Tuesday, August 27, 2013

US$38 of happiness, part 2: Stylish o-makase Italian at Tornavento in Hiroo, Tokyo


Tiny jewel-like appetizers to start a very good meal

In Tokyo last week, living a Travelife, this was the fifth good Italian restaurant I'd visited for an o-makase lunch.

O-makase means to "put yourself into the hands of the chef."

To basically to let him decide the menu.

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I'd been doing as many of these lunches as possible, at great little under-the-radar restaurants in Tokyo, to see how many reasonably-priced but excellent meals -- the kinds known only to locals -- I could find.

I especially wanted to find restaurants that could give the Michelin one-star restaurants some competition.

THE FOODIE CHALLENGE

The Michelin starred-restaurants in Tokyo are famous, of course.

The challenge was to find equally good restaurants that didn't fall under this umbrella, without the Michelin star, but nevertheless of one-star quality.


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One of the best lunches I had was in a corner building in a very unassuming cul-de-sac of sorts, in an upscale neighborhood of Hiroo. 

It was just a short walk from the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi.


A NICE FIND IN HIROO

Hiroo is one of Tokyo's posh neighborhood favored by expatriates and diplomats.

Within several square kilometers of Hiroo, there are few places that are not upscale. But within this part of Hiroo, I believe we found the least posh street.

It was more like a regular Tokyo street.

Someone was washing his car in a tiny garage, and an old lady was sitting by her window.



And then there was this building with a very messy frontage of plants and flowers -- and this was our restaurant.

Someone else had chosen it, and he'd done so because it had received a very high rating among local foodies.

When I got there, I understood why.

SMALL AND TRADITIONAL





The restaurant itself was very traditional Italian, but in that tiny way of Tokyo.

There was a bar upon entering, and perhaps only five actual tables in a bright room with dainty paintings and decor.

Again, the o-makase lunch cost 3800 yen, and that was what we had.

SIX TINY AND BEAUTIFUL APPETIZERS



It opened with six appetizers arranged so prettily on a long white plate.

What an impressive start this was to a relatively inexpensive meal -- inexpensive by Tokyo standards, at least.




And by New York / Paris / London standards as well.

We had three hot and three cold appetizers, and everything was tiny but delicious. I could have eaten three appetizer plates alone.

A good omen of things to come.

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MY LEAST FAVORITE PASTA 

For my first course, I chose a black squid ink pasta.

This is probably my least favorite pasta in the world.

I chose it from among the options, because I wanted to see if the restaurant could do it well enough for me to actually like.



That would certainly be saying a lot. Well, guess what?

I loved it. It was very subtle in taste.

But once you got used to the subtlety, you could appreciate the pasta in its entirety.

And, of course, just like most self-respecting Italian restaurants in Tokyo, the pasta was perfectly al dente. It was neither too soft nor too hard.

JUICY PORK FOR A MAIN COURSE



For my main course, I chose the roast pork dish, just because I'd been having it at many of the other restaurants, and I wanted to compare.

Actually, I'd seen a show on Japanese television last week about truly juicy pork dishes -- and that had really whet my appetite for good pork.

This is why I was ordering pork a lot, whenever I saw it on the menu at good restaurants.

I wasn't at all disappointed by what I was served in Tokyo. Every roast pork dish was delicious.

THE PERFECT SUMMER DESSERT



Dessert was fresh, light and almost perfect for summer.

It was a chilled soup of melon with a few scoops of real fruit. In the middle of a pretty glass full of it, was a scoop of fresh cheese ice cream with a vanilla twist.

It was just what I wanted, even if I am very much usually a chocolate person.

And this was another US$38 meal of happiness, in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.






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