Monday, February 28, 2011

Darumatei ramen, Monzennakacho (だるま亭)

Recognize this place? It's near the 7-11, on Kiyosumi Dori just north of the crossing. Used to be a different ramen place, and since they reopened with the new brandingway I've been thinking it looked kinda good. Also it says stuff about 'umai sake' on the outside, and I'm always fooled by that sort of marketing.

There's something unappealing about this place that I can't put my finger on. As usual, I can't manage to take an interior shot without Chef noticing. Ah well. 

And here is (one of) their speciality(ies) - Aka Daruma. Spicy soup with fried garlic and a dollop of Korean chili paste. The spiciness made me cough at first, and that's a good effort. The oiliness quickly got overpowering, and the flavor of the soup and pork was...insipid. Something about it tasted cheap. And I think it was artificially thickened; the texture seemed to indicate added starch. Ah well. Monnaka proper isn't really ramen heaven, you know?

Here's the egg-porn and also a little noodle-closeup.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Orihara Shoten, Monzen Nakacho (折原商店)

The 'renewal' of stores in Monnaka continues. You'd swear this was economic vitality, but I still insist it's the opposite - economic vitality means existing stores stay in business. The number of new shops opening in the last year is more than the sum of the preceding 5 years.

Orihara Shoten, run by Ikebukuro's Orihara Liquors (a wholesaler) is a welcome newcomer. (Any newcomer should be welcome - shutting down means no one liked your product, right?) This space was occupied by an izakaya in the hinter-years (2005) and may even have been empty for a while. Now it offers a mix of cheap candy, traditional toys, expensive drinking gear, salty snacks, and great, great sake in a standing or bottle format. Who could say no that?

Especially when it's opening night! Did I mention that You and I went on opening night? This is only the second time I've been to an opening party in Monnaka, and it's always hilarious. In this case there was a healthy mix of company executives, reps from brewers, store staff, spouses, family, More than one person nudged their neighbor and pointed at me - a foreigner! - and You and I explained to every last one of 'em who was the local.

You get a good idea of the serving style from that picture; you're just going to stand around tables, eat snacks, and drink. The drinks are chosen from their fridges, so the selection can't turn over too much, but it's great - about 15 cold and 6 hot on the menu. For the opening night festivities, they were letting us pull any bottle from the fridge and pay a per-glass fee to drink it, while regular prices are Y350-700 per (110ml-ish) glass, concentrated around Y450, which is totally good.

The food is like this. There literally 5 different types of dried squid; top left here is the deep-red vinegar dried squid, strangely addictive. Then duck pastrami, potato salad, and dried squid legs. Also various pickles, a bit of raw fish (well, tako butsu), omelette, oden...Everything is decent, and most importantly very very cheap (like Y100-250 depending on quantity, which is generally shown in grams on the chalkboard menu over the counter).

Here, You and I are hanging out with what may have been the wife and daughter of what may have been the owner (who's standing to the right of the shot). You is clutching a festive bag full of sparkling Dassai that he bought to take home to the wife after falling in love with the special bottling at the sake-specialist-that-shall-not-be-named-in-Ikejiri. They have normal Dassai but also the 39 and 23. They have a bunch of varieties of Yuki no Bousha. Let me get back to you on what else they have; they've only been open for a few days, and I've only been twice. Suffice to say it's all good-looking, it doesn't overlap hardly none with my preferred local, and there's a higher proportion of daiginjo in the mix.

In short, it's a terrific concept, executed competently, and the staff seems genuinely nice. Great addition to the neighborhood, and I'll be back.

Not too frequently, I hope.

Singapore residents / visitors - try the original branch on Robertson Quay.

Amane soba, Kanda (蕎麦 周)

I'm always going on about Kanda like you should know it, but most people don't have much experience with it. At least most people in my experience. It's this kind of neighborhood - 6-7 story buildings that are mainly offices for small companies. I like to think that this is the heart of Edo, updated for the 20th century (certainly not the 21st).

It's also this kind of neighborhood. There are very old shops mixed in with the new and the previously-new. Once in a while you'll see someone in kimono...and manage to get your camera out and take a no-look shot that turns out like this. BAM!

Mixed feelings about this soba place...I've tried to go a number of times in the past despite my general malaise over soba (old men in the audience will mark my love of ramen as youth and immaturity; let 'em) and have been turned away because they had run out...usually by 12:15 or 12:30. What what? I was almost surprised today when there were only two other customers and I got a big -rasshai when the door opened (and a great door it is, and great frontage). Unfortunately, photography is forbidden inside the store. That's too damn bad, you clowns.

Well, I feel a touch bad about my attitude, because they're into jizake along with their soba. That 'Tsurushi' actually came in today (I see by the blog), and is an interesting choice from Aizu, and I'm sure you recognize Murayu, Ishitsuchi, Yamagatamasmune, Hiroki and others (sorry if I left out your favorite; I'm actually writing this from memory, not looking at the picture that's now inserted. No edits, you know?). They have wine too, which really ups the classiness quotient, or the intention of such.

And they have soba! I thought I was getting cold fried chicken when I ordered this, but that's just because I was sloppy and didn't read 'atsu-age' properly. Silly foreigner. Actually I was happy once I realized what I had ordered. And happier once I ate it, because it's top-quality soba, very fine and firm, and the atsu-age was also excellent (he orders the tofu from a shop, then batters and fries it himself; I know this because it was good enough that I wanted to know where I could buy it, so I asked). The red pepper threads were good for contrast. The tsuyu could be a bit stronger, that's all.

Night menu has all kinda weird choices, game meats and the like.
03 3256-5566

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shodai Keisuke, Hongo (初代けいすけ)

Keisuke has a bunch of different ramen shops and deserves a lot of credit for being creative. The first one I went to was the 'lobster noodle' place, which is like a very light, lobster-flavored ramen (and nothing like the lobster noodles you might get in Southeast Asia). That one's called "Second Generation Keisuke", so I thought for a while that the guy himself was the second generation in the lobster noodle business; well, this place is "First Generation", and he also has "Fourth" and "Sixth" shops, so now I think it's just the order that he opened them.

The guy on the left was very very nonplussed, expecially when I didn't realize he was waiting and tried to go in before him.

Inside, the staff is getting it done, but that's about all. They seemed bored or emotionless or just intently serious, but the fact is that the atmosphere isn't so welcoming. [I know, who cares!] I also mistakenly ordered the spicy version and they were quite concerned about whether I could take it. I'm sure it wasn't spicy at all, but that highlighted the fact that I hadn't ordered the standard bowl, so I changed. Then they had the pleasure of confirming that foreigners a) can't eat spicy food and b) can't admit it.

It's good to start with the standard bowl. If you go back to a place a second time, go ahead and branch out. But for today, the black miso that they specialize in. The Bento review says this is burnt miso and burnt garlic with extra-thick noodles. I can't help wondering if they haven't changed things, because the noodles were demonstrably not extra-thick, while I thought the soup tasted more like an average miso with black sesame. It's certainly not the marvel that Brian is talking about here.  I guess I'd have to say it was decent but meh, although with an interesting lightness of touch that reminded me of the lobster ramen despite being completely different.

The egg wasn't much one way or the other, but the rice sure is black.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Firehouse, Hongo

Boooooooy am I happy with this picture. I took one without the biker, but then I saw him coming, and BOOM!

Anyway, now you know what Firehouse looks like. I've been riding my bike by here for years on my 20km 'city loop' and never noticed one of Tokyo's best-known burger shops. And best. It's good. Still noticeably Japanese-style, but good.

Todd and I had plenty of time to wait while Tucker found her way there from their kids' school induction / prayer meeting / hymn sing. We sat outside in the early Spring sun for a bit, though not on the burger-shaped stools lined up in the waiting area, and then managed to get the antiquey 4-seat table in back.

There are a bunch of really neat-looking books on the shelves back there. Those same shelves feature stickers at regular intervals saying "PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH". I guess this is to keep ketchup off the pages, but they had proper squeeze bottles for the condiments, and I was betting that we could get plenty of red and yellow goo on the books without touching them.

Meanwhile plenty of magic was happening on the grill. Firehouse is Japanese and thus tends toward thin, griddled, well-done burgers. On their web site it says "burger theater", and I guess the ability to sit at the counter and look directly onto the grill is what they're talking about. I wasn't thinking it was that unusual - it's the classic diner arrangement after all, where there isn't space for a separate room or a grill that isn't oriented like this - but I guess in modern conventions it's become a lot rarer.

It's a good burger. The bun is high and soft and eggy (I hesitate to say "unctuous brioche bun", for what I hope are oblivious reasons), the cheese is abundant, the patty is a bit thicker than you'd expect in Japan and cooked fully like I prefer. I'm afraid the beef flavor didn't shine through. That's my fault though - the chili topping, while not what we expect back in Texas, was a fair simulacrum taste-wise, with a healthy portion of verisimilitude, and thus crowded out the more subtle barnyard and feral flavors of cow. The fries were OK for their type. I don't think wedges are the way fries should be done. Let's agree to disagree on that (or agree to agree). No one would say there were very many of them either.

[Aside: check Hiroaki's review here. If he doesn't work for the restaurant, he's doing a textbook job of sounding like someone who does.]

Burger specialist reviewers tend to refer to this as the 'innards' or 'upskirt' shot. In this case, it looked so gross I had to include it.

Another gross thing I learned about today was Mormons. No, I'm kidding, they're not gross. The two recovering Mormons I lunched with are really nice people. But they did tell me about 'fry sauce' - mayo and ketchup mixed together. Interestingly, it seems to be popular in South America and Scandinavia too.

Coincidence? I think not.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dai San Harumi Sushi, Shinbashi (第三春美鮨)

First sentences of reviews of top sushi places should include the words 'hidden' or 'unassuming' (or if you're an American writer, please use the phrase 'sushi joint'. And if you're reviewing Kyubei, please include "more money than sense" also.). Look, I worked them in! Dai San Harumi is fairly described as a top place with its big Tabelog score, but to me it has a normal entrance with some actual signage and a menu, and is not at all hidden. It's in a perfectly good alley one block off Sotobori Dori in Shinbashi, home of other really scary places.

This is a top recommendation from a very serious eater, my newish friend Check. The normal appearance of the coolers belies the seriousness of everything in them. Nagayama san, at left is really intense about his food. Pleasantly though, his attitude wasn't at all overbearing to me. I decided long ago that when Japanese chefs tell you how to do something, it's because they care - they've tried it and figured out the best way, so leave out the experimentation for once and just roll with 'em. Nagayama sam is serious enough that his menu (handwritten daily, A2-size, at least 3 copies because that's how many he gifted our party) tells you where every fish came from, how much it weighed, and how long he's had it (the 55-kg Kagoshima tuna, for example, was aged three days for optimal flavor). And the farmer who produces his organic Koshihikari rice. Likewise his enormous wasabi. In fact, if you like this sort of obsession, and I do, Nagayama san could fairly be said to have an enormous wasabi.

He makes his own pottery too. Not every piece, but the cup pictured here, and most of the flatware (the platters that the nigiri are served on, the shoyu dish below, etc). He does not make his own sake...but he does contract someone to do it, and he does direct them to age it in cedar for 16 days, because that's the flavor he likes from his Edokko youth, and the assistant said we could have it any way we wanted, but he chimed in from across the counter with "Warm is best!" and we went with that.

He also said Victorious looked like a pro wrestler. (I bet he was a kid during the Rikkidozen period, drinking that taruzake.) This is a surprising statement to make about a senior IT executive from a major multinational...but entirely fair. It's in the style of Asian comment that my friend Crazy remarked on while hiking through Laos and inner Thailand (he was just getting over Dengue and we were sipping wine with his new wife on the balcony of l'Elephant at the time, old boy). "It's not at all rude," he said, "to look at a foreign person, start laughing, and say 'You have a huge nose!'"

Separate pictures of every piece of fish you eat at a 'sushi joint' are a bit much; so I collaged these up. For starters, some delicious wasabi shoots and leaves, blanched and lightly pickled. Nothing says Spring like these. (Or maybe warm weather. And I think I heard about some kinda tree...with flowers...that people also associate with Spring in Japan.)

The squid was veeery nicely cooked; hard to tell if it was cooked or not in places, so firm but soft, stuffed with tentacles and squid eggs. That's not very appetizing, now that I think about it.

Two plates of grilled stuff followed (did you know that sushi meals go this way? The salient point is that the nigiri, what you might think of as 'the sushis', come last). Top is squid legs. Bottom is mirugai on the left (geoduck in English, in theory, but who the hell knows a geoduck?), again with some eggs attached, and on the right delicious 'white-grilled' sea eel, very firm and flavorful.

DSH isn't chef's-choice only; I took away from their attitude up front that you could get whatever you want, but with two big, talkative, Japanese-disabled Americans (three, I suppose) finishing off a business trip that had seen them pass through high-speed, high-volume destinations including Mumbai, Delhi and Dalian and come out firing, I didn't feel like trying to specify a course on the fly. We got omakase, including sashimi.

DSH is famous for the quality of the mackerel; you must know by now that I rely on mackerel to determine a shops's quality. I don't hold with the "how good is the omelette" idea - the mackerel is a humble fish that can be heart-stoppingly good is it's sourced and pickled well (and a healthy slug of luck is on your side too; I mean, who knows how a fish is going to taste until they taste it?). This was as good as any mackerel I've had, product quality and pickling. The tuna was too (although Check says you can get better tuna elsewhere). The mirugai made another appearance here (and not its last); the texture of these isn't for everyone, but this was clearly top notch. With the 'hard' clams (including, e.g., akagai), there's a feeling you get sometimes, where it's sort of crunchy but there's a little spurt of oceanic flavor when you bite into it. I think that's an indication of top quality. What do I know?

De, we moved on to nigiri. The rice really is very good here. It's cooked firm, it's warmer than most places serve it, and it's flavored strongly (again, compared to my low-to-mid reference set). It's kinda of an equal partner to the toppings, which is rare.

Pretty sure these are in the order they came (the shrimp heads were not all the way at the end, but were also not right after the shrimp, for example. If memory serves, they are:
- Houbou, a firm and chewy white fish (that's red and brown and black and pretty darn ugly, if you see them whole), a cut above other times I've had it
- Shin ika, again good quality
- Shrimp, distinguished from all other places by being freshly-boiled and still warm...but you know, the cold one at Hashiguchi is going to stay with me for a long time. He made separate nigiri out of the front and back of the tail, and the part up by the head was it.
- Mirugai, charcoal-grilled this time (and this may have been my favorite way)
- Hamaguri, no particular opinion except that I have found hamaguri to be gross in the past when grilled (my main thought has been "these are covered with mucus", right or wrong)
- Shrimp heads, still some meat left inside, really delicious, but the sharp bits poked your mouth painfully

- Kohada, not as distinguished as the mackerel
- Cured snapper, which was too mild for me - to me, part of the point here is how the seaweed sucks out the moisture and leaves the fish chewier; this could have been cured more and/or sliced thicker.
- Uni, probably reference quality, awesome taste that sort of burst in your mouth...but again I had to think about the late-season Nagasaki uni at Hashiguchi.
- Anago, definitely the best I've had. Either the fish or the cooking is superior (like the shirayaki above), because the texture was very different. And great. And the spike of yuzu in the sauce makes you sit up and take notice. Well, me at least. Nagayama san seemed happy to hear comments about the food, like "Unnn. Yuzu good."

- It's too bad if the tuna is better at other shops, because the toro here, in sashi above and then in hand roll, was terrific. You'll notice two different rolls here...that's because we had to get another round, despite the vigorous cleaning that the shop was already getting by this time.
- The egg was probably reference-quality too, as much as an omelette can be. I thought the sweetness and fishiness were very well-judged. If you were judging the shop by the eggs, you'd be impressed, but I think the range of quality is narrower than it is for fishes.

After that it was all over except the simple, humble dessert - which is thin squares of kudzu-based jelly in brown-sugar syrup. It's textural, and tastual too if you like brown sugar (as much as I do).

We were last to leave and also hung around too long, taking pictures with Nagayama san and the staff, generally making foreign asses of ourselves. I'd like to think they wouldn't mind if I came back some time, but it's punishingly expensive (thank you again, Victorious), so I'll stick with the weekend special event treatment.

Unfortunately, I have to conclude that the highest-end of sushi is just not for me. Another way to think of this meal is "two full courses at Merveille," (per person) and that sounds way better to me.

Towers Beer Bar, Tokyo

How many times have I walked by Towers? A dozen, maybe more. Most people wouldn't walk from the office to Ginza, but it's only 20-30 minutes depending on what part of Ginza, and I always do it. Towers is right in the middle, and I thought it looked cool even before my friends mentioned this neat standing bar with fancy beers. There's one problem with it, and that's that it's pretty much always full.

Not tonight, obviously, or you wouldn't be reading this. I was intending to look for an oyaji-fuu standing bar in Shinbashi since I was meeting Victorious on the late side for Round 2 of our battle with Tokyo's best sushi. But I walked by Towers (funny, that) and there were only these two people plus the bartender in his Samoan national team rugby jersey. Took a while for everyone to get warmed up (part of which was my fault - but I confess the bartender's opening gambit of "So, do you like beer?" didn't flow naturally into conversation. All I could think to say was "Popeye" and "Ushitora", and he doesn't need to hear that stuff.), but once we started talking it was fun. In particular, when I said where I lived, the woman fairly cooed "Ii tokoro janai?!?!?", reinforcing yet again my reasons for picking my URL. They both live and work elsewhere, but the guy was knowledgable about the area, going so far as to discuss with me the relative merits of the 3 famous ramen shops in the Monnaka area. (He really dislikes Kissou, is neutral on Koukaibou, and favors Bigakuya, so I think we're just dealing with the preferences of a guy who doesn't like fatty ramen.)

Oh, the beer. One attraction for me is that they have a keg of real ale (Shiga Kogen Not So Mild; this guy went to the brewery) - or did, until the master hand-pumped the last pint for me. Outside that, there were several varieties of Baird on tap, Stone Vertical Epic 2009, Grissette, a few more, all in pints or halves. This photo's blurry. It's just filling space and reminding me what to say. And what I say is "Time for some crazy sushi."

There's a back bar of liquor too, if for some reason you went in here to not drink beer.

Musashino Aburasoba, Kanda (武蔵野油学会)

Ahhh, I just love the name here - "Oil Study Meeting" or if you wanted to be extravagant, "Scientific Society for the Study of Oil". 'Musashino' refers to an area of Tokyo that was formerly famous for beef carpaccio.

These guys now occupy the space where Nocchi was in western Inner Kanda (it's actually on the street across Sotobori from the west-side shotengai, with Xi'an at the front. Matt, that's the place where we met the other time, in case you need to find it.)  I shan't link to that review, as you obviously won't find Nocchi. I see from M.A.'s web site that they've only been open about 3 weeks; I'm pretty sure there was something else in here between them and Nocchi. Maybe the space is haunted. Well, good luck guys. This is only their first branch outside the Waseda original.

Aburasoba evidently sounds bad to certain people; someone thinks it sounds gross. Depends on the ratio of oil (or fat) to noodle; the best way to describe this is that it's like a 'dry ramen', one where you get most of the flavor by means of a thick sauce that coats the noodles. [You can get tantanmen in this style too, and I highly advise it.] Maybe they make a pork-bone soup and just keep reducing it until the water is gone and they're left with oil and flavor. Another good way to describe this is that it's like pasta with sauce - you mix it so the sauce coats the pasta, but it's not soup by any means.

It is however, pretty darn good. You can't see the noodles down there for the solid helping of menma and pork and kamaboko and pea sprouts; they were decent noodles, and the soup base was tasty. Amazingly, it was a bit too small. I would actually recommend supersize noodles here, which is a rarity (and an extra cost, which is also a rarity in this type of bowl).

When someone was getting disgusted about this, I somehow failed to mention what added toppings I asked for - spicy fish-egg mayonnaise, and spicy chili oil paste. Mmmmm hmmmm, that's a topping of whipped oil for your oil noodles.

But worthy of further study, I think.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Yojinbo, Todaimae (用心棒 本号)

Hongo Sanchome - a curious neighborhood. On one hand, the well-educated or at least well-traveled among you will recognize this as the famous red gate of Tokyo University (Todai), the 'Harvard of the East' (or the 'Wesleyan of Wa' if you prefer),

and the neighborhood is roughly jumbled with used book and expensive antique stores. Musty classics all, you'd say.

On the other hand, some shops evince a rougher sensibility.

It was a long walk up from the station; my destination is far from Hongo but right near Todaimae, a station on the Namboku line, which I like to think of as the 'line to nowhere', because it connects to nowhere I regularly go or really want to.

I was readying some snide comments about how Todai students are too classy to eat ramen (there isn't much indicated on the usual sites), but in fact there are a bunch of good-looking ones - a Keisuke branch, a Ya Ya Ya (with extensive English introduction on a sign out front, including the classic direction "Please eat our ramen at least three times"), some one-offs. I guess I'll be going back.

Yojinbo is another of them - in a neighborhood of quiet, intellectual sophistication, it's just a semi-finished garage. An interesting point about this place is that it's the father shop of a newer, classier branch in Jinbocho (another interesting point is that the jinbo of the shop and the jinbo of the place are totally different). I've walked by that one many times, both on reckies and also ever time I visit the mighty Masked Noodle. I think of that as an 'overflow' place - it usually has a short line, but nothing like the block-spanners frequently seen across the street at the Ramen Jiro branch (which is one of the most popular of the 30+ Jiros in the world (which are not branches, more like approved child shops, I think)). Yojinbo could be fairly described as a 'Jiro clone'. It could also be fairly described as 'popular', ranking 138th on ramendb out of 31,600 listed shops (the branch is 121st, for what it's worth). This puts it at roughly the same level as 69 'n' Roll.

Well, that's a prelude by way of a segue. I didn't have to wait, but that was accidental - this place has the buzz of a ramen-ya that stays full from opening to closing.

Did I say already that this my first time to eat Jiro-kei ramen? Well, this was the point where I showed my newness by trying to specify what toppings I wanted as I sat down. Ramen Tokyo describes the procedure accurately and in detail, and as soon as the guy snapped "Wait your turn," I remembered this. Fortunately plenty of other people were lax in their ordering too, and they could actually read the signs.

Yes, this was my first time to eat Jiro-kei ramen. I get it now. It's a really good style. Not that this is a big news flash to any of the millions of people that love it. Well, million. Thousands. A lot of people, OK?

The salient features are the mountain of bean sprouts and cabbage (lightly boiled en masee and then drained in a laundry tub that's all melted on one side from flying too close to the sun; there's a special word for this), the garlic (at least 3 good-sized cloves, crushed and thrown in here; there's a cute little ritual where they ask every customer "Would you like garlic?" I was pretty in the spirit, and it was hard for me to resist making a joke playing on Nate's post on his visit to the Jiro mothership, something like "Oh, is it good with garlic?" They already didn't like me after I ordered out of turn; the correct answer to "Would you like garlic" is your preferred topping list, so you could actually say "Yes, garlic extra vegetables spicy added fat.".), the soup, which is a half-thick tonkotsu...

the pork, which is a whole lotta fatty meat, or meaty fat if you prefer, cooked very very soft. I think I got the recommended extra pork version as well; everything is cheap here.

And the noodles. Evidently Jiro-kei ramen is proud of its noodles, and justifiably so based on this. They're big and very firm, not at all in the squishy-chewy udon mold, and have a terrific bold taste, almost like whole wheat to me. I think Jiro-kei is basically the pork and the noodles, plus the overall veggie-mountain shape of the meal.

This picture shows the combined elements but also reflects my progress through the bowl; Ramen Tokyo describes the difficulty of finishing a bowl of Jiro-kei ramen, and I gave up the ghost shortly after this. Come to think of it, this is a good 'health' strategy - I got extra vegetables, and by the time I 'climbed sprout mountain' I was already half full. I'd eat this stuff again though; it would be interesting to see if this is a good example of Jiro-ism or if there are even better ones. I had a full and satisfied feeling as I embarked on the long walk back to the station. No, make that "I felt woozy and a little sick," because that's how it really was.

Can't help it, any time I hear the name, I think of Jack Wade in the Bond movies saying "Yo! Jimbo!"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Biodinamico, Shibuya

Between drinking beers at Craftheads and eating dinner at the exclusive, highly-regarded Biodinamico, we stopped off at this hip bike shop to look at their vintage and rebuilt fixed gear specimens. Only after a while did we realize that it's actually a design firm, and we were kinda standing in their lobby while they tried to work in back. On the other hand, why do they have 10 fixed gears in their lobby? And do they know their name is bad English? Then again, 'mashroom' has a certain insouciant hip erroneousness to it, eh? Like they know it's spelled wrong and don't care, because it's like a mashup of mushrooms. Am I digressing?

And is the ceiling painting terrific here or what? You can't see it in the picture, I suppose, but the corners are all done up with these art-deco, faintly Mucha graphics. The whole restaurant is one room, 16 seats. 3 staff. Not what I was expecting after a glossy writeup in Tokyo Calendar last year and a high score on the tabelogz.

It's been a long time since you saw 5 pieces of cutlery on one side of the plate, eh? They're set up for serious eating. The maitre d' is also serious, of a type that might be described as 'sleek', which is to say 'a bit round, but exquisitely well-presented, and with pomaded hair'. The chef is young, and learned his craft froma  tender age at the elbow of various Italian grandmothers after falling into a trattoria in Italy while there for other reasons. Perhaps he studied later? It would be amazing if he reached this level of sophistication and execution without training. Aside from those two, there's just one other staffer, a combination kitchen/floor man.

All they're going to ask you is "Drinks?" and "Meat?" That's because there are 'two' courses on the 'menu', but the only 'difference' between them is 'Y1k' and the addition of a 'meat' main dish. I'd recommend it, because the meat was very good, the value is fine, and the overall volume is a little skimpy.

Skimpy, he says. Would you have us eat two of these incredible scallops, the cooking perfectly judged and a thin strip of lard laid across them? Or the accompanying roast scallop livers? What about the 'prosciutto' of tuna with basil sauce? Yes, I would have you eat two of all those things. Expecially the scallop, which was extraordinary.

In fact it made me wonder if this would be one of those meals that starts with a bang and goes downhill. This salad of warm duck, confit turnip, and (Italian imported) radicchio just kept us level - which is a great thing when you start that well. The duck was the star, but it all went together.

Usually I hate blogs that include pictures of bread. (Some days I hate my blog and want it to die.) This is here to remind me to tell you that the starter rolls and the repeated focaccia are made in-house and are quite good considering that. (No, I didn't mean that. I love my blog.)

It's going to be a couple more plates before there's any letup, aiiight? This is pancetta and leek ravioli with ground octopus sauce. And topped with a sort of slice of compressed octopus terrine. And a lot of thyme. Damn. Obviously you should like octopus to like this, but...if you picked off the bits on top, you'd still think this was awesome ravioli. Could I have another 10 please?

Just like you'd like the fresh fettucine, made every morning. No toppings but cheese, pepper and oil. It was really thick (I mean like a 4 or 5 on my machine - I've never done that before, but would now like to try) but the texture was great, and the high egg content was delicious.

Speaking of texture, I just don't know how some guys manage to cook fish with this level of technique when other people can't get it done to save their lives. It's a Himedai from Ogasawara, if my memory serves, and the springy firmness was terrific. With roasted endive. With grilled polenta. This was yet another course where I would happily eaten two or three times the volume.

Aside from being able to eat two of everything, nothing bad to say. And this is the meat course - wild boar, stewed with chocolate and raisins. I'm not making that up - it's a recognized style and everything. Call it Cinghiale in Dolce Forte, and you'll be right. I was thinking back to other famous boars I have known (including some from down in Shimoda and a fair number from Hiroo), and we asked where this had come from. I almost spit it out when he said "Canada", but with the barley risotto, braised radicchio, and celeriac-apple jam I figured there was enough quality stuff on the plate to make it worth eating. The only misstep of the meal, that - serving Canadian meat. Feh.

As far as desserts in Japan, and especially Italian restaurants, this was quite good. Left is a semifreddo, extraordinarily creamy, then some sort of barley crepe with fresh-but-pungent cheese filling (weird but good), and finally a ricotta cheesecake with preserved orange (I think). While I'm no fan of simple desserts, these showed, like everything else in the dinner, a really high level of technical competence in the service of tastiness. There's nothing better.

Coffee was very good. And there were nutty nibbles to go with it. The one that looks like fresh chocolate isn't; it's a nutty thing, but dusted with cocoa for some reason. The caramely nuggets on the right were terrific. I like food. Let's eat.

Actually, that's a good conclusion. I think the chef here really likes food. He said something to us about not having any school training, so I have to think what he does is the product of thinking about how to make something perfect in taste and texture and then going for it.

Obviously it ain't cheap, but it's a neat place.