Brasserie Gus: Kagurazaka favorite

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Brasserie gus confit 4

 

Whenever I have an idle moment I fantasize about confit de canard—the crisp savory skin, the dark flesh so tender it pulls from the bone with the slightest tug of the fork, and bones looking so tasty you want to crack them open with your molars and suck out the marrow. Whenever I need to satisfy this duck-flesh fantasy, I come to Brasserie Gus.

Once roughly the size of a subway car, Brasserie Gus (pronounced “goo”) expanded some years ago by taking over the neighboring subway car-sized space to accommodate more customers who know a great deal when they find it.  When Brasserie Gus first opened, the very reasonable prix-fixe dinner course was ¥2800. Now, more than ten years later, it costs only 50 yen more.Brasserie gus saumon

Chef Arai looks like he ought to be unloading a beer truck rather than turning out classic dishes of French country cooking. He’s a stalwart, friendly fellow with the sensibilities of a craftsman, producing in his still tiny kitchen meals he could easily charge twice as much for. For  ¥2,850 you choose from among 9 starter “entrees,“ 11 main dish “plats,“ and 9 desserts.

And keep in mind, Arai doesn’t skimp on portions.

B Gus interior 1This is food you want to tuck into with your sleeves rolled up—robust, clear flavors balanced with care. As starters, for example, a generous cut of pork Terrine Maison with mustard and lightly dressed seasonal greens, or a cool, silky ratatouille, or slices of marinated salmon dusted with fresh dill.

My main dish, the duck confit, paired with a dash of tangy mustard sauce, rested on a bed of mashed potato and mild cabbage  to offset the canard’s salty richness. Another “plat,” slices of succulent roast lamb, was crusted with herbs and drizzled with a parsley sauce. Each main dish is garnished with a small ensemble of mashed or scalloped potato, a floret of broccoli, a baby carrot, shimeji mushrooms, and bit of turnip or pumpkin. There is plenty of sliced baguette to mop up the sauces.

B Gus ExteriorThe long narrow dining room is a cheerful place with red-checked tablecloths, posters of Paris on white walls, knick knacks on red shelves, and French jazz on the stereo. It has the casual charm of a working-class establishment. All that’s missing is the smell of Gauloise cigarette smoke.

The wine list is modest, but well chosen. Good bottles, both white and red, start at ¥2800. A bottle of the excellent Haut Medoc Chateau Beaumont goes for ¥4900.

The lunch special is a steal at 1,050 yen.

Reservations recommended.

Brasserie Gus: 82 Yarai-cho, Shinjuku-ku

Open Monday–Saturday lunch and dinner. Closed Sundays.

Tel. 03.3268.7157

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

 

 

Dinner Cruise on the Sumida river: Komatsuya Yakatabune Company

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Summer is nigh. One of the best ways to cool off is to take a dinner cruise or view the summer fireworks in an old-fashioned yakatabune along the Sumida River.

“Our Dai-ni, Number Two boat, is probably the last wooden yakatabune in Japan,” says Tsutomu Sato, 57, owner and fourth-generation manager of Komatsuya Boat Company. Sato points to a black and white photo on the wall next to a ticking pendulum clock. The new boat, frozen in time, is cruising past the completely undeveloped island of Odaiba on its maiden voyage from the Yokohama boatyard to the Komatsuya dock at the Yanagibashi bridge where the Kanda river empties into the Sumida.

The Dai-ni was built 30 years ago. It is a small boat, with a trim hull shaped from cedar trees taken from the hills of Sanbu in Chiba. It seats only 20 guests. People request this boat because, as Sato explains, it reminds them of the old days along the Sumida.

But thirty years ago the Sumida was a quieter river. River traffic now includes large boats, tankers, and barges. “They can travel as fast as they like,” says Sato. “They cause big waves that rock the small boat,” he adds. “Drinks fall off the tables. Customers get seasick,” he shrugs with a smile. “So we usually advise them to choose a larger boat.”

The Dai-ni used to be moored under the Yanagibashi bridge, but several years ago during a heavy downpour, the river rose so high so fast the boat was almost crushed under the bridge. It now rests at the end of the Komatsuya dock, next to the willow trees that line the river. Keeping the weathered boat serviceable is a point of pride with the family.

Over the last 80 years, the Sato family business too has weathered some tough times. The Yanagibashi area was once a thriving entertainment area filled with ryotei restaurants that hired yakatabune boats to take customers out on catered river cruises. Those restaurants closed down long ago. Another setback was the construction spurred by the Tokyo Olympics—both the Sumida and Kanda rivers suffered from serious pollution, Sato explains. Customers wanting cruises became scarce.

“At one point, we were the only yakatabune company left in Tokyo,” says Sato.

But things started to pick up. The Sumida became cleaner, and some of the old ryotei customers and geisha wanted to cruise the river again. They urged Komatsuya to offer more cruises. For several decades now, business has been continuous.

Traditional cruises are popular every season: cherry viewing in spring, fireworks and “cool-down” cruises in summer, moon viewing in autumn, and snow viewing and New Year’s parties on the river in winter. In addition, evening cruises to view the bright lights of Odaiba and the Rainbow bridge are also popular.

The Komatsuya fleet now includes two other yakatabune. The Dai-hachi, Number Eight, which seats 60, is a reproduction of Iemitsu Tokugawa’s banquet barge first built in 1630. Like the shogun’s boat, the Dai-hachi is painted crimson, with gold and black accents. The other vessel, Dai-nana, Number Seven, is also decked out in bright red. It seats 28 guests. Komatsuya has a fishing boat for hire for those wanting to try their luck on the bay.

Summer is one of Komatsuya’s busiest seasons, especially during the firework festivals on the Sumida and in the bay.

“Preparation for firework viewing is a lot different nowadays,” says Sato. “In the past we had to leave early to get a good viewing spot. But now the police direct each boat to a particular slot on the water. We line up like cars in a parking lot,” he says. “It’s not good to set out too early. First in means last out.”

For viewing the fireworks, though, where you drop anchor is not so important. It’s the weather. If the wind is wrong, explains Sato, the boats are covered in smoke. “We’ve had customers complain that they couldn’t see any fireworks at all. And we sometimes get sparks and cinders falling into the boat,” he adds with a smile.

The moon viewing cruise can be impressive, he says. The moon rising over the harbor is incredibly large, but seeing it is a matter of luck. It’s often turns cloudy on the best evenings.

Even snow viewing can turn out to be troublesome. “The snow doesn’t fall little by little, as it does on land,” explains Sato. “On the river, the snow may come down all at once. You can’t see the boats ahead of you sometimes.”

Sato and his wife Junko, 52, run the Komatsuya operations from a small wooden shack perched at one end of the Yanagibashi Bridge in Asakusabashi. Their tiny 3-mat office is crowded with an old tansu holding pamphlets, books and brochures, a two-way radio, a fax machine, and a low table with a laptop computer and a constantly ringing telephone. The walls are covered with memorabilia: photographs, two straw rainhats, and a row of tattered, age-darkened yumihari-chochin, the slim paper lanterns that were hung on the front of a yakatabune announcing which ryotei had chartered the boat.

The room also contains a small kitchen where each evening Junko prepares the dipping sauce for the tempura served on the boats.

It’s usually a crew of one on a yakatabune. Each sendo-san, or boatsman, must pilot the boat, cook the food, and serve the customers. Sato was a boatsman for some 14 years.

Two or three times a year, Sato likes to go out again. “Actually, some people don’t look good in the traditional boatsman clothes,” he says. “The shape of the face, the height, and other factors affect whether at first glance one thinks, ‘Ah, that guy looks like a boatsman’.”

“I shouldn’t say this myself,” he says with a grin, “but I look pretty good in those clothes.”

Across the Yanagibashi Bridge is another Daimatsuya shack selling tsukudani, a salty-sweet preserve of seaweed, tiny shrimp, shellfish, or vegetables eaten as a topping on rice.

Dinner courses on the yakatabune start from 10,500 yen per person. Call well in advance.

2-27-22 Higashi Nihonbashi, Chuo Ward, Tokyo. Tel: 03-3851-2780. www.komatuya.net.