry-oriented spices, another odd Very nice!

The pheasant featured in this salad was sadly dried, while the tempura gobo was a bit chewy and not that well fried. The sauce also included curried elements...this was the weakest thing.

I think you can tell from looking that the deer was really good. Big, meaty, deep red, that touch of mealiness that deer always has, lots of flavor, etc. Expensive, but worthwhile. The carrots accompanying it were excellent as well, a real standout.

While dessert seemed to be indicated, the spare and simply-described options didn't excite me, and in any case there were odder things to be done. We headed out, resolving to visit again. Probably pretty soon!


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