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Sunday, May 20, 2001

TOKYO FOOD FILE

Time to get back to the garden


Can it really be the season for beer gardens again already? Well, not really. But what's the point in waiting, when there are so many perfectly fine evenings at this time of year. Seize the night, we say. And, anyway, we were impatient to revisit our longtime favorite summer drinking spot, the wonderful Hanezawa Garden hidden away in the back streets of upper Hiroo.

The Terrace Restaurant by the Hanezawa Garden has no rivals.

Impatient but at the same time apprehensive. That's because since last year there have been major management changes. Even though we were assured by the folks in charge at the main restaurant -- the converted ryotei at the heart of this beautiful chunk of verdant real estate -- that the beer garden would be kept, we weren't totally convinced. Our concern was not so much that it would vanish, never to open again, but that it just wouldn't be the same.

The good news is that it has indeed reopened. It's in the same peerless location, surrounded by those same towering trees. The carp pond is still there, as is the incomparable tranquility.

But for lovers of everything poignantly Showa retro, the news is also sad. The premises have been stripped of their moss and mildew and long-accrued patina. The rickety tables are gone and there's not a single pink paper lamp to be seen.

Instead, there are spacious tables with mauve cloths set on sturdy new decks built up on scaffolding, splitting the space into separate levels, all illuminated by flickering gas torches. The slick jazz soundtrack obscures the sound of the water trickling into the pond. They've even messed with the name: It's officially the "Terrace Restaurant by the Hanezawa Garden" now.

But the one change that surely no one can object to is the food menu. Consigned to oblivion are the raw onion rings and the limp french fries, the sticks of grilled matter that approximated yakitori and the soggy gyoza. In their place we are offered edibles that are truly worthy of our brave new multicultural century.

There are still plenty of beer garden favorites -- German sausages with sauerkraut; fresh steamed edamame and broad beans -- but the difference is they taste good. You can still order up your yakitori or kara-age deep-fried chicken, but you will be glad to know that both are made with juicy Date jidori fowl.

Many of the dishes have been tweaked in contemporary Asian mode. The tofu is served with sliced Chinese pitan duck eggs. The fluffy, well-cooked Idaho baked potatoes are anointed with a deliciously buttery-flavored sauce of shiokara ("anchovy marinated cuttlefish" is their euphemism for fermented squid guts). And although our deep-fried whole garlic bulb was slightly undercooked, still pungently sharp rather than succulently sweet, the spicy sesame sauce that came with it was a very nice touch.

The main item on the food menu is the hibachi barbecue, which you cook for yourself over charcoal at your table on smart new aluminum braziers. There are four different platters to choose from: Mongolian-style lamb; Korean beef; the special Vietnamese barbecue, also featuring beef; and a mixed seafood platter, featuring sazae (top shell), hamaguri clams, scallop and other seafood.

We were impressed with the Vietnamese-style beef. The fine slices of tender meat were served with a good selection of vegetable matter and soft rice-flour crepes. You daub some sweet peanut-flavored miso on the crepes, wrap up the grilled meat and some vegetables, and then dunk it all in a sweet-and-spicy red chili dip. It's not particularly authentic, but it's definitely a successful combination of tastes.

At the end of your meal, if you want something solid to fill the stomach, they do a very passable yakisoba, the fried noodles well accented by the light garlic vinegar sauce. The sushi plate is best avoided, however. It is tired, overvinegared and barely edible. For us, this was the only negative point in the entire evening.

Besides the beer -- Kirin or Heineken on draft in mugs or huge pitchers -- the drinks on offer include cocktails, sake and shochu, plus a small selection of wines.

After you've sunk a few cold ones, you sit back and watch the smoke wafting up from the shichirin burners and it sinks in again how remarkable this lush oasis is. Whether you prefer it homely and rundown or new and tarted up, there's still nowhere like it in the city.

The Terrace Restaurant by the Hanezawa Garden 3-12-15 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku; tel: (03) 3400-2013
Open: 5-11 p.m. (last order 10 p.m.)
Closed:Nov. 1 - Mar. 25
Nearest station: Ebisu (JR and Hibiya lines)
How to get there:From Ebisu Station, walk down Komazawa-dori in the opposite direction from Daikanyama. Take the pedestrian overpass across Meiji-dori, and continue up the right side of the street past Roy's and the Ebisu Prime Square complex. At the top of the hill, turn right (there's an old-style general store on the corner), go down the hill and turn left at the sign at the bottom. The Terrace Restaurant is on the left almost immediately.
What works: All that greenery with not a building in sight
What doesn't:Forget the sushi; and remember they add 5 percent tax and 10 percent service charge.
Number of seats:150 inside; 100 inside
Price per head: 4,000 yen (without drinks)
Drinks: Beer from 650 yen; cocktails from 750 yen; wine from 3,500 yen/bottle; sake from 950 yen
Credit cards:Most accepted
BGM: Anonymous jazz complemented by the trickling of water
Language:English menu, some English spoken

The inner part of Hanezawa Garden Terrace Restaurant has a retractable canvas roof and plenty of tables, so even in the rainy season or if an unexpected shower hits, service continues as usual.



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