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Friday, July 17, 2009
TOKYO FOOD FILE
Piazza pizza and sidewalk crepes
It took us more than six months to get around to checking out Eataly in Daikanyama. With a name like that, we still couldn't believe it was anything other than a gimmicky Italian food theme park. We're still not convinced, but it certainly boasts one of the most pleasant al fresco eating spots in the neighborhood.
The original Eataly store in Turin is a vast emporium set up to promote and sell high-quality artisanal foods — the kind of products endorsed by the Slow Food movement. In Tokyo, the scale is more modest but it's still ambitious. On one side of a spacious courtyard there's a caffe with gelateria and pastry counter, plus a formal sit-down restaurant. On the other side is the store, its aisles packed to the ceiling with gourmet products; a bakery producing regional Italian breads; a wine cellar; and an ample cheese and prosciutto counter.
A simple lunch counter serves fresh pasta, soup and salads, and two young pizzaiolos tend to a squat wood-fired oven that wafts wonderful aromas through the store and into the mini-piazza. At this time of year, that's where we prefer to be, under the canvas awning, glugging down our vino, nibbling on ham and cheese, and then filling up on fresh-baked pizza. Of the dozen varieties, our favorite to date is the Teanese, topped with four different cheeses including ricotta and smoked provola. Gooey and aromatic, this is premium pizza.
All in all, it's a nice setting with good, affordable food. So why are we still not totally won over by Eataly? And why isn't there more of a buzz about the place? Mainly because the staff don't know enough about what it is they are serving: There's no great sense of enthusiasm. But maybe it's because they too share our doubts about that dodgy pun of a name.
20-23 Daikanyama-cho, Shibuya-ku; (03) 5784-2736; www.eataly.co.jp; cafes are open 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m. (weekends and holidays 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.); wine bar open 6 p.m.-midnight
Shibuya can get so sultry and stifling in summer that it needs as many outdoors eating spots as it can get. So we were pleased to happen upon the curiously named C'est Bon Plage (literally "Tastes Good Beach"). Not that it's easy to miss, with its deck right on the sidewalk of Koen-dori and the shocking-pink plastic chairs, matching trim and overhead awning.
Far from being a generic cafe, C'est Bon Plage is a cre^perie, serving the paper-thin pancakes that are a specialty of France's Britanny region. Adding further layers of authenticity are the young French waitresses and the presence on the drinks list of plenty of wine and even real Normandy dry cider, which is lightly sparkling and gently alcoholic.
The savory gallettes (all around ¥900) are made with dark buckwheat flour. The fillings range from the classic, such as bacon-egg-onion-Gruyere, to lighter modern styles (the vegetarian green salad with onion, tomato and cheese). The sweet, white-flour crepes (from ¥550) are mostly filled with cream and jam. Our recommendation: the simple, refreshing Honey-lemon.
What is intriguing about C'est Bon Plage is that it stands right outside — and is run by — the Tobacco and Salt Museum. Even more surprising is that it is not just a seasonal venture but will operate year-round. We shall see how popular it is in the chill of winter, but for the time being, we're just happy to take advantage of this little French oasis.
The Tobacco and Salt Museum 1F, 1-16-8 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku; (03) 5456-1558; www.jti.co.jp/Culture/museum/WelcomeJ. htmlOpen daily 10 a.m.-11 p.m.