La Voglia Matta - Italian ***
Address - Suginali-ku, Kamiogi 1-7-1 Lumine Ogikubo 5F (in the station building)
Opening hours - 11:00 to 22:00
Telephone - 03-3393-1801
Menu - In Japanese and Italian
Credit Cards - OK
Il Bacaro and Superbacco are among the very best Italian restaurants I have ever found in this country, so, when I discovered that right in Ogikubo where I live there is a restaurant belonging to the same chain, it was only natural to assume it would have the same eye for detail, the same superb quality standards and, above all, that certain something that is normally found in a restaurant in Italy and yet so rare abroad.
Alas, it was not to be, because Pizzeria La Voglia Matta ("Mad Desire") is closer kin to Capricciosa rather than to Superbacco.
There's an easy way to tell even at a distance if an Italian style pizza is well made: the center must be thin, and the edges thick.
Passing by, I couldn't avoid noticing how dry and flat their pizzas looked. No raised edges to speak of.
That kept me away for many months but, in the end, in a moment of weakness and hunger when I didn't feel like cooking (my old lady hates pots and pans: the kitchen is part of my territory), I gave in and we went for a pizza.
The mixed appetizers we ordered looked good enough, but (with some exceptions) they were amateurishly prepared and disappointing.
The pizza was gigantic and very much like Shakey's, incompetently made and dry.
The carbonara (how do you screw up an elementary recipe like carbonara?) was exactly like Capricciosa's, an industrial-strength slop. Carbonara at least doesn't pretend to be anything but a cheap chain of restaurants. Superbacco and Il Bacaro, on one side, and La Voglia Matta are different as day and night, and obviously appeal to a different market, although I'll be damned if I know who could possibly prefer the second to the first. And, mind you, they cost about the same. Booking highly recommended.
Tokontoko - Italian ****
Address - 4-21-11 Okigubo, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours - Open Tuesday to Sunday from 5:30 to 10:30, closed also on first and third Sunday
Telephone - 03-3220-2455
Menu - Japanese only
Credit Cards - OK
After reading Chris Cassady's very positive review of Italian restaurant Tokontoko (which in Japanese means Toko's Place. Toko San is the owner/chef) in the Daily Yomiuri I was torn in two. On the one hand past experience told me not to expect much. Probably because I am Italian, I am very fussy when it comes to Italian restaurants, and very often my opinion on the subject and that of newspaper reviewers diverge considerably, probably because they are always Anglos. You know what I mean? (and, by the way, am I being mean?
On the other, the idea of finding a good Italian restaurant right here in Ogikubo where I live attracted me like a magnet.
I yielded to my congenital and probably incurable curiosity, went and I am glad I did.
The first thing to greet me upon opening their door was a pleasant mix of familiar smells: pizza yeast, garlic, tomatoes, cheese and more together with the warmth of a clean and friendly atmosphere.
I thought to myself that Tokontoko is a neighborhood restaurant and foreigners are obviously rare birds: the menu is only in Japanese, usually an ominous sign. If you don't read Japanese, you must therefore bring your Japanese lover or best friend along. On top of that, it contains such Italian standards as paella and guacamole (yes, I am being ironic).
But those were red herrings: Toko san is just a heterodox and does things his way. In the end, I got my hard-earned money's worth.
The menu is not rich and features several decent, if not brilliant, pizzas that anyway compare favorably with those of much more famous places. But my appetizers were very nice, and my pasta with chicken gizzards and mushrooms, an unusual dish I didn't know, was positively delicious. My girlfriend's stuff, which I of course tasted, was also very good. There are many other dishes, including the mentioned Mexican guacamole and Spanish paella, to try. Prices are not particularly cheap, but it's clearly worth it. The one thing I didn't like was the fact that the meat section offers just a beef "tagliata", good perhaps but not enough for someone like me who prefers pork.
If you live in or near Ogikubo, give it a try. For about three thousand yen apiece, you can have a very good dinner.
Drammatico - Italian ***
Address - Tokyo-to, Ogikubo-ku, Minami Ogikubo 4-43-9
Opening hours - 11:30 to 14:00 and 17:30 to 21:00
Telephone - 03-3333-1377
Menu - Only in Japanese
Credit Cards - Yes
My better half the other day found on the net a Japanese site containing a list of the best Italian restaurants in town, and I was surprised to find one at my doorstep.
At the first chance, we booked a table and went.
A tiny place, Drammatico is pleasant to look at, but we were struck right away by how awkward we felt. Perhaps it was the silence (we were the only guests), perhaps it was the relentless opera music in the background or just the waiters, a little too attentive, but the fact is that we just were not comfortable. This has nothing to do with it, but they obviously never see foreigners, and the menu is only in Japanese.
The menu didn't improve our mood: the sets aren't cheap (they start from 3000 yen) and give you no choice whatsoever in what you get, wine is very expensive, 700 yen for a glass, bread costs 200 yen extra and you get just two slices heated up in a toaster, no side dishes list, just two desserts, and so on. Stuff like that.
If you decide to go a-la-carte, the story changes, but not much. Nothing on the menu was quite what we wanted, in itself a bad sign, but I ordered a pasta all'amatriciana (a roman tomato sauce with bacon) and my beloved one pasta with crabs with the 200 yen hand-made pasta option. Excellent.
The rest of the meal was also good, but the choice of dishes sort of strange and holey.
So why is it that I don't feel like going back? Having the choice, I'd rather go to nearby French restaurant Brin de Muguet any time of the year.
It's partly the atmosphere, too lugubrious for my tastes, partly the waiters, one with bad breath and the other always looking at you, but also because of the lack of attention to small details, including but not limited to for example the bread, that spoils the effect of the undoubtedly good cooking. I understand I am being fussy, but Drammatico is not a cheapie: a restaurant that costs at least 5000 yen per person has standards to keep.
web - www.drammatico.com
Brin de Muguet - French *****
Address - 5-14-4 Ogikubo, Suginami-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours - Open from 11:30 to 14:00 and 18:00 to 22:00. Closed on Mondays
Telephone - 03-3220-5448
Menu - In Japanese and French
Credit Cards - OK
Yesterday (October 1999) a friend of mine introduced me to Brin de Muguet, a French restaurant opened by people who until recently worked at Le Canard in Shinjuku. The place is very small, no more than 20 seats, quiet and pleasant even when full as it was the evening we went. The interior is all in wood (my friends say that it was all made by the guys themselves), simple but in good taste.
And the food? The whole operation is run by French staff, and this is a first for me. So far I always had French food prepared by Japanese, and I must say Brin de Muguet tastes different. The cook really knows what he is doing, and even unpromising dishes like roast pork with lentils turn out ot be real treats (particularly the lentils). The dessert was pure delight, the best I have had in a long while. And the menu changes once in a while, so you don't have the time to grow tired of it.
You can choose one of three sets: the cheapest costs 3500, the most expensive 6500: this can sound a bit expensive, but it really isn't; believe me, you will get your money's worth and more.
Two years after: I have been going regularly to BdM for two years now, and I like it more than ever. As a matter of fact, it's one of my favorite restaurant, partly because I have come to know and like the folks there, and partly because time has confirmed the restaurant's commitment to quality and friendly but expert service.
By the way, my friend Claus Regge pointed out to me that no restaurant review, particularly where a French venue is concerned, is complete without a discussion of the wines on offer. Since I am not a wine drinker, Claus has agreed to accompany me on some of my expeditions and shoulder the awesome burden (?) of swirling, smelling and sipping, sometimes quaffing, the wines. His piece follows. For myself, I will just say that you shouldn't forget to taste their Yosmeyer Eau-de-Vie, a liquor strong and delicate at the same time that comes in about eight different flavors, all worth trying and a good end to anybody's meal.
To go to Brin de Muguet, get out of Ogikubo Station's west exit, take Suzuran Dori (there's a big arch with the name in Hiragana where it begins) and, about three hundred meters later, where it ends, on the right you will find Brin de Muguet with its French flag.
A very pleasant surprise at Brin de Muguet. was the wine list. Isn't it astounding that a place as small as the Brin de Muguet can offer over seventy kinds of wine? The "whites" page lists twelve Burgundies, four from the Loire, three from Alsace (yes, there is even a Gewurztraminer) and three from Bordeaux including two sweet Sauternes dessert wines which are, unfortunately, not available in half bottles; who can drink a whole bottle of a sweet Sauternes?
I confess that my eyes automatically drift over to the "reds" on any wine list. Here, things get even better at the Brin de Muguet. Fifteen Burgundies are followed by one Beaujolais, two Cote du Rhone including a Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape, one each from Languedoc and Fitou and -- glory upon glory -- thirty-two Bordeaux. Prices are quite reasonable by Tokyo restaurant standards. There's a Paulliac at Yen 3600 which, upon closer examination, turns out to be the fourth wine from no less than Ch. Lafite Rothschild. At the high end, there's an '88 Ch. Cheval Blanc, one of only two "premier" grand crus from St. Emilion (the other being Ch. Ausone), undoubtedly a magnificent bottle for that special evening when you don't mind spending Yen 38,000. The biggest surprise of all was a '52 (yes, that is vintage 1952, and it's not a typing error) Ch. Les Guettes, a name I had never come across.
I picked a bottle of '89 (an excellent vintage) Ch. Grands Sillons, a largely unknown Pomerol which turned out to be a fine choice. After some time in the glass, it developed the fleshy, succulent bouquet of berries and chocolate for which Pomerol is famous, and the rich, gratifying, concentrated taste of barrels of fruit and soft tannins you would expect from a wine with ten years of bottle age. The price? A very reasonable 7200 yens.
The Brin de Muguet will see me again soon. Even if they served no food at all, I'd go back just for the wine list.
: Get out of Okigubo station's west exit, turn right and then left at the Sanwa Bank. Go straight for about 200 meters and you will find Brin de Muguet on the right side of the street.