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Friday, Feb. 18, 2011

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Affordable eats with a contemporary vibe

One of our favorite discoveries of the past couple of months has been Wanoba, a stylish little dining bar in Ebisu that marries contemporary Japanese design with tasty, affordable food and drink — all with a welcoming, easygoing ambience.

When it first opened, just before Christmas, we were immediately impressed by the craftsmanship that's gone into the interior: walls painted black and vermilion; the counter, with its textured surface of lacquered canvas; curiously amorphous handmade lampshades; and a gorgeous wall decoration of washi paper burnished the color of terra cotta.

Now the serving staff have had time to relax into the place, while the kitchen has settled in and has also begun serving lunch (¥1,000; till 2 p.m.). The menu is a mix of Japanese and Western. There's a small array of obanzai (prepared side dishes) on the counter. Vegetables, fish or meat are cooked over a charcoal grill. Daily specials are chalked on the wall by the door, and you can choose between udon or pasta, risotto or fried rice.

Besides the counter and a few tables, there is a cozy private "salon" at the back. But the best seats, if you're with a small group (up to four), are in the intimate cha-shitsu (tea ceremony-style) loft area tucked under the ceiling and accessed by a steep flight of stairs. Settle in here with a bottle of wine (10 kinds; four by the glass), some sake (half a dozen) or shochu (eight on the list), and you can chill till well past midnight.

We're also looking forward to spring, when the whole front will be opened up to the street and extra al fresco tables will come into play. Wanoba is only a 5-6 minute stroll from Ebisu Station (and less from Garden Place) but far enough to feel like a neighborhood hangout.

Wanoba, 3-1-1 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5424-0610; www.wanoba.com. Nearest station: Ebisu (Yamanote, Saikyo, Shonan Shinjuku and Hibiya lines). Open 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and 6 p.m.- 1 a.m. (last order 11:30 p.m.; closed Sun.).

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