Mardi Gras - French *****
Address - Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-6-19 B1 F (along Namiki Dori)
Opening hours - 6 pm to 11 pm
Telephone - 03-5568-0222
Menu - in English and French
Credit Cards - OK
First of all, let me warn you: this place is really difficult to find, so plan to spend at least 15 minutes looking for it ASKING DIRECTIONS USING THE ADDRESS ABOVE, especially if you don't read or speak Japanese. There are few points of reference around it, and the restaurant itself is marked only by a tiny sign (no more than 35cm x 35cm) up in the air, three meters from the ground. You won't be able to see it until the last moment.
It's well worth the trouble, though, because this is one of the most original and worthwhile restaurants I have discovered recently.
I have seen it defined as Mediterranean, French, Italian, Mukokuseki, this and that, but in the end I think it's fair to say that it's heterodox French. They take liberties here and there, but the general idea is always the same: most of the dishes are French in name and taste, in spite of the odd twist some of them have.
The place itself is small, simply furnished and nothing special to look at. It's a bit unusual in that you can see the cooks at work, a rare sight in a European-style restaurant.
The menu is not too long and at first sight expensive (nothing costs less than 1500 - 1700 yen), but its content changes with the season and portions are generous, so that the three of us ended up having a full meal with 3500 yen apiece without drinks, which in Ginza isn't bad at all. Only the drinks, grappa, eau-de-vie and so on, are outrageously priced: 1600 yen for a glass of Nonino is not only too much, but unreasonably so. About the wines, I don't drink any so I don't know if they are cheap, but I know MG is supposed to have a decent cellar.
We first had a classic rillette with pain de campagne (excellent), and a Coriander bomb which deserves a couple of lines by itself. It's basically fresh coriander with some roasted garlic and a nam plaa (Thai fish sauce) based sauce, but for somehow it goes perfectly with the rest.
We then had spare ribs and a cold eggplant salad. I may be wrong, but I think there was some nam plaa also in the spare ribs, which were odd but succulent.
To finish the meal, we had a dessert apiece, but the choice was limited, the dishes uninteresting, and the price (around 800 yen) excessive considering their banality.
All in all, a great place though, even taking into consideration the flaws I have mentioned, the fact it's small and always packed, and the problem of finding a table free without calling a week in advance.
Darie - Romanian *****
Reviewed by Florin Arsene
Address - Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Ginza
Opening hours - 11:30 to 15:00 and 17:00 to 22:00
Telephone - 03-3573-3630
Menu - In Japanese and English
Credit Cards - OK
Frank's Note : Florin sent me three email messages. Without trying to edit them in to something readable, I think it's better to include them in their entirety. They are very good already as they are.
"The name Darie is a male name, I wouldn't be surprised if it came from a kingly background - anyway, it's a bit unusual even for Romanians and it's not very frequent. I remember from older writings (17th century) that they used to call King Darius like this. In modern times, the Persian name is "Darius" in Romanian.
I didn't believe it when a former colleague told me in 1988 that one of his favorite restaurants in Tokyo was a Romanian one, and then gave me names and descriptions. I thought: "Yeah, yeah, maybe he read about it somewhere and now he wants to amuse me..." When I visited Tokyo one year later, Tomo made it a point to escort me ceremoniously to Darie (where he made sure the staff knew they had a genuine Romanian with them that night). Tomo, who just like the staff was Japanese, wanted to know if the fare was anything like what I thought it should be.
So, at Darie I was glad to report to all concerned that the food was superlative and, to my taste, at least as good as any that I remembered. (I left the country seven years earlier, did not go back meanwhile, Romania was still under Ceausescu, and likely there were not too many of my compatriots in Japan at the time with the exception of the Romanian Embassy staff, who probably got their fix of Romanian cooking at home anyway!)
My latest personal info is older than four years old; my first personal visit was in 1989 (worked for a Japanese company during that interval). During this time, the quality and diversity did not vary, that is to say that I thought everything was outstanding. The latest report that I have received from a former colleague dates back to last February, and confirmed that the place was "the same." By all means, call the place up, see if Mama-san tells you how she came upon the idea to open the restaurant. The interior decoration was Romanian also. I was amazed and pleased; I didn't think that I could get such patriotic feelings because of the restaurant- places (Romanian) I had seen before in LA, New York, Germany or Austria surely did nothing for me. This one did. When I saw the name on your site, I thought to write a note.
That place has the best Romanian food, anywhere in the world (with the possible exception of a couple of high class outfits in Romania, but even those won't match it in the attention to detail and following of consecrated cuisine), period. That is, if your ambition is to find the best Romanian food - if not, you'll find a pleasant offering (recommend eggplant salad, mititei, ciorba de perisoare, and tocana with mamaliga; the plum brandy is slivovitz-like, and the wine a little thicker then the Austrian one, not much else, but worth a try - Pinot Gris Tirnave and Sauvignon Blancs are better bets, as the Chardonnays are sweet and not much else; redwise, Murfatlar is chewy, and the best to have is probably Nicoresti - if not, Dealul Mare. When I went there and they found themselves a genuine Romanian, they brought out samples of everything, asking me if it was good and authentic-tasting. I believe it was. Bottom-line: a decent alternative to those German/Swiss/Austrian places on your list. Let me know how it turns out."
Frank's Note : Access by walking about three minutes from Wako building towards Shinbashi; Darie is on the right side of the street.
La Bettola - Italian ****
Address - 21-2, 1-Chome, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Telephone - 03-3567-5656
Menu - In Italian and Japanese
Credit Cards - OK
Some time ago old friends of mine invited me to go to La Bettola. My curiosity was immediately aroused by the fact that to eat there in June it had been necessary to make reservations in December. Booking six months in advance seems to be off the wall even in a place like Tokyo, where sheer numbers make anything possible. I feared the worst, but happily I was disappointed.
Tucked away in a Ginza side street, La Bettola is small and busy but fairly cute, hospitable and chock-full of girls. No European cooks in the kitchen.
We were taken to a table and ordered from the long, interesting menu while munching their excellent bread to kill the pangs of hunger. La Bettola offers just one thing: an appetizer-pasta-meat-dessert set for 3800 yen. The owner, Mr Ochiai, used to work at La Granata, and one can tell. The food is similar, that is, good but sort of uninspired, as if the cooks had studied diligently but without ever going to Italy. Some touches are missing. In any case, the quality of the spaghetti (I tasted the six dishes on my friends' plates. I am unashamedly plebeian) varied a lot. My Amatriciana was mediocre, whereas my friends had been luckier. But I am quibbling. La Bettola is a good, reasonably priced restaurant and booking a table is difficult only between 7:00 and 8:30. Going later you can almost certainly find a table.
Al Dente - Italian ***
Akasaka Belle Vie Branch : 03-3588-5098
Ginza Sony Building Branch : 03-3574-7470
Kanda Ogawamachi Branch : 03-3233-0143
Shinjuku Center Building : 03-3349-0384
Shibuya Hatagaya Branch : 03-3320-9950
Kichi Joji Lon-Lon Branch : 0422-21-1075
Menu - In Italian and Japanese
Credit Cards - No
I have known Al Dente for many years, but for some reason it hadn't occurred to me to include it in my site. Too bad, because it deserves attention: every Italian I know likes it (although more than a restaurant it is a fast food joint) because it serves good and real Italian-style pasta at very modest prices and in a really short time. Among Italian expatriates with severe pasta withdrawal symptoms, it's considered a lifesaver. Al Dente serves only spaghetti, but the menu includes all the classics, like carbonara, napoletana, marinara, bolognese, amatriciana, and so on, plus many originals. If you are in a hurry and you want to gobble some good food, pay Al Dente a visit. Bring along your own baguette: they serve no bread.