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Friday, Dec. 3, 2004
TOKYO FOOD FILE
For a night to remember
It was one of those evenings that called for -- nay, stridently demanded -- a special celebration. Not a quiet, intimate table a deux; nor some sober parade of rarified gourmet delicacies; but a full-on, self-indulgent feast in a setting to match. It was time for dinner at Olives.
It's fitting that the Tokyo outpost of U.S. uber-chef Todd English's expansive restaurant empire should be housed within the larger-than-life portals of Roppongi Hills. The entrance, however, is surprisingly modest, tucked away down an unmarked corridor and accessed through a narrow, cluttered bar area. But that only heightens the effect as you step into the restaurant proper and take in the sweep of the picture windows, with the glowing outline of Tokyo Tower framed in the mid-distance.
This theatrical setting of near-Imax dimensions is perfect for a chef who isn't shy to make a bold statement. English draws on Italian fundamentals to produce full-blown, pull-no-punches, modern American cuisine, which is produced here with verve by chef de cuisine Bobby Griffing. We loved his beef carpaccio, paper-thin slices of wagyu draped over cubes of crisp, deep-fried polenta richly flavored with Roquefort, daubed with aioli and sprinkled with Parmesan. The pan-seared squid and octopus, served with a chickpea salad and an inspired "hummus" of black bean and sesame, was every bit as successful.
Another of the signature starters is the brilliant tuna tartare. Sashimi-grade maguro is wrapped inside a fine strip of cucumber, and topped with a glazed shrimp encrusted with jewel-like "salmon caviar." The powerful afterburn of ginger was the only Asian touch in a meal otherwise entirely of Mediterranean inspiration.
We gave an unconditional thumbs-up to the Shrimp "Fra Diavolo," a fine, handmade spaghetti imbued with more than a hint of chili piquancy. We also marveled at the Riso Crabonara [sic], a thick, creamy risotto containing morsels of crabmeat, with peas, bacon, basil and Parmesan. But we felt the trademark tortelli of butternut squash should either have come with a warning or been relegated to the dessert menu, so overpowering was the sweet, marzipan flavor of amaretto.
Serving sizes may be tailored to prevailing Japanese standards rather than standard American appetites, but the quality of the ingredients, cooking and presentation are outstanding throughout. Our fish, a fillet of red snapper, could not have been sauteed more perfectly. And the meat dishes were equally fine -- especially the seared Kobe beef, set in a puree of celery root with a wicked glaze of whole peppercorns. We were so replete that we could not do justice to our desserts, especially the egg-rich vanilla souffle, though it was not hard to find room for a small glass of unctuous Montilla-Moriles Don PX from Andalucia.
Almost all the above are featured in the total-immersion 12,600 yen Olive's Tasting Course menu, which can be matched with a series of complementary wines by the glass for a further 5,250 yen. But such is the intensity of flavors, it's probably best to be more restrained and focus on the a la carte menu, pick out a bottle from the wine list (predominantly New World and most over 10,000 yen), and settle in for a leisurely, romantic, evening.
The split-level floor arrangement ensures that most of the seating has direct sightlines onto the Roppongi skyline, but the space between tables feels almost bistro cozy in places. It is worth specifying one of the more spacious (and hotly coveted) window seats when you phone to make your reservation.
And for those about to splurge, we say 'salut'!
'Tis the season of overindulgence, the time for letting go on your appetite, waistline and credit card. Here are some other top recommendations for seeing the year out with a high-end splurge.
Mario Frittoli produces immensely self-assured super-Tuscan cucina moderna in swish Shirokanedai. There's plenty of substance behind all that style. Just check out the homemade papardelle with that intense ragout of duck meat. It's outstanding.
Barbizon 25 2F., 5-4-7 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku; tel: (03) 3446-6900; www.luxor-r.com Open daily 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. (last order 2:30 p.m.) and 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. (last order 10:30 p.m.)
New York Grill
In the 10 years since the Park Hyatt opened, its flagship New York Grill has become a Tokyo institution. It's not so much the cooking -- impeccable (though not vastly exciting) modern American -- as the unbeatable synergy of view, ambience and penthouse exclusivity. We love it still.
Park Hyatt Tokyo 52 F., 3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; (03) 5322-1234; tokyo.park.hyatt.com/tyoph/dining_03.html. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m.
The Oak Door
The flicker of the wood-burning ovens; the heady aroma of roasting meat; the gleam of New World wine swirling in expensive globes; the astounding selection of premium steaks . . . This is heavyweight hotel dining at its sleekest.
Grand Hyatt Hotel 6F., 6-10-3 Roppongi, Minato-ku.; (03) 4333-8888; www.grandhyatttokyo.com. Open daily: 11:30 a.m.-2.30 p.m. and dinner 6-10:30 p.m.. Snacks also served at the Oak Door Bar 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Ken's Chanto Dining is no more, and in its place is this new, far less frivolous temple to the joys of the grill. Is there any serious carnivore in town who can ignore their eponymous, top-of-the-range 21-oz., 11,000 yen porterhouse steak?
1-15-4 Nish-Azabu, Minato-ku; (03) 5771-5788. Open daily 6 p.m.-midnight (last order 10:30 p.m.)
Although the rooftop terrace is a pleasure in the hot months, we prefer Stellato's modern fusion-flecked American cuisine in winter, when they crank up the open fire and the chintz and chandeliers are at their baronial best.
4-19-17 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku; (03) 3442.5588; www.global-dining.com. Open daily 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (last order); 5:30-10:30 p.m. (last order).