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Friday, Aug. 6, 2010
TOKYO FOOD FILE
Pasta, pizza and riverside peace
Peace is hard to find, they say. Equally elusive in this mighty megalopolis are tranquil riverside dining spots with al fresco tables, sunset views and nary a building in sight or traffic noise to drown out the birdsong.
Hard, but by no means impossible: Peace — the mellow and aptly named cafe/restaurant of that name — awaits you on the city's furthest southwest border, out in Futako-Tamagawa.
Leaving behind the bland suburban malls by the station, a five-minute stroll brings you down to the sweeping, spacious banks of the Tama River and the massive bridges that span it. Follow the trail across a creek and suddenly you find yourself with trees on either side of you and nearby watercourses running through neatly trimmed swards of lawn.
Hyogojima Park, this modest little green space, is worth knowing about, if only as a refuge from the sweltering heat island of central Tokyo. But the far more compelling reason for making this journey is that you can also eat surprisingly well there.
Turn right at the battered, seen-better-days shack that doles out ramen and kakigori shaved ice. Right behind it, you will spot a low-slung white structure of rather greater sophistication. You have arrived at Peace.
With its arching canvas roof and glass doors that span the entire front, it feels like a cross between a wedding marquee and a conservatory. It may be a temporary structure, but it's been in operation for seven years already. And there's nothing makeshift or halfhearted about the kitchen or the Italian food it serves.
The salads are fresh and colorful. The pastas are full of flavor and put together with care. And the pizzas are hand-rolled and served piping hot — although the oven isn't wood-fired. Those constitute the core elements of the set-lunch menus.
During a leisurely lunch last month, our starter was an appetizing salad with slices of mortadella sausage. This was followed by fettuccine with a rich ragu of braised beef cheek and Savoy cabbage. We also tried the standard margherita pizza and were not disappointed. Dessert was a simple chocolate mousse and ice cream. At ¥1,800 for three courses, this does not represent the kind of bargain you'd find downtown, but then again, this is certainly no cut-price location.
At dinner, the a la carte menu offers a considerably greater range — five kinds of pasta or risotto (from ¥1,500), five different pizzas (from ¥1,800) and a choice of beef, lamb, pork or seafood as main dishes (from ¥1,800). The only disappointment is that there's little available as antipasti, save for some good ham (Parma prosciutto or Bellota jamon).
We were also surprised there were so few Italian wines available. Of the dozen or so listed, there is just one red and one white from Italy — a Chianti Classico and a Gavi di Gavi, both of which are more than acceptable. There are half a dozen also available by the glass.
And this is the main reason why most people are there, especially in the evening. Settling in with a nice chilled bottle of Gavi or Macon Villages, ensconced at one of the outside tables, listening to the droning of the cicadas, watching the light fading over the Kawasaki skyline in the distance, the inner city seems far, far away.
The annual Tamagawa fireworks festival takes place just upstream from where Peace is located. This year it will be on August 21, and on that evening a special set buffet will be served (¥10,000; reservations only).