Saturday, February 6, 2010

La Chasse, Roppongi

If I were the type of guy who gave his posts descriptive titles that made it harder to search for them later, I'd be calling this one "At the Sign of the Skull". I don't know how they got permission for this, but La Chasse has taken a perfectly normal building deep in Roppongi-3 (the triangle leading to the 1-chome point) and slapped on a 12-foot high facade of weathered timber punctuated only by a small lightbox containing a menu and a boar skull. The skull of a 1-year-old boar from Shimoda, if the menu and chef are to be believed.

It gets high ratings and enthusiastic reviews, and has been on my list for years. Why'd I hold off? Well...I don't know. Roppongi bias, maybe? I needn't have worried. The location is fabulous - you down the hill toward Akasaka, then turn right at the 7-11 (if this seems overly familiar, I did live right near there for 6 weeks when I arrived in Japan in 2004), then just keep going up. You pass some intriguing-looking places, but mostly just plunge deep into a dark, quiet neighborhood. What La Chasse is doing, perched, halfway up that hill, is a mystery to me.

The other mystery is the decor, and the permission to redecorate thereunto. I love the outside - it really is a little forbidding, especially at night. And going through the big plank door into the entryway immediately takes you out of the real world of Tokyo - not only is it dark and chilly, there are various animal pelts hanging on the walls next to the coat rack. Inside is warm and cave-like - the main dining room being dark and atmospheric, and the second room almost literally a cave, with the ceiling roughly-finished and sprayed white to approximate a French wine cellar. Big bookshelves with wine glasses, bench seating, and a mallard decoy complete the picture.

The menu is a bit forbidding also. I want you to be ready for this if you go - since pretty much all the choice selections are wild game that the chef shot and brought back himself, it's expensive. You know how sometimes there's that 'steak' item on menus in Japan, and it's two or three times the price of the other stuff? Everything is in that price range. Ah well. You'll be well-served splitting three dishes for every two people, I think, and they're very happy to do that. The pricing won't come out too badly (although the wine list is less friendly than it looks on the interwebz).

The dishes though! If you don't get excited by pheasant, deer and boar, you're in the wrong restaurant (because there's nothing else!). Starting with the mixed appetizer platter is a good choice because they all sound good, or at least interesting, and the chef crams a little bit of everything on the one plate with some salad. Let's see, we have deer ham (or thinly-sliced deer jerky; somehow it seems more appropriately rustic, no?), duck breast stuffed with ground rabbit and confited, house-cured olives (awesome), house-made dried tomato, monkfish liver, and terrine (a bit strong for my tastes).

Moving to mains, here's the, er, deer with foie gras. Oof. Tender and mild, unexpectedly so, and with a dlightful sliver of foie on top. (Sorry about the picture quality, but you can tell from the unadjusted ones above just how dark it is in here).

And yet further into the menu, a sort of choucroute garni made from the 1-year-old Shimoda wild boar. How many of these did he shoot?! Years ago I would have thought the slice of short-rib meat was kinda gross, seeing as it consisted mostly of sweet, sweet, smoky, chewy fat...but here I had paid up and happily chowed down. Sausage, good. Chou, nice. Probably wish I had tried one of the other two preparations of said boar (e.g., roasted), but there's always another visit.

Dessert seemed to be indicated...3 kinds of ice cream on offer, including this odd gorgonzola with honey. For once, I actually didn't like it that much. The caramel ice cream, on the other hand, was deeply burnt and awesomely flavoricient.

In a line, this is a wild, wacky, tasty, expensive experience that everyone should have at least once, but not worry too much about missing if they can't afford.

Ride to the hounds.

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