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Friday, Dec. 17, 2010

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Fragrant flavors: A pasta course at Aroma Fresca featuring watarigani crab, fresh tomato and scallions.


Smells like great Italian — but book ahead

Even in its earliest incarnation on the edge of Hiroo, Aroma Fresca was one of the hottest tables in town — and among the hardest to reserve. It was the same story during its stay in Azabu-Juban (in the premises now occupied solely by Casa Vinitalia), and nothing has changed since its rebirth in August in the gilded, marbled heart of Ginza.

With tables snapped up over three months in advance — the waiting list for Christmas, we were told, is three times longer than the number of seats available (just 20) — the question has to be asked: Is it really that good? Our answer: Chef Shinji Harada deserves all the accolades he gets.

Our dinner there last month was among the most memorable we have had in this city. Even the "simpler" of the two omakase Chef's Menus comprised 13 courses, kept us at our table more than four hours and sent us home in bliss.

Italy may be the basis of Harada's cuisine but the inspiration and interpretation are entirely his own. The ingredients are superb, most of them sourced here in Japan. The flavors are subtle and presentation exquisite. But what linger longest in our memory are the heady, appetizing, ethereal bouquets of the dishes as they reached us. These are the aromas that Harada promises in his restaurant's name.

Was it really worth all the wait and anticipation? For us, the dining room feels too Old World formal, and the service is too stiff. But would we go back again? Any time we can.

Aroma Fresca, Ginza Trecios Bldg 12F, 2-6-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku; (03) 3535-6667; www.aromafresca.com. Open Tues.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m., closed Sun. and Mon. Nearest stations: Ginza-Itchome (Yurakucho Line) and Ginza (Ginza and Hibiya lines)

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