Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ohara et CIE

Many years ago I visited the confusingly Irish/Japanese-named Ohara (and who knows what the CIA means either?) as one of the very last lunches I ever ate as a Roppongi-based worker. Reading that review gives me more confidence in my much-derided one-visit policy - it was mainly the same when we went for dinner, although of course much more involved. It's a nice place. However, there is no reason in the world for it to get the same Tabelog scores as Merveille.

The stairs down are directly across from quality Italian purveyor Oggi Dal Matto, and of course these blocks of Nishiaz are quietly packed with other great restaurants.

Ohara seems to be doing a good business in events. The web shows how you can trick out the stairs and open atrium at the bottom to be perfect for intimate weddings, while the large doors and glass wall into the restaurant would make it perfect for a reception.

Our only special event was of course "Saturday Night Dinner", and thus I had asked for a reasonable course. It seems like a la carte isn't an option on the weekend, but you can choose how much you'd like to pay for your chefs omakase. The 8 courses over there sound like a lot, but it was a very well-judged volume of food. Extra points for the named menu.

And extra extra points for serving some interesting stuff - this is an onion pot de creme (or something) with karasumi and daikon. I didn't remember any Japanese influence before, and it was quite arresting to have these (store-made) dried fish eggs right up front. Fortunately they were much better than the imported Australian ones I had grated onto our lunch pasta. 

Next was a salad...

But the salad has a secret, and the secret is pork-foot terrine, beautifully pan-fried. Years ago, the gelatinous bits of foot remaining in here would have put me off. Now, I can focus on the browning and the crunch, and it's a nice plate. Great salad dressing too. How do they do that?

As if there wasn't enough wa in the karasumi, we also received an amusing egg custard royale. In fact a chawanmushi made from local clams, topped with soup and fresh nori. This was really delicious, and if you're going to make chawan mushi, it might as well be like this.

In keeping with the tendency for things to look much worse in pictures..

This is a nice piece of sea bass, topped with a highly-seasoned scallop mousse. And the bok choy in the back conceals a delightfully-seared scallop too. The best thing about this plate, however, was easily the champagne-tomato-cream sauce, which made us wish the bread was served a bit more regularly so we would have had something to finish the sauce with.

Moving on, it's a nice melon granite to clear the tongue for...

The delicately curry-flavored quail. I tell you, as I always do, that it's damn rare for the main meat dish to be the highlight of the evening, but this was it, no question. I remembered the quail very fondly from my first visit ('best ever' seems to stick in my memory), and while this was grilled instead of boned and stuffed with liver dressing, it was extraordinary. And not at all curry-flavored. Oddly, the potato gratin was also exemplary, and the vegetables were notable (sorta like the above-mentioned Oggi) for being very, very flavorful. Nice one, O'Hara.

One can't expect much after that, and our expectations were met with a dull blanc manger with mango sauce. The coconut ice was really good though - grainy like they had just frozen up some coconut milk, and quickly melting, but still delicious.

Of the petit fours, the fresh chocolates deserve mention for their awesomeness. The others, not so much.

You'll pay a 10% service charge here (which still doesn't make the whole assemblage overpriced). The head waiter is excellent if a bit formal, and justifies the charge; the other staff are a bit young and feel unsure of themselves and the food, like you wouldn't want to ask them any questions in case they flustered beyond all recognition. Also, I wonder why the kitchen can't maintain a good flow with 14 customers who are all on omakase courses.

That waiter took a picture of almost every other table with this instant camera. We were hideously snubbed and wondering what was up with that. Turns out there's a special-event course option that includes embossed cakes, champagne and photos, and this is the popular Saturday-night thing to do. I wonder why O'hara feels like he needs to market the place as a date-night, wedding, special-occasion venue. It's plenty good without gimmicks.

Aside from the food, my favorite moment of the night came when the waiter was seeing us off outside and I presented my card. (Yeah, I had cards made up for the blog. They just say 'Jon' and have the address and email. Now that I got them, I don't really like giving them out because it feels like "Haha, you've been inspected!" but I'm just trying to be friendly.) As soon as he saw it, his face droppedand his mouth turned slightly with a distinct look of "Shit, we've been inspected. Did anything go wrong for this table?"

Nope, not really. 

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