Tag Archives: date

Count on the French

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Maison de la Bourgogne

Before writing a review, I try to reserve judgment until I have eaten at a place at least three times. No need to get too excited if I had just happened to be lucky and come in on a day when the fish had just been delivered, my waiter was in a great mood, and the reservation for the best table in the house had been canceled and given to me instead. Writing about Maison de la Bourgogne, however, I could not be more sure that the great service and food were consistent: I have eaten here more times than I could count.

Located in what is quickly becoming the French-district of Kagurazaka, Maison de la Bourgogne is the quintessential sidewalk café. A wine bistro with an extensive wine selection and simple, authentic French fare, the weekday lunch set is my recommendation. At ¥1500, the set is beyond a bargain. After starting with an amuse of pate on toast, there are five each of different hors devours, mains, and desserts to chose from. Coffee or tea is also included. The hors devours themselves are large in portion, the refreshing country pate and classic quiche dishes both come with an accompanying side salad (My favorite is the soufflé, though it does not). The main dishes also do not disappoint. Offering a changing menu of both meat and fish options, they are always full flavored and hearty. Desserts have included crème brulee, crunchy tarts, and homemade hazelnut ice cream and sorbets.

The staff is also incredibly friendly, and I have on more than one occasion been given a complimentary sparkling wine with my meal. Even in the winter, the heat lamps make the patio seating bearable, although the interior is cozy as well. That this bistro is one of many French restaurants in Kagurazaka only highlights how much it’s food and service stands out.
http://www.wine-bourgogne.com/

Crepes: the slow food version

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Au Temps Jadis Creperie

Tucked away on a little side street between Shibuya and Harajuku, it is not a surprise that the existence of Au Temps Jadis Creperie was passed down to me through a string of friends, each showing it to the next as a secret, sweet discovery. I, for one, hate the fake whip-cream-filled crepes sold in stands all around Shibuya and Harajuku both, and when I was invited to meet a friend for a crepe brunch; I agreed only to be polite.

She took me to Au Temps Jadis, of course, and as soon as we climbed down the brick staircase into the airy dining room, past the red-checkered tablecloths and out onto a patio table by a marble fountain, I realized that dining here had not been an idle suggestion. The fragrant smell of cheeses and eggs cooking was phenomenal, and we settled into our menus, choosing between savory crepes such as salmon and cream cheese, and sweet ones such as banana chocolate.

I settled in to my Orangina and spinach, cream sauce, and ham galette, savoring the richness of the flavors, freshly combined as to still remain distinct. The lunch set comes with a salad and a little dessert of a small sugared cream puff. Although it started to rain and we were moved inside, the early afternoon atmosphere of this busy place so delighted us that we moved on to after-lunch hot cocoas, which were creamy and a perfect finish.

No matter when I return to Au Temps Jadis Creperie, each time the decadence of flavors and homey atmosphere feel like the perfect Sunday morning retreat.

http://www.many.co.jp/jadis/salon.html

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A Cicada in the midst

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Cicada

I heave myself against the rough wooden door, and sink in to Cicada. Into the warmth, the darkness that feels like a fireside even in the summer when Cicada’s fireplace is unlit, and the feeling of being the only guests there. I am whisked past the gold glow of the bar area, and I suddenly find myself seated in a shadowy corner drinking the fruitiest sangria, and taking occasional sips of my date’s stellar mojito. The waiter had come and gone so seamlessly I’d barely noticed. And while part of my wants to curl up and roast smores, I am becoming giddy with the summer feeling of sangria on the beach. Keeping my lips to my straw, I fall in to the menu.

The pages of intriguing options fly around my head and I become quite sure I will not be able to pace myself. Lamb Tagine? Asparagus with Hazelnut Salsa? Clams with Chorizo? Hummus? Gnocchi? Something from the impressive cheese list? Sumptuous sounding dishes jump off the page and I start to think one of each might be the only way to go. But we are only two, so let’s be reasonable.

Olive oils to choose from first —do they really make olive oil outside Italy? My date and I are happy to ponder this question, but skip the French and Californian options just the same. Our warm flatbread is a tasty teaser and we are happy with our olive oil choice. Meals somehow get chosen, and once we are done, it’s time to peruse the lengthy wine list for more meal accessories.

With the first dish I might worry that we will peak too soon, but worries seem to be kept at bay, seeing as how I can’t stop grinning as I eat the spicy Moroccan crab cakes. Light and slightly crunchy with no heavy bread flavor, they are topped with a brilliant green sauce of coriander, lemon oil and orange juice. The tastes meld together, tangy and moist, and I am completely taken in.

It is almost a little sad when the plate is empty, but onwards to the rich and hearty Portuguese meatballs. Further on to the velvety ravioli in spinach crema sauce with rucola. Lord, I love rucola. We are already so head over heels into our meal. Although I find the following snapper with potatoes, olives, and rosemary a little too salty, the fish skin is crispy and the meat itself broiled to perfection. Our heady bliss is renewed as the roasted lamp chops with anchovy and rosemary are delivered. We find they match perfectly with the red wine we’ve moved on to, and as we surreptitiously try to gnaw on the stubborn sinews of meat still left on the bone, we start to notice the sleepy satisfaction in our stomachs.

But no matter, it is dessert time now, and our sweet teeth have been jealous for some attention. My Valharna 70% cacao rare cake with chocolate gelato, whipped cream and strawberries, is warm and soft, not oozing. A small bite seems to last, imperceptibly melting in my mouth for days, and yet I take another, and another. My date tries his tiramisu and moans aloud. The lady fingers are perfectly soaked, the ratios of each layer perfect. While I’m not sure exactly what about it makes it a “Cicada style” tiramisu as the menu states, it certainly fits with the entire Cicada experience, which has left me utterly transported.

And days later, when I walk by, I have this urge to press my nose up against the glass. It’s four in the afternoon, and they are closed, and my mid-week me doesn’t have time for a break anyway. Still I glance back as I walk away, wanting so much to escape there again.

Cicada

5-2-40 Minami-azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0047

03-5447-5522

Make sure you ask to see the dessert tray

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Mangia Pesce

Is it unnecessary to review well-known restaurants, places that, to many, are already on their standby list? Perhaps. But in case you haven’t already heard, Mangia Pesce is the solid option for your first date/birthday/dinner with the parents/friend’s in town/anniversary/casual night out. Put them on your speed dial.

The versatility offered by this restaurant starts with the decor and ends with it’s colorful dessert tray. Now that the weather has warmed up, there is a choice of indoor or sidewalk patio seating. It’s interior is simple and without pretense; unusual for a nicer Tokyo restaurant. There is a definite attempt to bring a European feel to the design, but it is subtle, as are the fish motifs strategically incorporated to reinforce that the house specialty is fish.

On most visits to Mangia Pesce, I have come as a casual visitor; usually meeting up with a friend or two who are hankering for some Japanese-influenced Italian food. Although inevitably there are guests there dressed ‘n pressed, having a piece of candlelit birthday cake brought to them for a quiet birthday dinner, there is also always a mix of clientele, and showing up in jeans is perfectly acceptable.

As I mentioned before, fish is the specialty here, and it is fresh and delicious. The menu allows you to combine the type of fish, how you would like it cooked, etc., as you wish, however, the wait staff is always very helpful with suggestions. My suggestions, however, are not of the fish variety. However many times I come back, what continues to amaze me is the quality and freshness of the vegetables. The best green salad in town, with whatever vegetables are freshest, is considered an appetizer, but when I’m feeling hungry, I go right ahead and ask for 1.5 portions. Really hungry, and they are happy to serve me a plate 2 portions large. Also featuring veggies, is the stellar bagna cauda. Crisp vegetables to dip into a heated at the table fondue-like bowl of garlic-anchovy oil.

Also on the appetizer menu, is a delightful little foie gras croquette. A tiny morsel of richness, and for many, just as much foie gras as they can take in one sitting. On my last visit this dish was a little too salty, but on the whole, it has been a winner of a dish. Think you can handle more of the foie gras? Try the foie gras pasta. The fresh-made pasta here is light and perfectly cooked. Also refreshing is the fish carpaccio, make sure to ask for extra tomatoes.
These are just some highlights of a truly rich menu that is constantly being updated. The impressive wine list is complemented by seasonal changes: currently, there is a fair of belgian beer, and the wait staff will gladly recommend dishes to complement each one. Other features include various lunch sets (not bad, although I much prefer the dinner a la carte), and party plans. I previously had a party here for about 15 people, however, and did not feel the quality quite lived up to dining on my own. My advice if you’re planning a party would be to negotiate the menu carefully with the staff, instead of choosing one of the pre-arranged sets.

Could there possibly be more important features? Just one. While the kitchen is not technically an open kitchen, the door is always wide open, and the curious can catch glimpses of the action. In fact, the head chef is always on hand as well, sometimes assisting with the serving. But for the more ambitious, cooking classes are also offered. To be able to create a little of this place at home would definitely be a skill worth learning.

Mangia Pesce

〒151-0051
Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 3-50-11 明星ビル(Myoujyou Biru) 1F
TEL : 03-3403-7735
FAX : 03-3403-7736

Your evening is Ubcra

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Kyo Restaurant Ubcra

When I’m headed off to some romantic mysterious land, this is how I imagine the luxury dining car. Kyo restaurant Ubcra is warm, dark, and cozy, and its design takes full advantage of the small, rectangular shape of the building as small booths line the walls single-file and give you the feeling that you are entirely alone. For a little more excitement, seats at the bar provide a great view of the cooks preparing yaki-tori, and modern couches and tables at the balcony are a great place for people watching through the restaurant’s two-story glass front.

The extensive menu (in both English and Japanese) makes this upscale izakaya an ideal place to become a regular. Choosing from yaki-tori, sashimi, tempura, nabe, salads, and more, my favorites in past visits have included a light and crunchy lotus root tempura, fried to perfection, to be dipped in wasabi salt. Also notable is the tororo sashimi salad and the tsukune (I’ve heard a rumor that the chicken here is free-range but…). Of course, as it is Kyoto-style fare, yuba is featured fresh, wrapped around shrimp and cream cheese spring rolls, and in croquettes. Pages of options for drinks show a good mix, particularly of shochu, and the specialty cocktails are great, particularly the soy milk one (although stay away from the mojito, which tastes like soda with a little Listerine thrown in).

Having the same owner as the cheesy aquarium walled, over-designed Bar Luxis down the street, Ubcra is surprisingly chic and relaxed, with food to match.

Kyo Restaurant Ubcra

1-3-11, ebisu-nishi, shibuya-ku, tokyo

Phone 03 5428 5057

Open 7 days a week, 5pm-5am

Ecstatic palate, Spicy heart.

On entering elegance on a glass floor with lotus flowers under your feet, you emerge looking out over downtown Tokyo, from an unobstructed 35th floor view. In good weather, the city lights around Mango Tree Tokyo remind you of garlic and blinking red chili peppers in the sky. You sit and decide on the more expensive Course B (8400 yen) dinner set, because really, is there any other option, and really, it will be cheaper than ordering a la carte, right? (At this exact moment, you don’t realize that no matter how full you are after the dinner set, you will not be able to resist a couple mojitos, a bottle of wine or two, and maybe a fresh spicy papaya salad or delicious tender satay plate on the side.)

You are surprised by the first of the seven courses, a tiny surf clam salad with spicy sauce which you need to squint to see, but packs a pungency that surprised your taste buds, still recovering from the sweet aftertaste of that mojito. The deep fried chicken wrapped in some sort of Pandan Leaf is soft on your tongue and its sweet and spicy sauce relaxes you. You next receive a spicy mushroomy shrimpy Tom Yum Goong soup, and a “Steamed Pacific Cod Mousse Thai Style Flavored with red Curry”, yes you think you read that right, some sort of orange-colored cod-based Mousse filled with scallops and cauliflower, a novel concoction which is subtle but interesting enough to keep you staring. Well, by this point, your palate is cleared and you have to wait a bit, have some wine, “Take some time for yourself,” their menu exclaims, because you’ll need the rest before feasting on perhaps the most … (for lack of a better word) delicious thing you have tasted all month.

You decide to start a new paragraph to talk about this dish, because well, frankly, it deserves it. Grilled Standing Lump with Spicy herb served with Sticky Rice eeks with herbs, onions, leeks, lemongrass, red pepper, and cilantro, a gorgeous touch to an otherwise already spectacular beef. The thinly-sliced Lump (do they mean Rump?) is medium cooked and grilled with vinegar then covered with the firey mixure which makes you wish aloud, “Dear Mango god, Please let this never end!” All your friends turn to you and decide your outburst is caused by a broken heart, pour you some more wine, and hand you a desert menu, which is really a considerate gesture considering the rice noodle soup and persimmon tatine which came with the dinner set is a bit disappointing after that main course.

You order a glass of port, some organic coffee, and a divine coconut creme brulee (after which 3 of your friends quickly follow suit), because you decide it will sate your sad heart and your overstimulated hunger. This Tokyo jewel has a sister in London and one in Bangkok, and clearly prides itself quality and selection, on not being able to list every city in the world on their business cards, like some Gordon Ramsey carbon-copied mass-manufactured haute chicken fat. Today, Mango Tree has calmed your raging quest for culinary adventure and your emotional confusion has been embraced by the spicy constancy still lingering on your tongue.

Mango Tree Tokyo

Marunouchi Bldg. 35F

2-4-1 Marunouchi

Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-5224-5489

In front of New Marunouchi exit of Tokyo station.

http://www.mangotree.jp/

Ethiopian Tumeric in Naka-Meguro

Goat Kebabs

Monkey fur, Zebra skin, jaguar, goat, and cow hide were draped around the periphery of the modified commercial basement and for a minute I felt like I wasn’t in the form-fitted establishments of minimalist-design-obsessed Japan. Ethiopian/Eritrean food was one of my reliable favs back in Berkeley/San Francisco and finding it delish and authentic in the middle of Naka-Meguro really made my January.
Mesob Set We went with the Mesob set course and although we were avid eaters, after African samosas, mango daiquiris, a bottle of honey wine, a cassis martini, wild goat and chicken kebabs, and somehow french fries?, we were barely unable to finish the main event: Injera (Ethiopian spongey bread) loaded with various lentil, lamb, and chicken dishes.
I’d go back there every week if my stomach, tastebuds, and wallet could handle it. It’s like an explosion in your mouth with a tumeric soundtrack spinning spicily sauntering sauteed chili pepper alliteration.

Oh! And they play reggae too!

Queen of Sheba comes highly recommended, and would make a great impressive date or a novel group outing. A bit pricey, especially with honey wine and interesting Ethiopian cocktails, but well worth the adventure.

Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant. 1-3-1 NakaMeguro. Meguro-ku. Tokyo JP, 153-0061. Japan. Phone +81 (0)3 3794 1801. http://www.queensheba.jp