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Friday, July 6, 2007
TOKYO FOOD FILE
Eating your way along the coast
The ocean sparkles; the beach beckons; a breeze stirs the appetite. And the Shonan coast — an hour or so south of Tokyo by train — looks mighty appealing, especially the secluded inlets down the peninsula in genteel Hayama. That's where you'll find the Food File.
There's much to love here: the craggy rocks and old-fashioned beach huts at Morito; the wild, jutting cape at Chojagasaki; and that magical crescent of beach at Isshiki, overlooked by the hills and the garden of the Imperial Villa. They all exude that sense of being far from the city. Best of all, once the sun sets, there are a growing number of good new restaurants close at hand — and none better than Piscaria.
It's a small place, a few minutes stroll from the north end of Morito Beach, occupying the ground floor of a handsome, wood-clad two-story house. Owner-chef Takuitsu Izumo had it custom-built when he moved here from Tokyo years ago, and you can tell as soon as you walk through the tall timber doors that this is much more than just another generic pasta joint.
Izumo specializes in the light, fragrant cuisine of Sicily. He has worked and studied there, and each winter he travels back to refresh his stock of seasonings and recipes. And he understands that so long as the ingredients are fresh and of superior quality, the simplest preparations are always the best.
As its name (meaning "fish market") suggests, Piscaria is a seafood restaurant. Unusually, though, Izumo offers no meat dishes at all. He sources his fish directly from the port at Sajima, down the coast, and diners can inspect this gleaming "catch of the day" on ice in the glass-fronted counter of his open kitchen. You can discuss with him how best it should be cooked — whether steamed, pan-fried or charcoal-grilled. Then, having specified how many of his excellent antipasti you want — for two people, a selection of six (1,580 yen) or eight (2,100 yen) is just right — all that's left is to choose your pasta (from around 1,300 yen) from the blackboard on the wall.
Don't miss his spaghetti with a delicate sauce of nama-uni (sea urchin) and diced fresh tomato — like most of his vegetables and herbs, from the market gardeners of Kamakura. But it is the fish dishes (from around 2,000 yen) that are most memorable, especially the fresh young tai (snapper) stuffed with rosemary and garlic, then slowly grilled over charcoal.
The wine list is small but reasonably priced. Izumo also has some excellent dessert wines, including nectar-sweet Passito di Pantelleria. Among the desserts, he makes a great version of the classic Sicilian cannolo, crisp pastry wrapped around creamy-sweet ricotta cheese.
Such an excellent, unpretentious restaurant would be a major find anywhere in Tokyo. Right now, it has to be the best Italian food anywhere on the Shonan coast. Piscaria feels absolutely right, except for one aspect: If only it had an ocean view.
Piscaria, 918-20 Horiuchi, Hayama-machi, Miura-gun, Kanagawa-ken; tel: (046) 802-8388; take the No. 12 bus from Zushi or Shin-Zushi stations to the Hayama-Motomachi bus stop (10-15 minutes). Piscaria is visible, just off the main street to the right. Open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. (last order); 5:30-10 p.m. (last order); closed Monday and the second and fourth Tuesday each month. Japanese menu; Cash only.
Piscaria is so popular, especially at weekends and in peak season, that you are unlikely to get a table unless you book well ahead of time. As a fallback, you can always try your luck down the road at Ottimo. The look is faux- Mediterranean stonework, and the food is merely competent Italian-by- numbers, but where it scores highly is the location.
It sits right on the waterfront, looking over the little Shinnase fishing harbor. An upstairs terrace is perfect for mellow midsummer evenings. They also serve great-value midweek buffet lunches. Best of all, they offer a free pickup service from (and back to) any local railway station.
Ottimo, 1056-6 Horiuchi, Hayama-machi; tel: (046) 876-3906; ottimo2003.web.infoseek.co.jp/ Shinnase bus stop; Open daily 11:15 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 2:30-10 p.m. (last order). Most credit cards.
Another option close at hand is Mell's Cafe, a small but friendly cafe-bar in a metal-frame building on stilts sandwiched between the main street and the lapping waterfront. It is accessed by a narrow outside staircase that will test your sobriety on the way out.
In scale and decor, Mell's has a nautical feel, an effect accentuated by the way the whole structure sways when anyone walks around. It offers a selection of light bar foods, including the house-special sazae (turban shell) curry rice. Few places can beat the view, which looks across the bay toward Izu Peninsula and (if you're lucky) the silhouette of Mount Fuji.
Mell's Cafe, 1068-2 Horiuchi, Hayama-machi; tel: (046) 876-3348; www.mells.jp/ Shinnase bus stop; Open 5 p.m.-1 a.m. (Sat., Sun. & holidays from 1 p.m.); closed Monday; English menu; no credit cards.
The new Hayama Modern Art Museum may be a classic vanity-architecture development, but it has two redeeming features: a brilliant location below the massive tree-covered headland at Isshiki and a stylish little cafe with a fantastic sea view that's become a favorite with local ladies who like to dress up for tea.
At lunchtime, you can order fixed- price menus of rather over-elaborate French cuisine. They serve a range of light edibles until 4:30 p.m., ranging from curry and donburi rice bowls to chiffon cake and coffee. There are only seven tables, plus a couple on the outside terrace at the end, so there's always competition. Be warned though: the waitresses will sniff at you if you roll up in beach attire.
The Museum Cafe, The Museum of Modern Art, Hayama, 2208-1 Isshiki, Hayama-machi; tel: (046) 875-2800; Mitsugaoka bus stop; Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (last order 4:30 p.m.); closed Mondays. Most cards.
The southernmost point of Hayama (and, some say, of Shonan) is the dramatic headland known as Chojagasaki. Most people stop for the brilliant views, but we always make a beeline for the wonderful old souvenir shop-plus-canteen at the back of the car park. It seems frozen in time, somewhere around the late 1960s.
The ramen (from 500 yen) and curry rice (600 yen) may not be memorable, but the panorama is. And if you time your visit right (the first week of April or early September), you can watch the sun set right into the cone of Mount Fuji.
Chojagasaki Shokudo (Ikezawa Shoten), Shimo-Yamaguchi, Hayama-machi; tel: (046) 875-1720. Chojagasaki bus stop; Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Cash only.
The village of Akiya, just to the south, is officially in Yokosuka, but the locals prefer to call it "South Hayama." It is here, right on the coast road, that you will find Appughar, a full-fledged Indian restaurant well worth the pilgrimage.
Where else can you sit on a second-floor open terrace overlooking the glittering ocean while tucking into a mixed grill straight from the tandoor oven or a selection of curries (they list more than 20)? The chefs hail from the subcontinent, and although spices are generally toned down, there's nothing half-measured about their lamb vindaloo. Maybe we are the only ones who don't like their stodgy "saffron" rice, but there's nothing wrong with the puri, batura, puratha or nan. Lunch (until 3 p.m.) is particularly good value.
Appughar, 5290-1 Akiya, Yokosuka-shi; tel: (046) 857-8757; www.appughar.co.jp/ Koumi-ishi bus stop. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m (last order 9 p.m.). English menu; English spoken; most credit cards.