Balai Isabel

Cheap Italian food in Tokyo

Tonight we went to a new and basically unknown Italian restaurant that has received very good ratings from the Japanese-language food blogs. Everyone knows all the famous restaurants in Tokyo, and we like going to these ourselves as well; but it’s also fun to go outside the radar and try the unknowns.

In Tokyo, particularly, it’s quite easy to find lots of very good restaurants that are not really known outside their own neighborhoods, because there are so many people passionate about being chefs here.

Oftentimes, there are only two people manning the place — the chef and someone to help serve the dishes and clear up. I’ve even been to several very good one-man restaurants, where the chef does the cooking, serving, washing up and accounting all in one.

Dinner began with incredibly fresh and crunchy veggies
for a bagna cauda

While these one-man outfits are quite admirable — talk about sheer hard work — I don’t really count them among my favorites as the food just takes too long to serve. Imagine if you were the 15th in line for a rack of lamb or something. You would be waiting for your food for a couple of hours.

This was the open kitchen, bar, office
and storage all in one

Tonight was supposed to be sushi night but my favorite sushi restaurant was full. Who said there’s a recession in Tokyo?

I thought about all my standard favorites, but I’d just had a couple of days of very good eating on a trip to Hokkaido and Tokyo with friends from Manila, so I didn’t really feel like another big and pricey meal. So instead we started surfing the Japanese food blogs and we came upon this small and pretty reasonable-sounding place that rated very highly.

Starter of tender slices of kurobuta
and beef tongue in a salad

I called to reserve, and luckily they weren’t full. So off we went. It was a two-person operation with modern but quirky decor and a six-course meal for a very good price.

A mountain of truffles on fresh handmade egg pasta

Well, we were the only customers the whole evening, which was rather hard to imagine, considering the food was so good and the prices were cheap by Tokyo standards. And what if we hadn’t chosen this particular restaurant out of the food blogs?

The chef and his waitress would be doing nothing else but looking at each other the whole night. Of course that’s how some people fall in love and end up together. But that’s another story…

The best beef cheeksI’ve had  in a very long time

We had a very good meal, especially if I think about the price. Everything was wonderful but the best dishes were a perfectly, perfectly done handmade fresh egg pasta served piping hot and heaping with freshly shaven white truffles; and beef cheeks in a red wine sauce. Both were among the best I’ve had in a very long time, and the beef cheeks were especially tender.

Dinner was so delicious that I made up my mind to come again. I want to give them more business so that they actually don’t fold up. I don’t know how many nights they can hold up without any customers the entire night.

Hopefully I’ll be back sooner rather than later. For another wonderful meal in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.

Osteria Arco
Tel (03) 5790-9904



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