Monday, August 29, 2011

Prime rib with drama in Tokyo

Last night, a friend took me and some other people to dinner. Since I was visiting from Manila, he asked me to choose the restaurant and gallantly offered to take me anywhere I wanted. I was in Tokyo, the city with the most Michelin stars in the world and where almost every single neighborhood joint is good, and I asked him to take me to Lawry's in Akasaka.

I know I won't hear the end of it from my serious foodie friends, for choosing an American steak place for one of my few dinners in Tokyo when I could have had kaiseki, sushi or even the world's most expensive wagyu steak (Yes, it's in Tokyo. Hope you read about it in Travelife Magazine's August-September issue.).


But somehow, that's really what I felt like having, after ten nights of spicy food in Malaysia, a hodge-podge of meals in Manila, and wagyu and tonkatsu already done in Tokyo. I wanted a really good and proper American steak with all the trimmings. In a very traditional steak house atmosphere.

It also helped perhaps that we'd joined a table of friends for drinks at Lawry's bar earlier; and so the idea of walking a few more meters down a staircase for dinner was the lazy option. But I was in Tokyo for a break from work timed with the long weekend in Manila, after all, and so I thought I could be excused from taking nothing but the easy way out.


Interestingly, Lawry's turned out to be an excellent choice because it offered a properly dressy but also casual atmosphere conducive for talking and relaxing, and a pretty good dinner
besides. It's an American institution for prime rib and in Tokyo, it's all dramatics: red carpet, high-backed chairs, leather banquette tables on the sides, brass lighting, high ceilings and a general feeling that's a cross between a gentleman's club and a red-carpet moment. Besides, for me, it wasn't one of those evenings when the food is the star of the show. I was really just looking forward to catching up in a congenial atmosphere.

I hadn't been to Lawry's in Tokyo in a very long time so I'd forgotten how nice it actually is. But those who've been to Lawry's in Tokyo or in the States are fairly familiar with the Lawry's routine: Prime rib is the thing to have here, and it's just a matter of how much of it you want.

It's a recession in Japan at the moment and so far I've been eating in pretty empty restaurants. But Lawry's in Tokyo was actually healthily full -- not jampacked but with enough people for a lively atmosphere. Interestingly, too, there were not a few families out for dinner even if it was a weekday night. Some couple had brought little children along, dressed quite formally for an adult dinner.


Back to the meat of the issue. The Tokyo Cut is the smallest cut of prime rib they have (140 grams), and they have other kinds of cut including the American Cut, the British Cut, and the Traditional Cut. This comes with traditional sidings including a very well-made and freshly done Yorkshire pudding, creamed horseradish and Lawry's famous spinning salad.

The spinning salad is made with what is basically a stainless steel bowl filled with cut-up vegetables like lettuce and beets that's spun on a bed of crushed ice, and then salad dressing similar to a Thousands Islands dressing is spun into it. The dressing is poured as the bowl is spun around, ensuring that the sauce is properly distributed. Then croutons and cherry tomatoes are added on the side, and you're given a container of Lawry's seasoning if you want more flavor. It's quite good, but the attraction is basically the theatrics of it all.


The prime rib itself is served with lots of drama. A foreign chef rolls in a huge stainless steel contraption and then opens one of its sides to reveal about three or four hunks of beef waiting to be cut.
"Would you like the ends or the middle? And how would you like your prime rib done?" They ask. If you want ends, after all, they have three or four pieces of meat to choose from in this trolley alone. The visuals just make you more hungry. At least this is how I felt as I'd initially ordered the Tokyo Cut; then, when I saw all the meat in this dramatic contraption, I almost jumped four sizes larger to the Diamond Jim Brady Cut.

"I should really stop having this prejudice about American food," my friend, the host, said. He's Japanese but he's an avowed Anglophile, and so he basically thinks that British is best whenever there's a toss-up between American culture and British culture.

I guess he said this out of the blue because he'd enjoyed his dinner at Lawry's. I nodded, then added: "And if you think about it, this type of food is actually British. It's the British Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding, horseradish and gravy."

Sunday roast is one of the British traditions I happily follow whenever I'm in London, as I feel it's a very civilized way to observe the end of the weekend and the start of the week. I'll gladly go to one of the very posh places if someone I'm with so wants to go there; but if I have a choice, I really like the Sunday roast at the beautiful little restaurant of the Milestone Hotel in Kensington.

I also used to have the Sunday roast at the Savoy Hotel on the other side of town, just because it's very traditional and proper.

Meanwhile, back in Tokyo, my choices for a good prime rib would be the American Club and Oak Door of the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. And, now, of course, Lawry's in Akasaka.

Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue

5 to 6 pm


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