Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Irresistible Italian invitation

Today is my last day before a big holiday so I purposely kept it clear to finish all the work I have to do so that I don't have to be stuck to my computer as I sail along the coast of Japan. There's tons of editing work to finish before I leave so I'm literally counting the minutes and working as efficiently as I can.


However out of the blue came a nice invitation to have lunch at one of Tokyo's fancy restaurants. How could I resist a great meal before saying goodbye to this town? So of course I said yes and I actually went as far as making some specific requests: I wanted to do lunch again at Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon or else the teppanyaki grill at the top of the Westin Tokyo.

Joel Robuchon is of course a no-brainer as it's truly fantastic food worth every bit of its hefty price tag. Dinner here may tax the limits of some people's credit cards, but lunch isn't at all bad price-wise, by Tokyo Michelin standards. It's one of the few places where I can truly say that the lunch price is worth it -- and I wish I could've said that about a couple of places I ate in over the last three weeks or so.

The first appetizer of white asparagus
with heavy cream and bits of seafood.


Meanwhile, Westin Tokyo's teppanyaki grill isn't at the top of the Michelin list or any world's best list for that matter, but I like it a lot because the quality of the wagyu is good and the atmosphere is very much like an old-fashioned steak house in Tokyo during the more prosperous times of Japan's economic bubble. So you might say it's great comfort food for me.

The theme of Ristorante Aso
is echoed in its plates and menus


Anyway, both places happened to be booked out along with a couple other famous places -- is Tokyo back in the black or are there still just so many Filipinos in town eating at all these fancy restaurants? -- but luckily we got a cancellation at the Ristorante Aso, a relatively old restaurant with great food and two Michelin stars.

The view from the garden

Ristorante Aso is a beautiful restaurant full of antiques and flowers in the very hip part of Tokyo called Daikanyama, that instantly transports you to Old World Europe in terms of atmosphere and service. Again, this restaurant has been around for ages and it reminds people like me of the more prosperous times of Japan, as this was quite a popular restaurant at that time.

And apparently it still is. It's booked solid for weeks and we only got a table today because of a sudden cancellation. Sometimes some restaurants do the "full house" technique and try to make it hard to reserve just to create an image of value and scarcity. But in this case, true enough, every single table was occupied when we arrived.

The second appetizer was a rilette of foie gras and pork
served with honey. It came under a glass dome.
When we lifted the glass dome,
a wonderful smoky aroma permeated the air.


What a meal we had as well. We had two appetizers, one pasta, one main dish and two desserts plus a beautiful bouquet of sweets arranged ever so nicely among real flowers. Everything was simply delicious.

Assorted petits-four arranged so nicely
within a bouquet of flowers

I especially liked the pasta dish, which was incredibly creative and tasty. When the waiter was explaining the menu, he mentioned that the pasta we would be having would be a pescatore. My face fell as this is the one pasta I don't immediately order on a menu, for some reason.

But then the waiter went on to say that it was a pescatore done the Aso-way; and indeed, it arrived so beautifully presented and so interestingly put together, with the pasta and some seafood in one plate and the tomato sauce and some other seafood on a large orange clam. Just beautiful.

Pescatore a la Ristorante Aso


My heavenly main course.
Chicken grilled to perfection,
accompanied by an equally perfect piece of beef cheeks.

I was just invited to lunch, but I can reveal that without wines included it came up to around 5750 yen per person -- which is well below the price radar of other similarly-rated restaurants by the Guide Michelin. It was a great bargain, not to mention a delicious meal that reminded me of the many great meals I'd had so far on this trip to Tokyo.

"With food like this, there's almost no reason to fly to Europe just to eat," I said. There are a million reasons to visit Europe, but many people I know really fly over just to have a good time eating at different famous restaurants.

But with food of this caliber in Tokyo -- Tokyo has the most number of Michelin stars in the world, after all, and many famous places in Europe do have outposts in Tokyo -- there's lots of reasons to think of flying to Tokyo instead of to France or Italy. Less flying time, no jet lag, and food just as good.

This was the Ristorante Aso's version of tiramisu.
It arrived as a stark cream block,
and then coffee grains were ground on top of it with a pepper mill.
It was so different and yet perhaps the most delicious tiramisu I've ever had.

I was so glad we ate here -- so glad, in fact, that I walked home from the restaurant. The sun was out, the temperature was perfect and it was probably the nicest day so far since I landed in Japan. In more ways than one.



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