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Friday, Aug. 22, 2003

TOKYO FOOD FILE

O, I do like to eat beside the seaside


Just because the rest of the country is heading back to work at the fag end of this cool summer doesn't mean the beach season is over. In fact, now that the crowds are thinning out, this is probably the best time to plan a day trip (or overnight) down to the Shonan "Riviera" -- that stretch of Kanagawa shoreline between Hiratsuka and Hayama. Some people go for the surf (such as it is); others just to feel the breeze off the ocean and the sand between their toes. But for us, the ultimate pleasure is to sit by the sea, sundowner in hand, listening to the waves and watching the light fading over the far-off Izu Peninsula. And then, appetites suitably sharpened by the cool evening air, we repair for a leisurely dinner, preferably right by the ocean.

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After a seaside sundowner, head for Taverna Rondino
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The wild, wide dunes to the west of Enoshima are great for picnics and barbecues -- too bad there are no restaurants or bars anywhere close to the sea. So instead, we ride the Enoden train in the other direction to Shichirigahama, where the roadside watering holes look right out over Sagami Bay. The choices range from anodyne family restaurants and fast-food joints (including perhaps the best-situated Burger King in all of Japan) to funky, idiosyncratic bars where surfers and bikers congregate. For food and mood, though, you won't find anywhere better than Taverna Rondino.

This long-established Italian ristoranti is one of the best in the prefecture and it boasts a beachfront vista that any restaurateur in Tokyo would kill for. The antipasti are superior and so are the seafood dishes. We love to nibble on their focaccia and crisp pizza bianco as we wait for our order of sea bass grilled with fresh rosemary and sea salt. The staff have all trained in Italy, and they make regular trips to Rome in the off-season to brush up on their cooking skills.

But they're not in any way snooty. Nobody minds if all you want is a plate of spaghetti washed down with a glass or two of vino di tavola. Best of all, Rondino is relaxed and casual, so there's no need to dress up unduly. If you're still wearing beach shorts, they even have half a dozen tables on their small patio -- it has a perfect vantage point above the traffic and looks out over the soothing waves.

Taverna Rondino, 2-6-11 Inamuragasaki, Kamakura-shi. Tel: (0467) 25-4355. Open daily: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Reservations essential.

If you can't get in at Rondino, try walking round the corner to Tiki's Table. Because the entrance is not on the main road, this stylish new restaurant is still off the radar for visitors from outside the neighborhood. The ground floor is sleek and modern, with a gleaming open kitchen. The upstairs dining room has simpler decor but commands a fine view of the glittering ocean.

Chef Tiki Okamoto specializes in fresh local seafood landed from Sagami Bay, and his 4,000 yen dinner course intersperses modern, Western dishes with those made using more traditional Japanese cooking techniques. Even better, call ahead and ask for his Chef's Table omakase course (from 5,000 yen per person). And don't forget to ask for a table by the open window.

Tiki's Table, 1-2-23 Shichirigahama, Kamakura-shi. Tel: (0467) 32-7112. Open 11:30 a.m.-2.30 p.m. (lunch); 2.30-4.30 p.m. tea/coffee; 5-10 p.m. dinner; closed Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a holiday). Reservations recommended.

Most summer visitors to Kamakura's main beaches head for the umi-no-ie, temporary constructions that can vary in scale from basic shacks serving yakisoba and lukewarm beer, to surprisingly sophisticated two-story buildings serving proper meals. Out of season, though, the place to go is the spacious wooden deck at Blue Point, a year-round roadside cafe/bar/casual eatery in a perfect location for romantic sunset cocktails.

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The friendly welcome of T-side

Compared to its better-known parent operation in Tokyo's ritzy Shirokanedai, the menu here is simpler and quirkier. You can construct a very passable meal from their fresh spring rolls, garlic potato wedges, deep-fried Thai fish cakes, Caesar salad, nasi goreng (Indonesian-style fried rice) and the like. For something more exotic, try the Curry Nun Pizza (sic), a bizarre Indo-Italian fusion (strangely, it works). Or go native and order up that old surfers' favorite, taco rice. This hybrid of rice cooked with spicy ground beef (with no tacos in sight) has become an Okinawa specialty, but it tastes just as good in Shonan.

Blue Point, 6-4-7 Zaimokuza, Kamakura-shi. Tel: (0467) 25-4776. Open daily: 11 a.m.-1 a.m.

There are two compelling reasons for visiting the little fishing port at Kotsubo, just around the corner from Zushi Marina. The first is the daily (except Wednesday) fish market, with its groaning trestles of freshly landed seafood sold at sub-supermarket prices. The second is Trattoria Piccolo Vaso.

This simple, cozy, bistro-look Italian is another of those secrets that the locals like to keep to themselves. The interior is getting dingy these days, its walls covered with fading Polaroid snapshots, and the owner can be dour to those he doesn't know. But the cucina is surprisingly good for such an out-of-the-way location -- which is why on summer weekends you will look through the wide-open French windows and invariably discover that Piccolo Vaso is packed to capacity.

Trattoria Piccolo Vaso, 4-4-7 Kotsubo, Zushi-shi. Tel: (0467) 24-5858. Open 11.30 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5.30-9 p.m.; closed Wednesday.

You will find a good number of other seafront eating places farther down the coast, but only one that matters. For two decades now, La Marze de Chaya has jealously guarded its reputation as the finest French restaurant in the whole of Shonan. In part this is due to its unparalleled location, but mainly it is because the cuisine -- especially the seafood, of course -- is consistently excellent.

With dinner courses from around 8,000 yen a head, these are Tokyo prices. But they are justified by the outstanding vistas over the bay to Izu and Mount Fuji from its upstairs dining rooms. On the ground floor is a dining bar, with light snacks and a stringent dress code, but the view is now obscured by the seawall on the jetty outside.

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La Marze de Chaya, 24-2 Horiuchi, Miura-gun; Tel: (0468) 75-6683. Open 12-2.30 p.m.; 5.30-9.30 p.m.; closed Mondays. Reservations recommended.

If you've had your fill of the beach and are heading home by way of Kamakura, you will not be short of options for dinner in the immediate vicinity of the JR Station. Top of our list (and lauded a few years back in this column) is T-Side, a friendly, spacious Indian restaurant. The owner is Bengali, the head cook is from Bombay and the menu here reflects all corners of the subcontinent. Besides the rich, buttery kormas and tandoori grills of northern India, they also offer light, coconut-accented dishes from southern India, fiery curries from Madras, the seafood dishes of Calcutta and even some Tibetan tidbits from Nepal, such as momo steamed dumplings and fried noodles. Mix and match as the mood takes you, or just order one of the mixed thali platters -- either way, T-Side is always worth the detour.

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The deck at Blue Point

For spices in the Southeast Asian vein, head across the tracks to Song Be Cafe, a homely spot where the inspiration, decor and flavors are those of Vietnam. Start with goi cuon spring rolls; follow up with a bowl of pho noodles (or a satisfying Thai-style green curry); then round off your meal with authentic sweets. Wash it all down with Saigon 333 beer and some classic Vietnamese-style filter coffee. Everything is prepared so tastefully it really doesn't matter that the wooden patio looks out on the station rather than the open sea.

And then there is Tipitina. Barely bigger than the proverbial hole-in-the-wall, this laid-back, ever-welcoming bar is where Kamakura's fringed-jacket, music-loving, bike-riding folk hang out. They assemble for the reasonably priced booze, blues and New Orleans music on the sound system, plus live strumming by local musicians at least once a week -- not to mention the authentically gut-busting chili, Tipitina's trademark Malibu sandwiches and other Cal-Tex-Mex favorites.

T-Side, Kotobuki Bldg 2F, 1-6-12 Komachi, Kamakura-shi; Tel: (0467) 24-9585. Open daily 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (last order).

Song Be Cafe, 13-32 Onaricho, Kamakura-shi; Tel: (0467) 61- 2055. Open 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. (Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.); closed Wednesday.

Tipitina, 2-9 Onaricho, Kamakura-shi; Tel: (0467) 25-4588. Open 6 p.m.-3 a.m. (Saturday & Sunday midday-3 a.m.); closed Thursday.



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