Ten-yo-ne tempura: Under the tracks in Yurakucho

October 8th, 2013

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I have a soft spot for these hard places under the tracks in Tokyo. They scratch out an unglamorous life in the shadows of this gargantuan city.

Tenyone close up tendonTen-yo-ne is a minute or two from Yurakucho station and a world away, in a few hundred meters, from the glamorous Ginza.

For decades, Ten-yo-ne tempura has been serving up Edo-style tempura, dark and savory, cheap and delicious.

It’s a tiny place, of course, with a pale blond counter of smooth hinoki seating six.

On the other side of the narrow kitchen are a few small tables filling an unadorned dining space illuminated with the thin timeless wash of fluorescence. Every once in awhile, you can make out the rumble of trains passing overhead.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREA rack of newspapers and manga are available for free reading while you wait for your tempura to fry.

The jo-tendon (¥1450) is the dish of choice here. Glistening in their burnished gold batter, atop a bowl of freshly prepared rice, are two large prawns, a kisu white fish, some mushrooms, a shishito green pepper, a shiso leaf, and a small kakiage “dumpling” of sliced, mixed veggies and tiny shrimp.

The teishoku set menu includes a small dish of well-made pickled vegetables, a bowl of miso soup, and a tiny dish of seasonal vegetables sprinkled with sesame seeds.

A counter seat over on the right side is the most interesting place to sit.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREPositioned there, you can see the crowd of fresh vegetables waiting in the wings for their turn on the tempura stage.

Plus you can observe the master while he cuts, batter-dips, fries and assembles your tendon bowl.

The lunch for about ¥1000 is a great deal at Ten-yo-ne.

You can sit elbow to elbow with salarymen, office women, and sales staff from the nearby department stores and shops.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREIf you are up for an adventure, stroll down the underground passageway to the left of Ten-yo-ne. This narrow, tunnel-like alley is perhaps a kilometer or so long, filled with tiny restaurants, bicycles, and the ghosts of Tokyo past.

Ten-yo-ne

2-1-10 Yurakucho, Chiyoda Ward. Tel: 03.3591.0926. Open Monday to Saturday 11am to 9pm.

 

 

 

Yamaichi: Another tonkatsu joint worth knowing

July 19th, 2013

Yamaichi tonkatsu

Jack Sprat could eat no fat, and his wife could eat no lean. The couple, though, would both eat heartily at Yamaichi.

The folks here treat their pork with respect. Jack would be able to savor Yamaichi’s lean and luscious pork filet (1600 yen) carefully deep-fried in a crisp tonkatsu crust. His wife could order the Yamaichi “ros” (1500 yen) with its strip of delicious pork fat nestled in unctuousness under the crust.

Yamaichi condimentsYamaichi believes in condiments.

On the table are a panoply of 11 various additions to choose from such as Andes salt, yuzu kosho, shichimi, two kinds of shoyu, pickled scallions, mustard, two kinds of salad dressing, sesame, ponzu sauce, umeboshi, and bull-dog sauce.

The pork at Yamaichi is thicker that at most tonkatsu joints. It is expertly trimmed, weighed, and coated with a larger size of bread crumb.

Tonkatsu chefs sometimes use two kettles each of which heats the oil to a hotter or cooler temperatures depending on the thickness of the meat. Yamaichi uses a hotter oil resulting in a darker, golden brown crust.

Yamaichi counterThe small restaurant is decorated with some style. The tables are dark, gleaming grainy wood. Framed modern lithographs hang on the wall. One brush-stroke calligraphic print asks the question: “What is a voyage?

Only about a dozen or so lucky customers can dine at one time. A short counter seats four. A large 7-seat table fills the room with space for only one small 2- seat table.

Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to share the large table with other happy customers.

With the teishoku set-menu you’ll get a small dish of the house-made pickles, which besides being arranged in a picture-perfect cluster,  are lightly vinegared to add a bright counterpoint to the pork. A small wooden bowl of tonkotsu pork-flavored broth and a bowl of rice will round out the meal.

Yamaichi picklesDon’t worry about the line that usually forms outside the restaurant. It moves quickly and you’ll soon be inside.

Be sure to spot the little Shinto shrine tucked into corner near the ceiling.

Yamaichi: 1-8-4 Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3253-3335. Open Monday to Friday 11am to 2:30pm. Dinner: 5pm to 8:30pm. Saturdays: 11am to 2pm (L.O. 1:30pm). Closed Sundays and holidays.

The restaurant is about a one-minute walk from the A1 exit of the subway station which serves both the Ogawamachi stop of the Maronouchi Line, or the Awajicho stop of the Shinjuku Line.

 

 

 

 

Meikyoku Kissa Lion: coffee and classical music since 1926

April 3rd, 2013

Lion interior beethoven

Half a century ago, the hilltop at the summit of Dogenzaka in Shibuya was a family-oriented neighborhood with green grocers, a bowling alley, and restaurants. Several decades before that, the classical music coffee house, Lion, staked its claim as king of that hill.

Lion exteriorNowadays, surrounded by an array of love hotels and sex clubs, Lion is still there as solid as a cathedral with its grey plaster and stonework impervious to the indignities of time.

Inside the Lion it’s as quiet as a church. The pale milky sunlight seeps in through glazed windows. The dark wood Doric columns support Moorish arches in what must have been an architectural delight during the roaring twenties.

The wooden chairs have seat cushions of very faded red plush. The chair backs are protected by pressed white coverlets. These chairs are neatly arranged into rows like church pews facing the front, the soaring altar of  the massive “3D Sound System” speakers mounted high in the tabernacle and illuminated by electric candelabra and a scintillating crystal chandelier.Lion interior 2

Holding out 87 years so far, Lion has become a metaphor realized, a bastion for the religion of music and a refuge from the sordid world outside.

Patrons enter Lion with reverence, respect, and hope for solace and salvation. Their saviors are Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, Bruckner, Schumann, Fauré, Mendelssohn, Scriabin, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninov.

At least they were for the March series of LP concerts held everyday at 3pm and 7pm. April will feature a new line up of musical messiahs.

Anytime in between those two concerts, worshipers can make musical requests to the staff. These requests, and the concert line up as well, are announced in soft whispered tones by an acolyte as he fits the needle into the groove. If one whispers too loudly, you are kindly asked by the staff to speak more quietly.

Lion coffee closeupCoffee, of course, is the sacrament here—blend kohi (500 yen), or milk (500 yen), or milk coffee (520 yen) or milk egg (670 yen), whatever that is.

No food is served, and no food is allowed. A Bach fugue, a Mozart concerto, a Beethoven sonata, a Chopin nocturne or a Fauré requiem are the nourishment here.

Meikyoku kissa translates to “great song” coffee shop. And with the thousands of vinyl LPs and CDs organized on sturdy shelves, any great song request can most likely be granted. No one seems to mind the scratches and hiss that accompany the vinyl selections.

Lion interior backdoorOn the monthly LP concert program, Lion proudly proclaims that it is air-conditioned—a certain draw back in the day. It also states that the American music magazine “Audio” wrote up the 3D Sound System in 1959.

Any music lover, or lover of Tokyo, ought to make the pilgrimage to the top of the hill on the Dogenzaka slope. Be sure to check out the second floor gallery seating. Notice the framed icons hanging on the dark walls—paintings of Bach or Beethoven and other composers shadowed with the patina of decades.

Check out the restroom. And as you make your way there in the dim light, pause for a timeless moment at the foyer of the back entrance.

Lion:  2-19-13 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03.3461.6858. Open daily 11a.m. to 10:30p.m. http://lion.main.jp/info/infomation.htm

Violon: Café et Musique. Classic kissaten on Asagaya backstreet

March 15th, 2013

Violon interior 1

Violon is a classic. Customers come here for classical music and coffee. That’s all Violon provides and that’s all the customers need.

Violon interior tubesAll seats face the massive array of speakers and horns that are built into a special pit that extends down below the floor. The ceiling behind the speakers gently arches forward for a better acoustic.

Music lovers come to Violon mostly solo to read, to sleep, or to make a request and listen to a vinyl LP. But the small tables also accommodate duos, trios, or even a quartet.

The place serves coffee, tea, milk, hot chocolate, orange juice or cola. All are the same price—350 yen.

But when the coffee arrives, you are offered the option of brandy in your brew. Should you accept, the young lady deftly shakes a small vial about six times over your cup sending in perhaps a teaspoon of the distilled grape into your coffee. It‘s not enough alcohol to give you a buzz, but if the music doesn’t mellow your mood, the brandy will.

Customers are known to nod off, head against the wall in slumber, while their coffee slowly cools.

Violon coffee 1Others sit, head in hands, staring at the speakers lost in reverie. Some have carved messages into the worn wooden tabletops.

The six tiny tables in the center are in a sort of orchestra pit planked with wood and one gets the feeling of sitting in the hold of an old sailing ship.

Thousands of vinyl LPs are stacked into shelfs. You can write up a request on the chalkboard near the miniscule kitchen should you prefer to listen to anything from Mussorgsky, Brahms, Dvorak, Chopin, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, or any other composer, including of course, the master, J. S. Bach.

When I arrived, a symphony that I couldn’t place was playing. A few moments later a trio of young people entered and ordered tea with one young man remarking, “Ah, Schumann’s ‘Spring Symphony’.” I climbed the three steps up to the register to check. He was right.

Violon loveThe sound system runs on vacuum tubes—RCA UY-227 Radiotron Amplifier Tubes—seemingly from the 1950s. The owner has laid in a large stock of these irreplaceable components.

Violon seems to host a live classical music concert almost every night, including solo pianists, string quartets, and even a theremin performer. Details are provided on the website.

Violon: Asagaya Kita 2-9-5. Tel: 03-3336-6414, Open 12pm to 11pm. LP Record Time is until 6pm on days with musical events. Closed on Tuesdays. A map on how to get there is on Violon’s website http://meikyoku-kissa-violon.com.

 

 

Retro Kanda kissaten with “nori toast”: Ace

February 26th, 2013

Ace exterior new

The area around Kanda station is a hive of activity—crowded, jumbled, and thoroughly “shitamachi.” And Kanda’s Coffee shop Ace is my new favorite Tokyo kissaten. About 42 years ago, two brothers took over their father’s role as Ace master. And over the years, they’ve kept things pretty much the same. Coffee is crafted here using the siphon method, once a technique common in many kissa, but now as rare as an honest banker.

Ace interior1The brothers have put together a menu of over 40 straight bean coffees and “coffee variations,” some of which you’ll find nowhere else.

These are not Starbuck’s-like milk confections, but sturdy coffee-grounded originals. Consider: Mexican Butter Coffee with a dab of real butter afloat in the cup. Pontier Beruga Coffee with real whipped cream and meringue (550 yen). Café Alexsandra with thick cream, cocoa liqueur and brandy (550 yen).

Or my favorite Pontier de Café con Leche with whipped cream, sherry, and walnuts (550 yen).

The brothers also carefully brew a wide selection of teas, if you are so inclined. Ace coffee menu

The prices here haven’t changed much either over the decades. A cup of straight Blue Mountain bean coffee is 570 yen and Kilimanjaro is only 480 yen. These prices are almost half of comparable cups elsewhere. And if you’re an early bird, you can have a bottomless cup of “blendo” if you order between 7a.m. and noon.

Ace is probably most renowned for its innovative “Nori Toast.” They take a slice of white sandwich bread, split it down the middle into two very thin half-slices, butter them, slip in a large wafer of nori, dried seaweed, then toast the whole thing to perfection. At 140 yen, it’s a classic. And if you get lost, as I’ve done a few times trying to find Ace, ask a local where the “nori toast” place is.Ace nori toast

If seaweed on bread is not your style, try the “choco toast,” a whipped cream, chocolate sauce concoction that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

A small library of coffee-related books and magazines is on a shelf for browsing. Above that little library, hanging on the wall, is a portrait of the two brothers done entirely in glued coffee grounds.

The clientele at Ace have been regulars for decades. Salarymen and office ladies, old couples and youngish couples.

It is not unusual to lean one’s weary head back against the wall and sneak 4o winks.

Ace is open 7a.m. to 7p.m Monday to Friday. Saturdays the are open until only 2p.m. Ace: 3-10-6 Uchi-kanda, Chiyoda ward. Tel: 03.3256.3941. Ace can be found, if you are lucky, in a 2-minute walk from the west exit of Kanda JR station, or in a 3-minute stroll from the Kanda Ginza line subway station.

Tokyo horse flesh: Sakura nabe at two classic restaurants

February 20th, 2013

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A recent poll conducted on myself revealed that the vast majority of me had no objection to hippophagy, horse-eating, something we carnivores have been sinking our teeth into since we first started banging two stones together and hurling spears.

If horseflesh was good enough for my Paleolithic ancestors, and still is for many modern Paleos following their primal diet, and is consumed with gusto by the Chinese, French, Italians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Argentinians, Mongolians, and by many other-ians, it ought to be good enough for me.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREIn fact, it’s better than good enough. Despite pangs of Black Beauty-induced guilt from the minority of myself, the lean nutritious meat is deeply delicious.

So what’s up with those “shocked” customers of the British supermarket chain Tesco who learned that dabs of equine DNA were present in their so-called “beefburgers”? Just exactly what do they think was in those economy meat units selling 8 for £1?

Tesco’s own regulations state that such value pack patties need only contain 47% “meat.” Aren’t those customers put off by the “drind,” the dehydrated rind or skin that is boiled then used to bulk up cheap “meat” products? Maybe not, because it can be labeled as “seasoning.”

Photos of the “tainted” patties show them to be miserable pinkish slabs seemingly extruded from an industrial pipe, then guillotined into disks by a dull blade. The small percentage of horse DNA found in those meat units was probably the most nutritious part of the whole processed concoction.

Japan, though, has a long and respected history of equine cuisine. Two of my favorite horseflesh establishments, Nakae in Taito ward and Minowa in Koto ward, have both been serving sakura niku, (cherry meat) for over a century.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe sakura moniker comes from the bright red color of the flesh which has a fine, close texture and a faint underlying sweetness. It also has more protein, less fat, less sodium, less cholesterol, and fewer calories than beef or pork. The meat is usually sourced from horses, two to six years old, free ranged and grass fed in Kyushu.

One of the best ways to jumpstart your Paleo genes is with an order of niku sashi, thin slices of raw horsemeat sashimi from the senaka, or lower back of the beast, served with a dab of freshly-grated ginger and a shoyu dipping sauce. Another popular dish is the pale pink abura sashi, slices of sashimi from back of the neck. The tender flesh is also served as basashi zushi, (horsemeat sushi) or as steak tartare.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe main attraction, however, at both establishments is sakura nabe, a sukiyaki-style dish you cook yourself in a shallow iron pot at your table. The pot holds a rich warishita broth made of dashi, shoyu and mirin. Into this broth you place a mound of shirataki, thin noodles made from devil’s tongue root; a few slices of negi, welsh onion; a couple slices of fu, wheat gluten dumplings; and thin slices of bright red momo niku, from the thigh, moistened with a spoonful of sweet brown miso.

Once the stew starts bubbling, you remove each tidbit one by one, then dip it—just as in sukiyaki—into a cup of stirred raw egg as a sauce. Be sure to keep your eye on the meat, advised the kimono-clad waitress, for it quickly colors in the simmering sauce. Eat it when it still has a few pink blushes.

In both restaurants, sitting side by side up on a kamidana, the god’s shelf, are a seemingly discordant pair of dieties: Daikoku-sama, the god of business prosperity and Batou-sama, the god and protector of horses. Apparently, they’ve worked out an agreement.

Nakae:  1-9-2 Nihonzutsumi, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3872-5389. Monday to Friday: 5pm to 11pm. Saturday/Sundays/Holidays: 11:30am to 10pm (Last order one hour before closing).  http://www.sakuranabe.com/

Minowa: 2-19-9 Morishita, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3631-8298. Lunch 12 noon to 2 pm. Dinner 4 pm to 9:30 pm (L.O. 9pm). Closed Thursdays. May thru October also closed on the 3rd Wednesday of the month. http://www.e-minoya.jp/

Los Barbados: African/Turkish/Moroccan/French joint in Shibuya

January 23rd, 2013

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Joints like Los Barbados make living in Tokyo a privilege. Down an unattractive Shibuya side street and wedged into a nondescript building with six other tiny establishements, this African/Turkish/Moroccan/French eatery is run by one free-spirited Japanese dude in a T-shirt and jeans who back when reggae hit the Japanese shore decided to go to Jamaica, but instead ended up in the Congo.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREHe’s been back to the Congo multiple times for additional cooking lessons.

But he’s also hung out in Paris with the African crowd picking up a French approach to cooking. And when the mood strikes, he says he might whip up a prune and olive chicken tagine.

His haven is hung with French vinyl LP covers such as “Franco L’Afrique Danse No. 6” or “Dynamite Verckys et l’Orchestre Veve” or “Docteur Nico” or “Johnny Bokelo et Son Orchestre L’Afrique Danse No. 1.”

The joint is basically just a cramped kitchen surrounded by a narrow counter, seating seven or eight, with the space above filled with bottles of rhum, African masks and colorful paintings of a zebra, giraffe, and hippo. Easing from the corner speakers is a constant Congolese groove of intricate guitar and infectious  drum work.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe 15–20 item menu varies from the Assorted Vegetable Starter (500 yen) featuring tabouleh, hummus with rose pepper, pickled red cabbage, and French carrot salad; to African Grilled Chicken with fufu cassava (1000 yen) or Turkish “springrolls” deep-fried tidbits filled with lamb and dabbed with hot sauce (650 yen).

The chef also serves up a tasty Senegalese Whitefish Stew with peanuts, tomatoes and okra (950 yen) or a Chickpea and Vegetable Couscous dish (950 yen).

Hot sauce is served with each dish, but for the brave, or the addled, a few bottles of habanero-based sauces are available for incendiary heat.

The chef has also selected several well-priced French rosé, white, and red wines by the glass.

And if you want to explore French Caribbean rhum, you’re in luck.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREHe’s got nearly 20 types of rhum from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti, and a superb specimen from the Isle de Marie-Galante—the 50% strong La Guildive honoring Jean-Baptiste Labat, the Dominican monk and inventor of the distillation of sugar cane in the 17th century (900 yen the glass).

You can’t go wrong at Los Barbados. You’ll be well fed, and your wallet won’t be much lighter than when you went in. Reservations are usually not necessary, but call ahead if you like.

Los Barbados: 41-46 Udagawacho, Papier Biru 104, Shibuya-ku. Open Monday to Saturday 12 noon to midnight. Tel: 03.3496.7157. If you get lost trying to find the place, call. The chef will explain how to get there.

For a map, check out this link:

http://www7b.biglobe.ne.jp/~los-barbados/

 

 

Tonpachi tei: another fine Tokyo tonkatsu joint

December 11th, 2012

Okachimachi Station near Ueno is a hive of activity. It sits at the tail end of the Ameyoko street market and seems to be under constant construction and reconstruction. Kasuga dori is the main thoroughfare perpendicular to the Yamanote tracks and after a short walk down that main street you’ll spot  the pit viper shop, Bunkyudo, the write-up of which you’ll find in the January 2009 archives of this blog. Next to Bunkyudo is a narrow passageway called “Tanuki Roji” which translates to Racoon Alley.

Down Racoon Alley on the left you’ll come upon Tonpachi, a fine tonkatsu joint. I first found Tonpachi a handful of years ago when it was still being run by the second-generation master. It was a narrow, dark, atmospheric eatery that despite its decrepitude turned out a tasty tonkastu. In my absence, the place has been gutted and rebuilt into a narrow bright, still somewhat atmospheric eatery run now by the third-generation master.

The master is a talkative fellow. He explains that his great grandfather started the tonkatsu shop nearly 70 years ago. The grandfather, though, wasn’t much interested in pigs or cooking so he opened a coffee shop instead which is now defunct. The master’s father took over the business and just recently retired. The old shop had to be remodeled, he adds, because things here and there were falling apart.

The thick pork cutlets at Tonpachi hail from Chiba. The filiment-cut cabbage is sourced wherever it is sweetest, says the master. The very narrow shop is mostly counter and kitchen with a small table for two and a less small table for four. A television set above the “oshibori” steamer seems permanently set to samurai dramas. His wife assists. Every so often she opens the oshibori heater and spritzes the heated towels with a fragrant mist. They have what could be Tokyo’s best smelling hot towels. I spent a long moment inhaling the fresh soap scent with the towel pressed to my nose.

The “ros” tonkatsu set (1700 yen) comes with a mound of that fine cabbage, a dollop of potato salad, a small bowl of very fine house-made pickles: turnip, carrot, cucumber and Chinese cabbage, and a bowl of miso soup loaded with tofu and bits of pork. The breading on the cutlet is flaky and crisp. The master prefers the slower, slightly cooler frying temperature that some other tonkastu joints use.

The more expensive “hire” or filet cutlet is also fine. Oysters and crab are in season now, and Tonpachi offers a set featuring either of those for 1400 yen. On the counter is an array of condiments: Worchestershire Sauce, the house-made tonkatsu sauce, and a tiny pot of mustard. Also is a cute little toothpick dispenser. Push the crow down and he’ll pick up a toothpick in his beak.

From my counter seat, we chat about Tokyo and how much it’s changed in 30 years. Raccoon Alley got its moniker from an old coffee shop named Raccoon,says the master, that used to be situated nearby. Not his grandfather’s place, though, he adds. Nor were ever any real raccoons about.

When I finish and am sipping a cup of green tea, the master points to a box of shop namecards at the end of the counter near the door.

“I’ll take one,” I say, “and I’ll recommend this place to my friends.”

“Please!” he says. “Take four or five or six.”

 

Tonpachi Tei: 4-3-4 Ueno, Taito-ku. 03.3831.4209

Closed Sundays.

 

 

Murugi: Old school curry joint on a Shibuya hilltop

November 5th, 2012

When the master of Murugi opened his curry shop in Showa 26 (1951) the surrounding neighborhood on the hilltop of Dogenzaka in Shibuya was alive with movies theaters, coffee shops, and bowling alleys—a center of family entertainment. Another type of entertainment now prevails—love hotels and sex clubs, but Murugi carries on preserving the feel of the old neighborhood, as does the iconic Lion coffeeshop just around the corner.

The master’s daughter now runs Murugi preparing the 62-year-old vintage menu of chicken curry, hayashi curry, saté, and the gado gado salad. Her father loved mountain climbing, says the daughter. And he created the mountain-shaped mound of rice towering above the dark, glistening curry to represent Mt. Everest. The curry is chicken-based, simmered until mahogany brown and redolent of its secret mix of spice. The signature dish is the tamago-iri curry (1050 yen) with the rice mountain girdled by slices of hard-boiled egg ribboned with a red line of ketchup.

The dish comes with a dollop of house-made chutney and two jars of condiments: bright red batons of tangy ginger and pale orange bits of pickled daikon radish.

For an extra 50 yen, you can modulate the standard spiciness of the curry sauce: milder, hotter, or super-hot. You can also add a mozzarella/gouda cheese topping for an extra 100 yen.

The Gado Gado salad (850 yen) is a large bowl of lettuce, tomato wedges, slices of hard-boiled egg, cucumber, and bean sprouts annointed with a house-made dressing. The Saté (1200 yen) are spicy bits of grilled chicken.

The brick exterior continues inside with a red brick fireplace. The dark wood tables are wide with plenty of space for elbow room. Last time I was there, the music was Motown from the 60s—the Four Tops, the Temptations, Wilson Pickett. But sometimes jazz is on the radio. A steady stream of customers come and go.

Nothing’s flashy here at Murugi. Just a few dishes that have over the decades proven themselves to be winners. The staff too are such.

Stop by for lunch should you be climbing the Dogenzaka slope.

Murugi, 2-19-2 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, 03.3461.8809. Open for lunch only: 11:30am to 3pm. Closed Fridays.

 

 

 

Chic, cheap Italian eatery in Ogikubo

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 http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/restaurant-reviews/la-gallina/