I’ve become a bit of a ramen maniac since coming to Japan and now always look forward to finding a new good place for steaming noodles. Recent trips to the Shinagawa/Takanawa area (trying to get some bussiness) introduced me to an interesting walk-o-ramen called 品達 (shintatsu) under the Yamanote Line tracks close to Shinagawa station. This place offers eight–count ’em, eight–different ramen shops under one “roof”. Only the Ramen Museum has more, as far as I know. Anyway, I went the first time and had some weird “black miso” ramen that was average, and then went back with co-worker J for another shot.
This time we tried Higomonz, a place that specializes in Kumamoto-style ramen (my favorite, natch) and walked away very full and very impressed. The excellent soup was tonkotsu style–a typical ramen broth made with pork bones and other odds-and-ends, most popular down South–and the noodles just the right firmness and weight. As an added bonus there were three morsels of kakuni (thick chunks of fat-lined pork) thrown in as well to give the thing a succulent, 贅沢な richness.
Don’t even want to think of the calories in that bowl, but we sure left feeling satisifed. Lunchtime brings big crowds and long lines, so be ready to wait unless you can skirt the busy times…
Located maybe a minute from our office is Concombre, an exceptional little French bistro that serves a wickedly good lunch for around 1500 yen. The room is small and the tables packed closely enough together that you can sometimes hear your neighbor chew. But what Concombre lacks in elbow room it makes up for with great dishes and artful presentation. Even the 1000 yen set lunches come on a heavy silver tray, with the main course tucked inside a covered silver dish.
All of the lunches are served with soup, salad, bread, dessert and coffee, all skillfully prepared in generous portions that make you forget you’re dining in Tokyo. (Anyone whose enjoyed one of those 3 leaf “salads” you find in some lesser restaurants knows what I mean.) Free refills on coffee and a friendly staff make Concombre a place not to miss! Almost as good as Beacon, but without all the suits and styling gel.
Friend Rick and his new girlfriend joined us for dinner Sunday night, a four-person collaborative affair that produced an exceptional four course dinner and a good evening for all of us, kids included. The food was great, of course, but the real star of the evening was the Freeman Pinot Noir from Californian that Rick brought along. The 2004 vintage we enjoyed has ruby-brick hues and an earthy nose with notes of cherry and raspberry, followed by a hint of peppery spice. Fruity on the palate, the wine is light- to medium-bodied with a silky, balanced flavor. The finish is long and exquisite, and makes you want to go right back for more. This is a wine to pair with duck and a fruit chutney or grilled salmon with dill sauce, served perhaps with a rucola, walnut and apple salad on the side. An exceptional wine, though not cheap at 6,500 yen.
Located next door to my alma mater Aoyama Gakuin Daigaku in Aoyama, Amour Superieur is a tiny restaurant with seating for 20 which specializes in “LOHAS French” cuisine. When we visited for the first time for lunch Chef Kumatani was the only person minding the store, and he deftly handled everything–seating, serving and preparation. We opted for simple course lunches, with me ordering the 糸より鯛 (golden threadfin bream, 1600 yen) and my companion having a shrimp and scallop salad (1200 yen).
The dishes were both exquisitely prepared to perfection. The shrimp and scallops were tender, flavorful and with just the right firmness on the outside. The bream was similarly well done, with crispy, lightly-battered skin and wonderfully succulent flesh. The portion was quite small, sadly, but the sauce and grilled vegetables somehow made up for it. Pricey, yes, but the quality and presentation is exceptional. My only regret is that we didn’t order wine. Well, there’s always next time…
I’ve decided to start writing simple reviews of the restaurants in the area here (Shibuya and Aoyama, mostly) that I frequent for lunch. Always on the lookup for simple fodder that let me take photos with the new camera (details forthcoming) and add content to my long-abandoned blog. With that…
Beacon bills itself as an “urban chop house” and is the latest venture by well-known local chef David Chiddo. He and his partner also run T.Y. Harbor Brewery and Cicada in Hiroo. I haven’t been for dinner yet but I’m told the food is excellent and very expensive.
I do go for lunch once every two or three weeks, though, because the food is fantastic and the “power dining” experience is a refreshing change from the standard 1000 yen 和食 set lunch I typically endure come lunchtime. Also, the price is right at between 1200 and 1600 yen.
Yesterday I met with some old friends who run a company here called BlueShift. On arrival I was happy to see that we managed to get one of the swanky booths that line one side of the room. However, I got stuck facing the wall instead of the room and so ended up missing out on the people watching that makes a Beacon lunch good fun.
I ordered the Grilled half chicken “frango style” with veggies (ポルトガル風ハーフグリルチキンと温野菜). At 1600 yen this was the most expensive item on the menu but every bit worth the price. The chicken was grilled to perfection, with crispy, oil-free skin and tender juicy meat. The vegetables that accompanied it were also perfectly done, and the whole thing lay in a shallow, thin sauce with just the right level of spicy zest. Add to that complimentary bread and herb tea and you’ve got yourself a fantastic lunch experience. For power lunches and entertaining clients in Shibuya it can’t be beat.
Met up with old friends Donald and Jason and a couple of other folks last night at Andy’s fantastic izakaya under the Yamanote Line tracks in Yuraku-cho (有楽町). British ex-footballer Andy has run Shin Hinomoto (新日の基) for as long as I’ve lived here in Tokyo (much longer, actually) and serves up some of the best home style izakaya fare around. The portions are massive and the prices cheap. What could be finer? I hadn’t been in maybe a year or more this time, and it was great to see that the food and raucous atmosphere are still as enjoyable as I remember. We samples some of out standard dishes–sauteed enringi mushrooms, grilled asparagus spears, sashimi moriawase–and also ventured into new ground, enjoying lightly-battered John Dory (マトウダイ) and steamed black cod (ギンダラ). Everything was great, and we washed it all down with chilled mugs of beer and imojochu (芋焼酎). Gotta remember to get over there more often!