Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bernini pizza, Ginza (ピッツェリアロマーナベルニーニ)

Someone came up with the idea that we needed Roman-style pizza after our slightly life-changing visit to Il Tamburello. Have you noticed, gentle reader, that food is the last thing I should need at this point, and yet also the first thing on my mind? By which I mean, who's to say no?

There are far fewer Roman places than Napoli places in Tokyo. The fact that you can distinguish at all, let alone choose from such a long list, is something extraordinary, but there it is. Bernini gets kinda low scores, but reviews say the pizza is the only good thing. Plus the place we really wanted to hit was closed on Sundays. Off we went, by bike as usual.

The reviews may be right. We forgo-ed the set lunch menus because of the reviews and also the generally lacking appearance of the pastas on others' tables (and all the tables were full, so consider reserving, even for lunch on a Sunday). While waiting for the pizzas we got the bruschetta to start. There's probably some poetry about being happy with a crust of bread and thou, but this was a silly excuse for restaurant food. No effort.

Pizza's good though, yes yes. The crust is more crisp, that's the roman thing. But I liked the copious toppings, especially the really delicious sausage (not on this pizza, on the one below). And anyway, it's fresh and hot and quite well-made.

Someone's been complaining that she's not featured in pictures. No time like the present to start. Not a bad view across a pizza, I think.

Meanwhile the other pizza arrived and got cold, so I had to go all Scott Summers to reheat it.

This being Japan, there are probably 3 better pizza places in Ginza that also imported their brick ovens from Italy. But they won't be Roman-style, and there's nothing at all wrong with this place. Tasty.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Les Enfants Gates, Daikanyama (レザンファン ギャテ)

The style and food at the now-departed Les Enfants Terrible in Juban were both good; didn't you always wonder what the main shop was like? Wonder no longer. It's s stylish place, pitched a bit to appeal to stylish women, but with food good enough to keep anyone happy.

And terrines. The point here is terrines, which we didn't know until we walked in and saw this fridge packed with Staubs. The menu ranges from terrine to terrine, and on to dessert terrine. This is an oddity. In fairness, they do give you the option of having proper main dishes, but why not go all the way? We did.

Incongruous, no? A place that focuses on terrine, and is associated with bistro-style brethren, and yet is this elegant. It was confusing for a while, but nothing you couldn't get used to. Didn't even reserve the Baccarat heart crystal. Didn't even make the reservation myself, come to think of it.

They started with little fried objects, light and fresh, topped with shaved summer truffle. I'm still not a fan; it tastes awfully funny, doesn't it?

And then it was terrine time. Everyone got to start with this mini terrine, which was aji surrounded by cheese, wrapped in spinach and topped with tomato sorbet and bottomed with cucumber sauce. That's summer right there.

And this is for the bread, right here. The bread was outstanding, by the way, but the salmon-cream terrine they supplied (and supplied again, and supplied for a third time) was awwwwesome.

It's just going to be a parade of terrines from this point onward, so I won't go crazy saying how good they were. This is lobster and shrimp with cooked fennel filling and shaved zucchini wrapping. I don't remember what was in the glass.

Lots of lower-class places have vegetable terrines on the menu and/or go so far as to describe them as a specialty. None of them are as beautiful as this. To top that, this terrine has no filler - no gelatin was harmed in the process of getting it into a smooth and compact loaf. Pretty incredible.

Oh, the foie was pretty incredible too. I mean, you'd expect that, but it's nice when it works out. I've had plenty of mediocre foie terrines and this sure wasn't one of 'em.

Someone thought this was a bit mediocre though - potatoes and pork, wrapped in ham. You might want to avoid it if you go, because there wasn't much to create coherence. Just tasty potatoes and pork products that happened to be in loaf form.

This was a coconutty foam and some tropical ice cream and a biscuit on top. And it was tasty, and not a terrine. The staff seemed put out just to be serving it.

We kept it balanced, though, with this peach-raspberry terrine. It's cool how the jazz up the presentation here, isn't it? Peach-raspberry desserts can be very trite, and a scoop of ice cream doesn't always help, but this is great. Throwing in some green beyond the obligatory sprig of mint is a good idea.

As a finisher, they brought us cigars of chou pastry with tea, passion fruit, and coffee-flavored creams for hand-filling. Quirky and puzzling, but a fine way to finish.

They didn't even offer coffee, if I heard right. Just herb teas, which they brought to the table in a rack of 20 varieties for you to sniff and pick. The serving style was lovely here as well.

As was the whole dinner, really. The staff were good enough that I didn't mind the service charge, and the food was creative and delicious even within its rectangular bounds. Easy to see why this ranks as one of Tokyo's best.

While also being possible to reserve a mere week in advance.

La Balance, Ginza (ラ・バランス銀座)

Despite their booming popularity in Japan, I still think macarons are a great thing. The king of pastry, if you will. There aren't a lot of places that make good ones - you often see them wrapped individually in plastic, and that just can't be a positive sign.

Still, I'm always willing to try a new place, and this new patisserie in Ginza looked pretty good. They're open until midnight, catering to the hostess-gift trade (and less disturbingly than the pet shops, don't you think?).

No, I take back what I said about looking pretty good. When someone and I saw these in the case, we said "Oooh." Then we said "Those look right. They look like Pierre Herme macarons. They're beautiful."

Holy cow, they really are beautiful. The style is different from Pierre Herme, with a firmer shell, but the flavor is right on, beautiful. As we found when we stood outside and ate these with the staff watching us. The chocolate-orange and caramel were standouts for me; the pistachio lacked nut flavor, and the rum raisin was just OK.

One other beautiful thing to mention is the counter girl. She was startling.

Cafe de l'Ambre, Ginza (カフェ・ド・ランブル)

Coffee only. Only coffee. While things like that ordinarily make me want to request a danish on the side, maybe a sugar cookie, I feel a lot of respect for this place and have always wanted to go. It's just down the street from my Ginza bar of choice, Fal, so it's weird that it took me...let's see, from the first time I saw it, probably 12 years. Ah well. It's a big city, bigger than any one blogger can know.

Another unknowable is the number of beans Mr. Sekiguchi has roasted. If the shop has been open since 1948, and he's now 98 years old by my reckoning, and this was a Saturday in July...we'd be estimating, but I'd say it's a lot.

You'd expect that they put a lot of care into the thing, being 'coffee only' and Japanese and all that. Sure enough, the coffee is roasted in small batches, ground when you order it, and veeeery slowly dripped through filters handmade from the finest Colombian hemp, rolled on the thighs of virgins. It's fun to watch. You can feel like you're getting your money's worth.

Actually I have no problem with that feeling at l'Ambre. While other traditional kissa charge you ten bucks for a cup of coffee they poured through a musty filter earlier in the morning, here you're getting beans harvested in Guatemala in 1989. Or if you're more aggressive about it, 1954 in Colombia.

How this works, I don't know, but it's some damn interesting stuff. They do the fancy pouring ritual while all the tourists get jiggy with their fancy cameras,

and you get a cup of something that may or may not resemble coffee as you know it. We had two varieties from the 80's, and one of them was a bit like boiled twigs. I don't mean this in a bad way, because you're getting some weird and fascinating chemicals that you otherwise would have no way of tasting.

Except, like, on aaacid, maaaan. You can taste the colors, you know?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Narita sushi, Monzen Nakacho (すし 成田)

A couple years ago, this place Sushi Yata popped up south of the river in Monnaka. I went there and got really excited, because I thought it was reasonably-priced, sorta creative, and really delicious. Over time, I came to feel like the master was weird, uncomfortably so, and that he had a solid habit of feeding me things I hadn't asked for, and charging for them.

Well, when we went in to Narita tonight, we had a creative starter of okra in crab brain sauce...

and there was Narita san, the chef from Yata. We eyed each other for a couple seconds like "What the..." until I said "What are you doing working here?" and he said "It's my place." Then his kimono-clad wife and (?) mother-in-law intervened to smooth things out and get conversation going. It's a very upscale place, too nice for Monnaka, but the set prices on the menu outside suggest that the pricing will be reasonable. Only a suggestion, mind you.

And he really does have a way with fish; akagai, torched mackerel, squid.

but then he started cutting up a plate of vegetables for each of us. "Did we order those?" "Oh, everyone orders vegetables here."

Mmm hmmm.

Well, certainly everyone orders sushi. Some of the quality here was outstanding, with the highlight for me easily being the seaweed-cured whiting, top right. It was almost like it set into a waxy texture, which I mean in a good way, somehow, instead of the softness and lack of structure of raw whiting.

This is the type of crowd they're looking for here - businessmen on expenses who are happy to order a bottle of Narita-branded shochu and have a kimono pour it for them. Sadly, I have never been on an expense account, and was uneasy by this time. The way they kept trying to force drinks on us didn't help.

So perhaps to quell my unease, they gave each of us a dobin mushi, which is expensive pine mushrooms cooked in soup in a teapot. It's delicious, and they said it was 'service', meaning free. So I guess I should have disclosed the free treatment we got right up front.

Except that when we got the bill, there wasn't much question that we paid for every last drop.

Fish Center, Misaki (三崎さかなセンター)

Misaki is one of the two famous fresh-tuna ports of Japan, along with Oma in the north. But today we were here for other reasons. You had arranged a schedule that included lunch, some sightseeing, and now a trip to the Misaki fish center. Here, I'm pondering what made us come here, and why his whole family was tittering so much behind their hands.

Let me digress a moment to say that, as far as country town fish markets go, this one is cool. Cool in a 'wackiness index' sense, because there are few places that you can get fresh maguro (happily cut into small saku so it's not prohibitively expensive), big frozen cuts, and also a whole freezer full of tuna eyeballs. What the hell do you do with tuna eyeballs?

How about tuna intestines? How about tuna eggs?

I soon realized that the reason they were tittering was that they were about to make me try this once-in-a-lifetime delicacy. The sign says "The only place in the world!"...

Tuna gelato.

In fact: tuna, seaweed, another seaweed, and salt ice cream are all on the menu. Along with green tea, strawberry, vanilla and 'mangou', for the less adventurous.

Or maybe just for the more sensible, because the hijiki ice cream had little flavor, and none of said flavor was hijiki, while the tuna ice cream was just icy, bland milk-flavored ice cream with flakes of tuna mixed in.

The You's kept looking at me like I was going to throw up, and saying I didn't have to eat it, but as usual I'll be damned if I buy food and don't eat it. There's a really high bar of badness to clear before that happens.

As usual, we clowned around a bit too. You's a good guy and a good friend. It's sort of too bad he doesn't know about the blog.

This guy is less impressed.

Kamotsuru, Kamoi (鴨鶴,鴨居)

You got transferred out of our team a couple months ago and became the manager of the branch down near the navy base in Kanagawa. He's gotten pretty into the area, and invited me down to check it out for a day. He took the day off, brought his car over from home (it's too far to commute, so he has an apartment near work), and he got his family to come down for the day too. Lunch was carefully selected, and it was down the coast at Kamoi, which in pirate-speak would be "Arrr! Here be ducks."

This place is a bit famous, and not only because there's a shrine behind the restaurant and the parking lot is behind the first gate. I don't think they charge extra for the blessing your car gets automatically. Couldn't help thinking it was rude for the car not to bow, and that if we had been in a hydraulically-equipped low cruiser instead of You's BMW wagon, we could have made the front bounce to mark our humble entry into the honorably parking lot.

I digress.

What a nice interior, with a pleasant counter, sunken kitchen, country-style wood, and lots of staff bustling around. Blow up that picture and you'll see a big bowl of boiled octopus sitting out.

Blow up this picture and you'll see some egg, two boiled sea snails, and some potato salad. They come with most of the lunch sets.

You and his daughter are not included in anyone's lunch set except mine.

Little Mai chan had the sashimi bowl, which meant she got a much bigger portion of the fish of the day. The rest of us got the snack size, and the katsuo was especially impressive.

The sensible thing to do here is to get one of the rice-pot sets. These are cooked individually so you get a nice portion of burnt rice at the bottom, and are topped with your choice of stuff.

Snapper topping is perhaps the most traditional way to have kamameshi, but You had shown me his guide mag, and the picture for the restaurant was octopus. I was also slightly entranced by the opportunity to confuse the staff by ordering 'taco rice', which is the kind of dumb joke I love. For the record, the rice was interesting in this, but the octopus was tough. The snapper rice was dull, and You's choice, the sea eel, was unanimously acclaimed as the winner on the day.

Just a three-way vote, mind you.