Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coulis, Shintomi

The photo gallery on the web site shows a range of semi-artful but fully fresh-looking dishes. Vegetables are everywhere. So are construction pictures, and the last of the series is a couple with a young child, backs to the camera, looking at the completed kitchen. No doubt, Coulis is a labor of love. With quality this good and prices this low it also seems doomed to failure, so you should get in quick.
The location is not an asset. Wedged in between Ginza 1-Chome, Tsukiji and Hatchobori, it's a dead zone between quiet zones. It's also where Les Tonneaux is, though, so it could be that another year will see Shintomi developed as a hotspot.
The building is an asset - with a florist downstairs and a restaurant up, you could call ahead for flowers and pick them up on the way in. Who's up for a theory that says someone in the family owned the land, and the happy couple in the picture built a 'his' dream business upstairs and 'hers' down? 
'His' is the project of a serious, aspirational, committed chef...who doesn't want to go broke. The fitting is pleasant, but really minimal...except the kitchen, which is big enough for 3 people to be working even today at lunch. And he's committed to fresh vegetables, which is a little trendy, but only in the sense that 'tasty' is also in fashion.
Dinner is reputed to be 10-12 courses for Y5500. Lunch is Y1100 for the pasta lunch and Y1300 for the meat. You can add a pasta for Y500 and dessert for Y300. This is a joke, all of it. The walnut bread and black sesame bread are of course made in house and of course hot from the oven.
Look at the salad. It's their '15 types of vegetable' special, and there are many, many places in Tokyo (c.f. Jiyugaoka) where this would be both more expensive and a lunch in itself. Which of the 15 types can you recognize: fried onions on top, three kinds of lettuce (incl. green and red oak leaf, butter), raddicchio, mizuna, peas, tomatoes, some kind of yellowish radish, black daikon, carrot, zucchini...that's only 11. Other versions went by with red pepper for 12. It's all raw, even things that aren't usually, like the zucchini. It's all very nice, as is the vinaigrette.
And as is the small 'salad' of rice underneath, topped with two pieces of vinegary fried chicken. Really, a meal unto itself. At this point you'd be thinking "crap, I ordered 3 more courses?"
But then the pasta course would come (which was a curry today), and you'd get all excited because the curry is light, sweet, fragrant, and accented with another 2 or 3 vegetable types that didn't appear in the salad, like goya and bell pepper. This is one of the best curries in living memory (if you like sweet and not that spicy; it has its place, doesn't it? So does spicy and spicy.)  You could neglect to eat some of the sekihan rice underneath the curry and veg; no one would complain.

And when you were really starting to get worried, they'd bring this big plate of charcoal-grilled lamb and vegetables. Like as not, the lamb is Australian - the menu says it's 'Saltbush', which is a good thing. The flavor is great, the cooking is near perfect, and the vegetables, with eringi, shishito, eggplant, white bell pepper and roasted onion are...completely different. Again. It's not common to find lamb this good at lunch. Come to think of it, where do you get it for dinner? Don't hold out, let us all know.
Y300 dessert upcharges in Japanese restaurants are is this best phrased, most delicately? Bullshit seems appropriate when you consider the tiny, dry cakes that usually arrive, but children are reading, so let's stick with 'right rubbish' (since the only children I know to be reading are Antipodean. G'day lads!).

This is not rubbish by any means. The top is a millefeuille that, while not setting the Paris pastry world on fire, is well above standard. Under that, yogurt-zucchini sorbet. Then a slice of sweet toast topping a rich caramel-banana ice cream, and finally a very moist roasted-apple cake. Every layer deserves a hyphen. Sure it's just two scoops of ice cream with a slice of cake and a cracker and a pastry, but it's fun and interesting and incidentally tasty. 
Much like that pastry in Paris, this restaurant isn't going to set the Tokyo dining world alight. Don't go expecting new twists and clever sauces. If you wonder in on a Thursday, however, you're likely to leave happy, stuffed and confused, wandering how they get all those vegetables and meats into a $20 lunch course cooked and served by a team of 4.The world needs more places like this.

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