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Sunday, Nov. 18, 2001


Fusion that waxes and wanes

There's a whole generation out there who have come of age with laid-back, low-priced, modern izakaya, where they feel just as comfortable washing down the oden with wine as they do quaffing shochu with pasta. So when these kids grow up a bit and want to hang out somewhere less boisterous and more adult, where are they supposed to go?

The place should look sophisticated, suitable for a date. But it has to be casual enough that people can drop by on their own for a drink and a bite on the way home from work. Tatami and other trappings of traditional decor are out; counter seating is essential. The drinks must span the gamut from cocktails to jizake, and the kitchen must be just as deft at producing a pizza as slicing sashimi. A dubious name doesn't matter; prices definitely do. In short, somewhere exactly like Good Moon.

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Good Moon recently opened near the Meguro River in Tokyo.

Although it's certainly not alone in the burgeoning "fusion dining bar" category, few rivals can boast such a prime location. Good Moon lies on the tranquil left bank of the Meguro River, just a stone's throw away from (but well out of earshot of) busy Komazawa-dori.

It's a stylish little place, just three months old, with the kind of clean, contemporary design that inspires confidence without necessarily revealing much about what goes on inside. The only clue is the simple, handwritten menu tacked up by the front door -- although it may not be very illuminating if you're not up to reading the scrawling cursive script in which it is penned.

Two things are immediately clear, though. They're not afraid to mix and match the genres of the food and drink they purvey. And their prices -- especially for alcohol -- are extremely reasonable. Impelled by our customary culinary curiosity (not to mention the promise of a 2,700 yen bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc), we decided we'd try to construct an entire meal around the Western end of Good Moon's food spectrum.

That meant starting not with sashimi (of which there appears to be a fine selection) but the tuna carpaccio. The tasty cuts of fresh, red toro were arranged with endive leaves, onion, cherry tomatoes and Italian parsley, and daubed with a cream sauce rich with sea urchin. A few tendrils of wakame were mixed in to give it a hometown reference, and everything was sprinkled with a layer of grated Parmesan.

This is not a combination that looks destined to lodge itself in the annals of gastronomy. But, despite our initial hesitation, we found it worked fine (even the slithery texture of the seaweed) -- especially once our wine was uncorked.

Less successful was our next starter, described as "cheese mousse" on the menu. This turned out to be dollops of thick-whipped cheese on bite-size crackers, topped with red ikura roe and a few small beads of black lumpfish caviar. Pretty but insubstantial is the best we can say.

The roast duck (aigamo no rosu) is served in slices spread out over a wide platter to give the illusion of quantity. Drizzled with a balsamic-driven sauce, it should be considered more of a salad than a main dish -- and perhaps more deserving of red wine (such as the 3,000 yen Marques de Riscal Tempranilla).

Swayed by the recommendation on the menu and a promised topping of "fresh ham and red cheddar cheese," we ordered up a pizza. We did not expect it to be intense deep-dish style or wood-fired in a real oven (if we wanted that, we'd go to Salvatore's bright new Pizza Vera, on the other side of the river). What we got was thin of crust, anemic in taste and enough to convince us that to get food with flavor and substance at Good Moon, we should have stuck with washoku.

So we polished off our bottle with very tasty, juicy chunks of grilled Date jidori chicken, dipped in traditional wasabi-shoyu sauce. And we followed that up with a healthy serving of ikura-don, the rice bowl topped with a heap of salmon roe.

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But we couldn't leave without at least sampling their dessert menu. The ga^teau chocolat was rich but too heavy. The goma mousse, on the other hand, was excellent: light in texture and with a nutty sesame flavor that was not overwhelmed by the kinako (sweet, roasted soy flour) sprinkled on top.

Although our overall verdict on the food was mixed, that does not mean we wouldn't recommend Good Moon. Next time, we will stick with the sashimi, grilled seafood and other izakaya foods they obviously do so much more successfully. And despite the temptation of the wine, we will veer to the equally well-priced sake or shochu -- maybe even the pokey Goki, a rice-based firewater that is ladled out of a ceramic pot that graces the counter.

The cherries flanking the Meguro River are now shedding their leaves. But in a few months time, they will be illuminating the area with the blossoms once again. Good Moon is certainly worth filing away in the memory banks for then.

Good Moon
Ogawa Bldg. 1F, 1-5-10 Kami-Meguro, Meguro-ku; tel. (03) 3760-0708
Open:Daily 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
Nearest station:Nakameguro (Hibiya, Tokyu Toyoko lines)
How to get there:Exit Nakameguro Station, cross Yamate-dori and walk down the small street to the right of the pachinko parlor. When you reach the river, cross the bridge and turn right. Good Moon is on the left after about 100 meters, facing out toward the river.
What works:It's casual; it's reasonably priced; it's open late.
What doesn't:The hand-penned menu can be fiendishly hard to decipher.
Number of seats:32
BGM:Jazz from the same Usen channel you hear at 100 other restaurants of this type
Price per head:About 4,000 yen (not including drinks)
Drinks:Beer 550 yen; sake from 600 yen; wine 450 yen/glass, 2,200 yen /bottle; shochu from 400 yen
Credit cards:Most accepted
Language:Japanese menu; English not spoken
Reservations:It only starts to get busy later on.

Please send all comments, questions or other feedback to foodfile@yahoo.com

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