Tuesday, August 20, 2013

US$38 of happiness, part 1: Great and cheap o-makase Italian in Yoyogi Uehara, Tokyo


Without going into much detail, let me just share with you that these have been a very long four weeks in a never-ending Travelife.

Approaching everything with a little bit of grace and humor, I've found pockets of happiness (and good food) here and there.

One of my little pockets of happiness, by the way, is the fact that Jon Stewart recently favorited one of my Tweets. 


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PERHAPS THE BEST FOODIE DEALS IN THE WORLD

In Tokyo, living a Travelife, one of the most enjoyable things I was able to do was to discover so many little holes-in-the-wall serving a very good lunch for 3800 yen -- which I will just round out to US$38.

US$38 for lunch may sound like a lot, depending on where you live.

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SIMPLE PLEASURES

But in Tokyo, perhaps the most expensive city in the world, a four-course $38 lunch at a great little restaurant is enough to make anyone's day.

There's no tipping in Japan, either, so the Big Picture makes lunch even cheaper than this.

MEDIOCRE MEALS ARE PLENTIFUL.
BUT GOOD AND INEXPENSIVE ARE HARD TO FIND.



It's easy to find cheaper lunches elsewhere in the world, but the chances are high that these will be mediocre.

A US$10 so-so lunch is available anywhere, but an excellent US$38 lunch is not very easy to find, IMHO.

LOOKING FOR THE NEXT UN-FAMOUS PLACE

My lunch began with a cold avocado soup
with crab meat, and drizzled with olive oil


Just to change my routine in Tokyo a bit, I generally stayed away from the famous restaurants this time around.

Instead I patronized really local establishments well-regarded by the homegrown foodie community rather than the international one.

In this sense, Tokyo is a fantastic place as almost every other little neighborhood restaurant will be good enough even for fastidious foodies.

ITALIAN IS MY FAVORITE IN THE WORLD

The other choice was a cold tomato soup
with fresh cheese, drizzled with olive oil


I am very partial to Italian food, actually.

And if I am asked what my favorite food in the world is, I am likely to say pasta.

Happiness is a very good bowl of pasta, for me.

Home-made bread fresh from the oven 
about five minutes before being served


So, in an attempt to find happiness here and there, I went to a good little highly-rated Italian restaurant for lunch practically every day of my stay.

IT'S 3800 YEN FOR LUNCH EVERYWHERE

Next came a delicious flan with large chunks of foie gras and truffle shavings

Interestingly, no matter where I went in Central Tokyo -- and here I have to admit that I went to good little restaurants, but they were all on the upscale side of things -- the o-makase four-course lunch was 3800 yen.

How uncanny that this was the going rate for a good Italian lunch practically everywhere I went.

A GOOD FIND IN YOYOGI UEHARA, SHIBUYA



One day, I went to a little restaurant in a very nondescript street of tiny houses and equally tiny shops. It had the most unusual name, from my viewpoint, as it was called Regalo.

Where I come from, this is certainly not an Italian name, or a name for food or a restaurant.

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It was really a small place with about five or six tables, manned by about five or six people, including three chefs. Yes, that sounds like a lot of people for such a small place.

But, amazingly, there are so many places like this in Tokyo.

A $38 O-MAKASE LUNCH

This was one of the best roast pork dishes I've had in a long time


We had the o-makase menu, which means the chef's choices, for 3800 yen.

It was incredibly well-done for this price.

And the standouts were a very good main dish of roast pork (the best roast pork I've had in a long time) and a chocolate dessert that made my heart sing.




The chocolate cake and the ice cream that went with it were full of liquor, but it was so good that I scraped my plate clean.

It looked so simple and unassuming, when it arrived. But that first mouthful was truly heaven.

This was the other choice for dessert.
A cold melon soup with a sesame pannacotta.


A DEALBREAKER OF A PASTA

This pasta was good enough, but not good enough for me


Being a pasta person in a city that does take its pasta very seriously -- you will almost not find an Italian restaurant in Tokyo serving overcooked pasta, for instance -- this is the dealbreaker for me, as to whether I will go back to a restaurant again.

Regalo served a pasta in tomato sauce with crab meat. It was good, but the sauce lacked a depth I expected and wished for.

Ordinarily, this is my dealbreaker, as I already have written here.



But the roast pork and that amazing chocolate dessert are certainly enough reasons to go back one day, sometime in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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