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Friday, Nov. 19, 2004



Game, set and match in fashion central

Unfortunately, Kizakura has closed its doors.

Food is fashion in this city and, inevitably, food is also foreplay -- especially in the ritzier parts of town. More often than we care to recall we have found that swish furnishings and subdued lighting are danger signals, warning of meals that are self-conscious, mediocre and overpriced. How nice it is to be proved wrong once in a while.

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Owner/manager Shuntoku Katayama

At Kizakura, you'd be forgiven for having your doubts -- initially, at any rate. The Omotesando/Kotto-dori quadrant is, after all, fashion central. Kizuakura's basement location formerly housed a Francophone DJ dining-bar. Neither the Japanese-only menu at the top of the stairs or the Philippe Starck designer furniture visible at the bottom give any clue that fine dining is now a possibility. And when you see that darkened dining room, glittering with the dancing flames of 100 tiny oil-lamps, you are more likely to think flimflam Aladdin's cave than cellars stocked with Bourgogne and Bordeaux.

Do not be put off. Kizakura has an accomplished chef, Atsushi Yumoto, with plenty of hands-on experience, both here and in France. And owner/manager Shuntoku Katayama -- known to many from his five years at Cardenas in Hiroo -- has assembled a cadre of floor staff who are polished, friendly and relaxed.

In such suave, seductive surroundings, how could you go wrong? So settle back in your plush chair -- soft, black faux-leather with scarlet piping -- or perhaps on the banquette that runs along the back wall, order a cocktail or a glass of bubbly and prepare to eat well.

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Despite the Cardenas connections, there are no attempts at Californian fusion. And despite the Japanese name, the food here is a very deftly calibrated take on modern French cuisine. Yumoto's basic four-course menu is a reasonable 4,500 yen (if you want a fish course as well it's 1,000 yen extra).

Currently there is also a 6,500 yen "tasting" menu (actually a translation of omakase -- "leave it up to the chef"), comprising the same four courses but featuring gibier (game birds or other animals taken in the wild) in place of tamer meat. Because this is the hunting season, because we always find it hard to resist that word on a menu and because we were in splurging mood, we could not resist.

The amuse gueule, an insubstantial froth prepared from Chinese cabbage and topped with a swirl of tomato, whetted our palates well. From the long list of appetizers, we picked a jelly of scallops, fresh lobster and minutely cubed vegetables, which was just slightly too chilled from the refrigerator; and a lip-smacking ravioli of escargot in a warm, buttery sauce generously imbued with parsley.

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Chef Atsushi Yumoto

Soup is included in all the courses -- a small dish of potage that contained at least as much fresh cream as the lentilles du Puy that provided its dark brown color and wholesome flavor. It was so rich and good, we had to wipe our bowls clean with the homemade bread rolls.

Curiosity (yes, and gluttony too) compelled us to try Yumoto's homemade pasta -- chittara with guinea fowl ragout -- even though it was not included in the course. It was every bit as excellent as we had expected, and injected a welcome balance of basic carbs into a meal that otherwise would have been overly protein- and dairy-rich.

The highlight of the meal was naturally our main courses. Wild duck is so much more flavorful than those standard-issue farm-raised birds on the menus at so many bistros, shipped frozen from France. This one had been shot on the wing (as evidenced by the single bead of lead found deep inside its firm meat). Delicately roasted, it was rare but not bloody, full of texture without being fibrous. It came with a sauce of cassis berries caramelized to instill a slight sharpness to that black-currant sweetness.

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Even better, but only by a whisker, was our plate of Ezo-jika -- roast Hokkaido venison. The lean meat was cooked exactly right. It was tender but satisfyingly chewy, full of gamey flavor, and perfectly matched with a red-wine reduction sauce and the gentle autumnal sweetness of pureed chestnuts.

Kizakura's wine list is dominated by clarets and burgundies, several of substantial vintage and price, but in the "other French" section we found the splendidly named Domaine Pontifical (Chateauneuf-du-Pape), which at 7,500 yen was not too overpriced for this neighborhood and was just the right bottle for our meal.

We had enough of it left to order some cheese to nibble on before dessert. Disappointingly, our fondant gateau chocolat was still only lukewarm inside, even after a 15-minute wait. But this was a minor quibble at the end of a most successful meal. It's good to know that style is not incompatible with content, even in Aoyama.

Scene Akira Bldg. B1F, 5-8-1 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku tel: (03) 5468-3636
Open: 6 p.m.-3 a.m. (last order 2 a.m.)
Closed: Sunday
Nearest stations: Omotesando (Ginza, Chiyoda and Hanzomon lines)
How to get there: From the Omotesando crossing, walk down Aoyama-dori in the direction of Shibuya. Take the first turn on the left after the Spiral Building. At the intersection by the agnes b. flagship store, turn right, and you will see the stairs leading down to Kizakura on your left after about 5 meters.
What works: The perfect setting for a stylish splurge
What doesn't: The oshibori are way overscented (ditto the soap in the restrooms).
Number of seats: 57 (including private rooms for 4 and 10)
BGM: Film-score jazzy, to Gallic accordion to clubbier beats later on.
Price per head: Set menu from 4,500 yen; also a la carte
Drinks: Beer 700 yen; cocktails from 800 yen; bubbly from 1,200 yen/glass; wine from 800 yen/glass, from 3,500 yen/bottle
Credit cards: Most accepted
Language: Japanese/English menu; English spoken
Reservations: Recommended

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