いらっしゃい!
...an expat libertine with a penchant for sparkly dining partners, jazz bars and izakaya.
Opinions here expressed are not necessarily shared by any with whom I associate. Fault for errors and any offense caused is entirely my own.
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Tuesday
Jul032012

Yuri Café, Koenji 高円寺  

An interesting concept, Yuri Café is a monthly “pop up” café-bar located in a small, fashionably understated gallery hidden away among Koenji’s backstreets.

The second floor of the building is home to a couple of one-room bric-a-brac/ antique (i.e., post-war oddments) shops, also worth a look.

Back to the café, and it’s all white walls and Ikea-esque furniture, a few prints upon the walls and a small kitchen to the rear of the space, from which the delightful Ms. Yuri produces rather nicely put together, and somehow “wholesome” feeling, meals with a traditional Japanese slant. 

The point of interest, aside from delicious home-cooking and superb leaf-wrapped onigiri (rice balls), being that the meal, laid out on a platter, was created with the aim of suggesting the colours and textures in a painting. Said art being reproduced as a tablemat for each diner.

A kooky little place providing decent food, interesting patrons and potent, if over-priced, homemade sangria. The tiny, photograph-filled menus also serve as a little memento of ones visit, too.

 

Monday
Jul022012

MLB Café Tokyo, Ebisu  恵比寿

Yet another of Ebisu’s many attractions – this time on the Yebisu Garden Place side - MLB Café Tokyo is far more than its name might suggest.

Housed within a large red brick building, complete with leafy courtyards, the complex includes not only a ground floor café-bar/ diner and baseball memorabilia shop, but also VIP lounges, a restaurant and wedding chapel.

Having been raised on gentlemanly pursuits such as cricket, even the fundamentals of baseball are at best a mystery. Even more mysterious was the connection between the two dominant themes of MLB Café Tokyo’s interior; Major League Baseball, and traditional Japanese pottery.

The juxtaposition of sporting paraphernalia, flat screen TVs and lovingly displayed wabi-sabi teacups and bowls did not, however, detract from the reasonably well-crafted G&Ts, nor the tropical looking concoction favoured by my dining partner.

The menu, for the most part pan-American and Italian classics, was redolent of Frankie & Benny’s. One of its features being the inclusion of “classic ballpark foods,” whatever they might be…

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the risotto turned out to be a waste of time, although the salted veggies accompanying it served as a tasty bar snack, as did the fries (very much in the McDonald’s vein) and nachos. The royal milk tea wasn’t my idea (of course), but the chocolate cake made up for it, if only a little.

 

03-3448-8900

MLB Café Tokyo

Monday
May212012

Uminekoya, Nishi-Ogikubo  海猫屋、西荻窪

Not having visited Nishi-Ogikubo for several years, I was delighted when Uminekoya, a small, neat and beautifully executed restaurant a brief stroll from the station's south exit, was suggested as a dining venue.

The shop’s façade and interior were modest; the latter dominated by a long dining counter and open kitchen, and the bustle of activity therein. The proprietors, two gentleman in their late-middle years, ran the whole show, from taking orders, preparing and cooking a host of excellent dishes to serving them all – along with sturdy pints of heartland beer or crisp white wines – with a smile. 

If one complaint could be raised, it would be that this two man show sometimes struggled to keep pace with countless re-orders and requests from a crowd of diners (a pleasant mix of families, smart young ladies and couples) clearly intent on enjoying as much of the varied and interesting menu as their stomachs could handle.

Not only was the menu varied – ranging from South East Asian through Japanese to European dishes – but every dish was also extremely well proportioned, nicely presented and undoubtedly lovingly created with high quality, fresh produce. The prices were very reasonable, with some being criminally cheap considering the volume and quality of cooking. For example, the thick, juicy slabs of roast pork with garlic roast potatoes, or the huge, mouthwatering pile of steamed vegetables that the diners on the neighbouring table ordered after (sadly) my dining partners and I had already eaten more than our fill.

Carpaccio of sole (delicate flavour, melted in the mouth)

Spring herring marinade (perfect combination with oil and black olives)

Thai-style spicy spring noodle salad (surprisingly spicy)

Marburu dofu (even spicier)

Succulent roast pork, with roast potatoes, garlic and herbs (perfection; and a zillion times better than that I recently had at Le Lion)

Margherita

Quattro formaggio (very good, but not a patch on da Isa’s take on this classic pizza)

Cheese plate (the weakest of entire meal, but not unexpected)

Uminekoya is a praiseworthy restaurant, of which the gentlemen in the kitchen can be proud. Not recommended for raucous piss-ups, but perfect for a peaceful (smoke-free), stimulating meal with favourite dining companions. Very much looking forward to visiting again.

 

03-3333-4466

Uminekoya

Saturday
May192012

Sen Ri Ba, Tokyo Midtown  千里場、東京ミッドタウン

Sen Ri Ba is a no nonsense Chinese restaurant, focused on Shanghai cuisine, situated among the cluster of eateries in Akasaka’s Tokyo Midtown complex.

Clean, tidy, and with an almost canteen-like atmosphere, a filling lunch can be had for around ¥1,000.

The chicken karaage set came with soup, rice, pickles, a minuscule dumpling and a small dessert. Refills of the already sizable bowls of rice were offered, too.

 

03-5413-3688

Sen Ri Ba

Wednesday
May162012

Fermata, Jiyugaoka  フェルメータ、自由が丘

Having sampled the Neapolitan magic contained within da Isa’s pizza only a few days prior to my visit to Jiyugaoka’s Fermata, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this humble pizzeria situated 5 minutes from the station, just down the road from the Peacock supermarket.

To its credit, the understated façade and simple ground floor interior – a rude wooden counter before an open kitchen and wood burning oven – appeared both inviting and redolent of an authentic pizza experience. The 2nd floor dining space was small, rather Spartan and could have done with either with a lick of paint or a hose, but was busy.

Orders were slow to be taken, but once accomplished my dining companion and I weren’t forced to wait too long for our lunch.

Complimented by under-chilled Asahi Premium, an unremarkable but quite edible starter of ham, pepper, mushroom and leaves drizzled in olive oil soon arrived.

The reason for visiting, of course, was the pizza; a somewhat uninspiring marinara (the base was pretty good, but nowhere near as stupifyingly moreish is those at da Isa, but somehow the tomato did little to excite) and a bacon, cabbage and mozzarella creation, which proved to be far more satisfying than the aforementioned marinara, even if less subtle in design and flavour.

Would visit again, most likely to try the ground floor counter and a margherita by night.

Fermata also has outposts in Kichijoji and Funabashi.

 

03-3718-5084

Fermata

Monday
May142012

Le Lion, Ebisu  ル・リオン、恵比寿

Being both shocked and dismayed by the queue outside L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, my dining partner and I trundled on over to Le Lion, a small Lyonnaise bouchon-styled French restaurant, in the Ebisu backstreets between Meiji Dori and the station, not far from the excellent Hainan Jeefan Shokudo.

Not large, the restaurant interior looked inviting enough, and the covered terrace area provided for a nice atmosphere (surrounded by surprisingly well behaved pet dogs) on a warm and admirably rain free afternoon.

Although both Tokyoeater and Terry thought well of Le Lion a few years ago, this particular lunch excursion found it somewhat wanting. Either time has taken its toll, or the lunchtime business doesn't do that later in the day justice.   

An amuse of dry bread proceeded our mains; steak and roast beef, respectively, both propped up with a miserly splash of mashed potato and over-cooked, under-represented, vegetables. The steak came with mustard puree that served to moisten the bread a little. Both pieces of meat were of the fatty persuasion so beloved of Japanese diners, and thus too oily and soft-textured for my liking.

For dessert, lemon tart and a delicious, sickly-sweet chocolate mousse that would have faired better after an evening meal.

 

03-3445-8131 

Le Lion

Sunday
May132012

Da Isa, Nakameguro  ダ イーサ、中目黒

The best pizza I’ve experienced was at a perfectly unassuming, quietly dedicated neighbourhood restaurant in the back streets of Torino, Italy, by the name of Totò (being a nickname for people named Salvatore, but also the name of one of Italy’s most lauded actors from Naples: Totò [Antonio Focas Flavio Angelo Ducas Comneno De Curtis di Bisanzio Gagliardi], better known as Antonio De Curtis, or so I’m reliably informed).

Back in the day, at Totò 

Totò’s pizza was so utterly divine that I’ve ever since worried that I may forever more owe a debt of deepest gratitude to those most dearest of men and sparkly of dining partners by whom I was introduced to the delights of truly authentic Italian pizza. 

Thankfully, having at last dined at da Isa, the highly regarded and much frequented Nakameguro establishment of world-class pizza chef and Presidente, Yamamoto Hisanori, I feel at least partially confident in my ability to return an introductory favor.

Yamamoto-sensei won the World Pizza Cup – in Naples, the spiritual home of pizza – three years in row, so he’s pretty good at his trade; knocking out mind blowing pizza for hoards of ravenous diners.

Not far from Nakameguro station (about 8 minutes walk down Yamate Dori toward Ikejiri), da Isa is hardly one of the neighbourhood’s best kept secrets. Packed most of the time, queues are to be expected, and evening reservations (if you can) are advised. Weekday lunches can be had for ¥1,000 which, considering the quality of pizza, is a bargain.

The shop interior and pavement dining area look and feels pretty much like the real deal, nothing fancy and (thankfully) not overly adorned with faux-Italian decoration. A team of busy floor staff wait the dining area with great efficiency, and do a competent job of turning tables without ever making you feel rushed.

As @izakayasanpo had pointed out, the drinks err on the small side, although my dining partner (rather sparkly, too) thought they were fine. Drink volume aside, we were in complete accord when it came to the perfection of the pizza.

The menu offers a comprehensive selection of pies, none of which will break the bank, along with a handful of antipasti and sundries. Best of all, all the pizza are cooked by Yamamoto-sensei himself, with the open kitchen providing the opportunity to watch the master work his oven and wooden paddle.

Having placed an order, the pizzas were turned out briskly, and without theatrics – no tossing the dough around or other such party tricks – he simply pummels it into shape, slaps it on the paddle and flings the topping on before shoving it into the oven. Although no expert, I assume the extreme heat and speed with which the pizza is cooked are the secret behind the incredible flavour and to-die-for chewy base that results.

After giving the menu due consideration, we eventually went for the Margherita Alla Roman (pomodoro, mozzarella, basilica and anchovies) and 4 Formaggi (mozzarella, gorgonzola, teleggio and parmiggiano), both of which were unquestionably superb. Moist and gooey without being too sloppy, the cheeses pungent, the base chewy but not too heavy; in sum, totally moreish.

The size of each pizza was more than adequate, leaving us feeling stuffed by time we were done, although they were so delicious that a second round didn’t seem such a bad idea…

UPDATE 09/07/12: 

Repeat visits have proven enjoyable, with da Isa currently remaining my favourite Tokyo pizza restaurant to date, with a few caveats. 

Following Woodster's advice, an evening at nearby Seirinkan revealed a tastier pizza base. da Isa's is gorgeous, but more bitter, and less salty/ doughy than those Seirinkan offers. Overall, however, da Isa wins the contest in terms of topping flavours and varities. 

Similarly, although the much feted L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele (Ebisu) is indeed worthy of great praise (providing the lengthy queue doesn't summon forth the urge to kill) it's neither as magical in terms of taste or atmosphere. On this point - atmosphere - da Isa is way ahead of the pack. Great locale, lively, down to earth interior (authentic feeling, at least) and the pavement dining area is wonderful fun. 

Indeed, although it's worth taking a table inside da Isa at least once, if only to view the various trophies and awards bestowed upon chef Yamamoto, it's actually very cramped, noisy, and nearly impossible to get served. After waiting 20 minutes from the time of being seated to catch the attention of a waiter, and then being told to "hold on just a moment" three more times by three more staff over the course of about another 20 minutes, tempers can start to fray, especially when you've not even been served a drink, let alone ordered any pizza. 

To be fair, the place was packed, and the staff are clearly overwhelmed. That said, the experience when seated outside is much smoother, more timely and certainly more relaxing. 

The antipasti, in this case the Marinata di Pesce, seems to offer somewhat less cost performance than the pizzas do. And while we are on the subject of pizza, the Margherita al Prosciutto was fabulous, once it arrived -- this particular order was forgotten and only after last orders were called and this transgression discovered, was it set aright, albiet in a timely and apologetic manner. 

Worth the wait, though...

 

03-5768-3739

da Isa

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