Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

Chic, cheap Italian eatery in Ogikubo

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012


The stylish Italian eatery, La Gallina, is situated on a slightly seamy sidestreet in Ogikubo next to a cos-play joint called AquaDoll. The touts trying to entice passersby to descend to the club, however, don’t seem to care. Such juxtapositions are common along the Chuo Line.

The customers at La Gallina don’t mind either. They’ve come for the simple, yet delicious food, expertly prepared and served with flair. They are also here for the very reasonable prices.

Chef Miyamoto worked in Puglia, Piemonte and Parma for four years and brought back to Japan considerable skills and an educated palate. His white bean soup (600 yen), a deeply satisfying Puglia favorite, is made with pureed cannellini beans moistened with chicken broth, blessed with a hint of sage, then drizzled with a swirl of olive oil and topped with a garlic-infused bruschetta and parsley. Fantastico.

Another excellent starter is his aji mariné with vegetable vinaigrette (1500 yen). This dish, easily shared by two, combines thick slices of tasty horse mackerel with a baby leaf salad and a fine dice of celery, daikon, carrot, whole capers, and slivers of green onion, all bathed a light tasty dressing. The careful, uniform dice of the veggies subtly shows the impressive knife skills and attention to detail that Chef Miyamoto brings to his cooking.

A variety of pasta dishes are offered, including a few daily menu choices chalked up on the black slate board. The gnocchi with taleggio cheese (1800 yen), again easily shared, were cloud-like pillows of potato pasta in a creamy, yet tangy sauce. Miyamoto finishes this dish with a line across the plate of chopped Italian parsley and another line of freshly ground black pepper. Unpretentious and delicioso.

The main dishes too are consistently fine. The grilled pork chop with rosemary (1800 yen) was a generous cut of pork nicely caramelized in spots but still juicy and faintly blushed with pink. The accompanying vegetables—broccoli, carrot, turnip, and sugar snap beans—were also nicely grilled and flavored with a rosemary-infused olive oil.

Another winning dish was the roast chicken with red wine sauce (1600 yen). The portion of thigh was perfectly crisped on the outside, yet tender on the inside. The red wine sauce was richly flavored with balsamic vinegar and a few grains of sea salt.

The separate dessert menu offers six or seven choices. The fruit madedonia with gelato (500 yen) is a refreshing melange of apple, orange, grapefruit, and kiwi (both yellow and green), crowned with a dollop of honey gelato. An unusual and tasty end to a meal is Miyamoto’s limoncello bruleé (500 yen).

The wine list is well-chosen with a broad selection of Italian whites and reds. Most bottles are priced at less than 5000 yen. One of the best is the young “Super-Tuscan” Dogajolo, an elegant, fruity red (4200 yen) or, among the whites, the Monteoro Vermentino Gallura 2009 from Sardinia (3900 yen).

The decor, at first, seems simple to the point of austerity. But after a glass or two of spumante (800 yen), the off-white plaster walls textured with trowel marks take on the potential of unfinished canvases. And the plain, dark wood tables frame and focus all attention to the food on the plate.

I’ve got only one quibble with La Gallina. I like the heroic tone and polished timbre of the Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, just as much as the next guy, but hearing him belt out his best-selling song Con te partiro, four times during dinner would strain even the patience of a saint.

5-24-7 Ogikubo, Suginami-ku. Tel: 03-3392-9855. Lunch 11:30 am to 2 pm (L.O.) Dinner 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm (L.O.). Closed Mondays. For the complete review, and other of my reviews, please check out



Kyushu Jangara ramen in Akihabara

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

The engine of Tokyo runs on ramen fuel. Stand on any Tokyo street corner and listen carefully. You’ll probably be able to hear the slurp of savory noodles quickly downed for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the thousands of ramen joints scattered across this vast megalopolis. One of my favorite joints is the Kyushu Jangara honten, main shop, in Akihabara just across the alleyway from a maid café.

Kyushu Jangara serves a tonkotsu-style ramen with a broth richly flavored by slow-simmered pork belly with the bones still attached. They add complexity to this mother stock with additional flavor notes from a chicken stock and a vegetable stock. Originally from Kyushu, tonkotsu is one of  the most popular ramen broth styles which also include shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso broths.

The signature bowl here is the 1000-yen zembu-iri (the whole kit and kaboodle), which means toppings of menma bamboo, meltingly tender pork belly, pork shoulder chashu, a hard-boiled egg, a spoonful of spicy tarako, slivers of tree ear mushrooms, and a handful of green scallion tops. The men noodles are as thin as capellini, angel hair pasta, and properly al dente. If you would like more noodles after you’ve slurped down the first batch, you can order another serving for 150 yen.

An array of condiments can be employed to fine tune your bowl: white sesame seeds, white pepper, crushed garlic, or roasted garlic chips. Fiddle as you like.

The shop also offers a few side dishes to go with your noodles. The vinegared cabbage, for 100 yen, turns out to be a quite tasty coleslaw.

And the “dry curry,” for 150 yen, is a tasty addition for the ravenous.

Seating is elbow to elbow at the counter or shoe-horned into a small chair at one of the three tiny tables. No one minds though.

The restaurant gets its name from the Kyushu jangara shamisen, a popular type of banjo, a soundtrack of which twangs out a constant stream of tunes to slurp by.

To find the Kyushu Jangara shop, head out of the maze of Akihabara station at the west exit toward Laox and Onoden. Cross the main street, Chuo Dori, with the tracks overhead. Turn right and walk along Chuo Dori about 4 blocks. You’ll find a Apple Mac store on the corner. Turn left and about 50 meters down this side street you’ll find the shop on the left. Look for the queue of people waiting to get a seat.

3-11-16 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku. Open daily  10:30am to 11:30pm. Except Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays when they open one hour earlier at 9:30am.

Tokio Plage Lunatique

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Tokio Plage tree shot

Summer is over. And Japan’s loveliest season has arrived wearing her many colored robe. But the summer season lingers on at any outside table of Tokio Plage Lunatique riverside in Futagotamagawa. From the funky patio, with its mismatched chairs and rattan sofa, you can enjoy a chilled glass of wine or a cold beer under the  spreading branches of a towering linden tree, listening the rustle of the bamboo grove as the wide Tama river flows silently on in front of you.Tokio Plage outside

Inside are ruby red walls, linen laid tables, and a casual eclectic decor that Amélie of Paris would appreciate. The dinner menu offers pastas, and other Italian-accented entrees.

Toki Plage curryMy favorite lunch is the vegetable curry—spicy and filling with chunks of pumpkin, eggplant, tomato, green pepper, and a deep- fried egg to top it off. With its green salad and glass of iced tea, the ¥1,500 price is a bargain.

After lunch, spend some time browsing in the next door shop selling kitchenware, dining, and other living accessories from popular French designer, Genevieve Lethu, the only such shop in Japan. Dogs are welcome in both establishments.Tokio Plage Sparky

Tokio Plage is open everyday from 11:45 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The best way to arrive is to ride your bicycle down the lovely paved paths along either the Sengawa river, or the Nogawa river, until you reach the Tama river at Futagotamagawa. You could also walk, less than ten minutes, from Futagotamagawa station.

1-1-4 Tamagawa, Setagaya Ward. Tel: 03-3708-1118.

Pasta alla Elaine

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009


As to which pasta sauce reigns supreme in our house, it’s a toss up between “red sauce” and “pepperoncini.” I’ll save the pepperoncini recipe for another day.

The “red sauce” is my version of the tomato-based pasta dish my mother made so often when I was growing up. Unfortunately, we’ve got no Italian blood in our family, but I’ve eaten so much pasta over the years, I consider myself an honorary Italian.

tomatoesMy cupboard is always stocked with packets of dried porcini, cans of whole Italian tomatoes, and spaghettini. So all I need to do for a quick, easy, and delicious meal is bicycle over to my local supermarket to pick up a couple of ripe avocados, a packet of shiitake mushrooms, some ground beef, and salad greens. I’ve been making this pasta sauce for so many years, I do it on automatic pilot while listening to National Public Radio and sipping a tumbler of red wine.

Basically, you’re making a marinara sauce. For marinara, tomatoes are the most important ingredient. Any brand of whole Italian plum tomatoes will do. I’ve made this sauce many times with the cheapest canned tomatoes I could find, but it’s worth seeking out San Marzano tomatoes. They are richer tasting and meatier than any other type.

First, let’s do the prep work. Get yourself a glass of red wine. All right? Let’s go.

3 cans (14 oz. each) San Marzano tomatoes

• two bay leaves (preferably Turkish, the most flavorful)

• one package dried porcini (30 grams)

• 6 to 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms (caps only: sliced or roughly chopped)

• one medium onion (finely diced)

• 4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• 200 grams ground beef or pork

• 4-5 large cloves of garlic (whole and peeled)

• 1 tsp.salt (preferably sea salt)

• 1 tsp. herbes de provence

500 grams spaghetti or spaghettini

• freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For the Starter: two ripe avocados, one lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar

In a small bowl, add a half cup of luke-warm water to the dried porcini to cover. Let them soak and soften for 20-30 minutes. The water will become a deeply perfumed, dark brown broth.

Dice the onion. Peel 4 or 5 large cloves of garlic. The easiest way to do this is to smash the cloves with the flat side of a chef’s knife. The papery skin will come right off. Open the three cans of tomatoes. Remove the stems from the shiitake and slice the caps.

Add 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive to a large saucepan. My family loves garlic, but I don’t want it to dominate the sauce, so I saute the garlic cloves on medium-low heat until they’re colored a pale gold. Be careful to turn the garlic frequently so that it doesn’t burn. When nicely colored, remove the garlic to a paper towel.garlic 1

At this point one of my sons will come over and snag a crisp clove or two. They’re delicious. Add the chopped onion, turn up the heat to medium and saute the onions until they’re translucent: maybe five minutes.

tomato masherNow add the San Marzano tomatoes. I use a potato masher to crush the whole tomatoes to an even consistency in the sauce pan. Toss in a bay leaf or two and a teaspoon of sea salt. Most marinara recipes call for oregano, but I’m partial to herbes de provence and use a teaspoon of that fragrant melange instead.

Add the sliced shiitake mushrooms. Squeeze the reconstituted porcini in your fist to drain them, reserving the broth. Chop the wrung out porcini roughly. Add them to the sauce. Pour the porcini broth, but not the grit at the bottom of the bowl, into the sauce. Stir.

In a separate fry pan, brown the ground beef, then add it to the sauce. Stir and let the sauce simmer and thicken uncovered on low heat for at least 45 minutes.ground beef

The great thing about this sauce is that it’s so versatile. You can add other types of mushrooms. Use ground pork or chicken instead of beef, or leave out the meat entirely. I’ve got no name for this sauce, but I’m sure my mother would approve of naming it after her: “Pasta alla Elaine.”

A couple of points to note when cooking the pasta: Make sure the water is properly salted. And don’t rely on the timing written on the package. Set your timer a minute or two earlier than the recommended timing and keep tasting the pasta until is done al dente. Drain then immediately toss the pasta with a cup or two of the sauce.  Serve with some extra sauce on top and some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

My son, Christopher, who always votes for “red sauce” says if you add more cheese, it’s double the goodness.

avocado starterThe starter is easy too. Halve an avocado, remove the stone, peel and slice the avocado. Arrange the slices on a plate. Mix one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice with two tablespoons of olive oil. Drizzle the lemony oil over the sliced avocado, add a few drops of balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finito.

Serve these dishes with some crusty bread and a green salad and Buono Appetito!

I never get to eat right away, though, because at this point my dog starts pestering me until I dust her kibble with freshly grated cheese.

Trattoria I’bischero

Friday, February 27th, 2009


What draws the nightly crowd to far-flung Kiba and Trattoria I’bischero? Perhaps it’s the tagliatelle with duck meat sauce or spaghetti with fresh tomato and basil. Maybe it’s the gorgonzola and rucola risotto or even the grilled steak di manzo. What draws me, though, to this unlikely location at the end of a lonely residential street, are the white beans with Sardinian bottarga. The pot at the end of a Tuscan rainbow ought to be filled with those savory beans.

Tomoya Hayakawa, the young, self-confident chef and owner of I’bischero was once a Tokyo salaryman. One day he got restless, quit, went to Italy to knock around, and was lucky enough to land a job at the small, family-run Trattoria Pandemonio in Firenze. Working there four years, he ate every meal with the family and staff, and educated his tongue to the tastes of Tuscany.

Hayakawa champions a slow food approach to dining, and his carefully crafted menu includes many of the same dishes as Pandemonio—dishes with simple tastes, a little sophisticated, but with no extra arrangement or garnishes. Thus, his tagliata di manzo: tender Japanese sirloin seared, then quickly grilled, sliced, and laid on a bed of fresh rucola. Nothing added but a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Perfetto.tagliata-di-manzo

The menu features some ten to fifteen choices each for antipasti, pasta and risottos, and main dishes. After several meals there, I’ve eaten through much of the menu and have discovered no duds. Even if you normally eschew tripe, the trippa alla fiorentina might convert you to that humble, delectable fare. With his risottos, Hayakawa bucks tradition using long-grained jasmine rice instead of Italian or Japanese rice, and the results are delicious. In season, the oyster risotto should not be missed.

white-beans Hayakawa’s favorite olive oil, Fattoria Regli Ulivi, can’t be found in Japan, so he imports it. This fine oil reveals its character with those heavenly white beans. Cooked to perfection, each bean has a luscious creamy texture, yet still remains firm. Their earthy taste is accented by hints of sage, rosemary, onions, and garlic, which meld with the fruity notes of the olive oil. Generous shavings of bottarga (preserved grey mullet roe) then add a lively, salty counterpoint to the dish.

I’bischero is airy, simply laid out, with warm woody tones. In the main dining room, rustic beams run along the ceiling and large windows allow plenty of natural light. Off to one side is an alcove with a few tables lit by small candles for the more romantically minded.

Prices are very reasonable at I’bishero, though the wine list, which covers all regions of Italy, could benefit from a few more inexpensive bottles. The house wine, though, a sturdy Tuscan Antinori Santa Cristina, priced at 2500 yen, is more than adequate. One small quibble: when ordering the house wine, you won’t get proper-sized wine glasses unless you ask for them.

The days when Italian food was the most popular “foreign” food in Tokyo are long gone. Hayakawa choose his out-of-the-way location with that in mind—only those people, he says, who care enough about good Italian food will come to Kiba to find him.

Trattoria I’bischero: 5-11-2 Toyo, Luminas Kiba Koen 2F, Koto Ward. 03.5635.5077. Well worth the subway ride to Kiba.