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Friday, Aug. 15, 2008

TOKYO FOOD FILE

Everything old is new again


Too often — in this column, just as in life — we have to say goodbye. So it's been a rare pleasure this year to welcome back a couple of longtime favorites that have been sorely missed during their time away.

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Down home: Good Honest Grub owner/chef Don Foley has found the restaurant a new location in Ebisu, but is still serving up classics like his veggie quesadilla (below). ROBBIE SWINNERTON PHOTOS
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Over the best part of a decade, Good Honest Grub established itself as an essential port of call for Tokyo's foreign community, prized as much for its casual, laid-back ethos as for its wholesome cafe/diner menu. Even when it moved from its shabby but cheerful Ebisu digs for less idiosyncratic premises in Harajuku, it still offered reassuring solace alongside generous portions of wholesome, down-home cooking.

Last year, owner/chef Don Foley decided to step back and take a well-earned break to recharge his batteries. Now, as his Web site proudly proclaims: "The Grub is back."

Rather than making a big splash, Foley has kept his return low-key, relying on word of mouth to slowly spread the news. Compared with previous incarnations of GHG, he's picked a much less obvious location, on a residential side street just off Meiji-dori on the nether side of Ebisu.

In terms of atmospherics, it lies between the two previous incarnations of GHG — modern, but imbued with a cheerful dose of personality. Foley has taken over a small two-story house, using the light-filled upstairs as a dining room so he can greet customers from his first-floor kitchen as they arrive.

His cooking is just as we remembered: flavorful, substantial and excellent value. There are plenty of meaty alternatives, but Foley's menu now has an even stronger vegetarian-friendly emphasis. That means plenty of excellent salads and organic vegetables straight from the farm in Shizuoka; tofu in the spaghetti sauce; brown rice on the side; and muffins or carrot-zucchini cake as dessert. If that doesn't put you in a 1970s West Coast state of mind, then the Laura Nyro soundtrack will.

Surprisingly — or perhaps not, given the location — Foley doesn't open GHG for dinner. But for most, the biggest draw is the weekend brunch. Whether you want eggs benedict with a bottomless coffee cup or spicy vegetable quesadillas — a particular favorite of ours — this should be especially enjoyable once the summer heat abates and the outside terrace comes into its own.

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New digs: Las Chicas' new courtyard

2-20-8 Higashi-Shibuya, Shibuya-ku; open Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat., Sun. and holidays 10:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.; (03) 3797-9877; www.goodhonestgrub.com

Another old friend that recently made a most welcome return is Las Chicas/Vision Network. Many mourned when the wreckers arrived to demolish the sprawling complex of restaurants, bars, cafes and alternative therapy salons. Above all, we missed that shady garden terrace, tucked away so conveniently behind the U.N. University.

The good news is that it's back, and in just the same location. The inevitable downside, though, is that it has lost all of the gently chaotic bohemian patina that made it so distinctive.

The new building may have plenty of shrubs to mollify all that angular concrete, however, the only shade in the street-level terrace cafe comes from parasols rather than the spreading foliage of cherry trees.

We haven't explored the food in any depth yet. But we can attest that their classic potato wedges with sour cream and chili sauce are as good as ever, especially when paired with a cold beer. As dusk falls and the city lights go up, it's still the best oasis among the designer bustle of Aoyama.

5-47-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; (03) 3407-6865; www.vision.co.jp

Changes have also been going down at yet another favorite expat watering hole. Roti in Roppongi has been given a total makeover to coincide with a change of management.

British chef Ian Tozer remains at the helm, but his menu has been given a few tweaks. Alongside his trademark rotisserie chicken (unfortunately still made with generic broiler fowl), Tozer has added a few new items — most notably his spicy Cajun catfish burger.

The new look is sleeker than before but it's still comfortably casual. The outdoor seating remains one of Roppongi's nicer locations to nurse a glass of New World wine. If only they could use more flavorful free-range jidori chicken.

Pyramide Building Roppongi 1F, 6-6-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku; Open daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; (03) 5785-3671, www.roti.jp



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