La Bottega - Italian ****
Address - Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Takadanobaba 2-6-6
Opening hours - Closed on Sunday
Telephone - 03-3208-0598
Menu - in Italian and Japanese
Credit Cards - No
The first time I went to La Bottega I didn't know what to think. Yes, pastas were excellent and so were the risottos, but NO BREAD at all, in any quantity? No main courses? Just two desserts? Extremely unorthodox salads and pizzas? Limited wine menu? There was a lot to be hesitant about. I am Italian, after all, and I admit to being picky when it comes to my own national cuisine.
But my friend Claus liked it and so we went once in a while, and I am happy to say I have learned to like it.
The place is smallish (maybe 12 tables) and is run by two efficient women who often wear baseball caps and both cook and serve customers at the tables. I like the atmosphere, even if it’s a little low-brow for a restaurant which charges 4000 yen and up for a meal. It does look like a real Roman or Neapolitan restaurant.
The menu consists basically of pastas, risottos and pizza. Pastas are excellent, without exception and even without bread (you can't eat the sauce remaining in your dish with a baguette. What a waste... ), but I would recommend their penne al gorgonzola or the carbonara.
Risottos are also good, but there isn’t that great of a choice.
There are few disappointing appetizers, among them a dish of raw ham with figs which turns out to be just four slices of ham with two figs that costs 850 yen.
Pizzas are good, the dough fluffy and soft as it should be (rare thing, in Tokyo), but toppings are kind of strange: they take some getting used to.
What can I say? La Bottega has its very conspicuous limits, but it does well what it does, so if you don’t forget that pastas here are the ticket and that it's not a place for a date, you will be OK.
Cave Bar - French *****
Reviewed by Claus Regge
Address - B1 Takadanobaba Nishi-Shotengai Bldg., 3-12-6 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku (about 4 minutes from Takadanobaba JR station)
Telephone - 03-3368-8075
Menu - In Japanese
Credit Cards - No
The Takadanobaba area is blessed with a huge variety of eating and drinking establishments catering to practically every taste and budget. But what it lacked sorely in the past was a wine bar worth the name. (By that I don't mean another branch of that ubiquitous "Wine Bar" chain where very suspicious wine is served with mediocre food to an unsuspecting clientele of students and young office clerks.)
All the greater my surprise when I discovered a large wooden sign with "Cave Bar" and the subtitle "Wine & French" (sic!) inscribed on it. Reckless imbiber that I am, I absolutely had to go that very same evening.
In the basement of an inconspicuous building facing Waseda-dori, "Cave Bar" consists of two rooms with spacious wooden bar counters, refrigerated wine storage cabinets within visibility, and a pantry in the back. Mr. Morimoto, the owner/manager, although never having lived outside Japan, knows all the essentials about wine, can discuss the subject intelligently, and has put together a sizable list of 80 or so varieties spanning three continents but with an emphasis on old world (French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) bottles. Other drinks include cognac, a few cocktails, a Sandeman ruby port, and a calvados. There's also draft ber.
On a blackboard you will find about six "specials" of the day served by the glass -- a welcome departure from the usual red-or-white house wine routine.
But Mr. Morimoto deserves credit for trying something very unusual: keeping prices down to manageable levels. Bottles start at under Yen 2000 and even the most expensive "cru" on the list, the second label from the Rothschild family's Chateau Lafite in Paulliac, is only Yen 7500 for the '97 vintage. At any French restaurant in Roppongi you would expect to pay around Yen 13,000 or more for this bottle. However, you can order up something very decent and thoroughly drinkable in the 4000 Yen range. About 6000 Yen will buy you a bottle of '97 Chateau Montrose, the 2nd growth (in the 1855 classification) from St. Estephe, and that, by Tokyo standards, is a true bargain. Recent additions include "La Clementine de Pape Clement" (2nd wine of famous "Pape Clement" from Pessac-Leognan at Yen 5,600), and the (fabulous) "Chateau Haut Marbuzet" from St. Estephe (neighbor of "Clos Estournelle"), at Yen 6,800 for the '97 vintage. Both are very modestly priced by Tokyo standards.
When I first visited Cave Bar, there were two serious problems. The red wines were served much too cold, at around 12 degrees C. And the wine list was all in katakana.
Both problems have been solved. A few bottles of each of the reds are being kept out of refrigeration now. And, following my suggestion, Mr. Morimoto has created two albums containing the original wine labels, one for white, the other for red.
Food? "Cave Bar" does not offer full meals but a good selection of French-style hors d'oeuvres, some quite substantial and practically all under Yen 1000. These are freshly prepared and some change every day. On my first visit, the terrine a campagne and a mousse of red peppers were both excellent, and another evening my friends enjoyed scallops and even a risotto. On my last visit, the bisque d'hommard (lobster soup) and a breaded, deep-fried veal-and cheese dish were both tasty and true to the French originals. Mr. Igarashi, the chef, has apparently worked at some major French restaurants before.
Summing up: Good international selection of reasonably priced wines; well-prepared, inexpensive hors d'oeuvres and some more substantial dishes; friendly, knowledgeable service; open till the wee hours; comfortable bar counter seating. I have introduced several friends of various nationalities to Cave Bar, and every single one of them liked it a great deal. Some have become regulars. Give it a try.
Last visited: February 7, 2004
sanji's comments (March 2007)
: This is a fantastic place, truely unique in Tokyo! Located underground, it is not that easy to find (although on a main street), so take the map with you! Cave Bar is a small place, with counters accomodating each about 8 customers only - it is full most of the time, and reservations are strongly recommended.
There is a comprehensive list of wines from all around the world, and the prices per bottle are incredible for Tokyo: you can get a Château Haut-Marbuzet 2000 (St-Estèphe) for 7900 yens, a Clos du Marquis 1995 for 8500 yens, or a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2004, from New Zealand, for 5400 yens. Many bottles are also less than 3000 yens. Every day, 5-6 wines are available by the glass (400-900 yens): this is really nice, although proposing perhaps 10 different choices would be more interesting.
Efforts were obviously put on the food, cooked almost in front of the customers (no separated kitchen). Hotate risotto was really great, and all dishes are below 1000 yens.
L'Amitié - French *****
Address Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Takadanobaba 2-9-12 Shibahara Bldg 1F.
Opening hours - Closed on Monday, open 11:30 to 1:30 and 18:00 to 22:00
Menu - In French and Japanese
Credit Cards - Probably not
February 23, 2006
: The food is as good as always, but booking has become a lot easier than it used to.
January 25, 2001
: OK, I am giving up. Today I called one last time L'Amitié trying to book a table for next Tuesday, SEVEN DAYS IN ADVANCE, and I was told that yes, I could have a table, but only after 8:30 ... I will never try again. No restaurant deserves so much effort.
: Right next to Shapla, L'Amitié is always full, so that last week I couldn't get a seat even trying to book four days in advance. We will see how good it is ...
May 5, 2001
Some days ago a friend and I were in Takadanobaba and wanted to go to dinner somewhere. He proposed L'Amitié, saying that because of the Golden Week holidays they might have had a table. They did, a small one in a corner, but they did.
The place is in most ways just another budget-French restaurant, and very much like La Dinette or Pas-a-Pas: very small and unpretentious, but it offers better value than some very expensive venues I know. It's just a small L-shaped room with less than fifteen tables, posters from France on the walls, but there are three cooks in the kitchen and a very efficient waitress at the tables. It was soon clear to me why L'Amitié is so popular: cheap it might be, but it's managed very well, and everything is in sharper focus than in other similar restaurants. The menu, which includes ten entrees and ten main dishes among which you can choose one of each for two thousand yen, is interesting, service polite, the food prepared with a certain attention to details ... Incredible what you get, for just two thousand yen.
I ordered poulet farci, or chicken stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies in plain English, and mousse de patè de volaille; my friend had couscous (the best I have ever tasted in Japan. It was accompanied by authentic Harissa, a Tunisian sauce I had never seen before) and an excellent fish dish. We decided to skip desserts, which are extra, because we had already had enough, but I can tell you they looked great, especially the tarte tatin. The wine list is modest, just eight whites and as many reds, with prices ranging from 2500 to 5300 yen: according to Claus Regge, my personal oenologist, none of them is something to write home about.
In conclusion, L'Amitié is a good restaurant which produces small miracles from very little and it definitely deserve its success.
La Dinette - French ****
Address - 101 SEKI Bld. 2-6-10, Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Opening hours - Closed on Sunday. Open from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm and from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Telephone - 03-3200-6571
Menu - In Japanese and English
Credit Cards - OK
I have been eating at La Dinette for close to 15 years, and I always thought it gave incredible value for money. Strictly speaking for food, that's still true. You can eat well there, and for next to nothing: 2200 yen for the set.
In the hands of the two guys who run it now, however, it has changed a lot: the first thing you see when you enter is a dirty rug, convered with grime. The toilet is a mess and hasn't been cleaned in a while. The sink is especially filthy.
I am not fussy, but I can think of so many places where I can eat well and without worrying about hygiene. If you really want to eat French in Takadanobaba, go to L'Amitie (far easier to get a seat there now) or Cave Bar.
Taverna - Italian *****
Address - Shinjuku-ku, Takadanobaba 2-15-10
Opening hours - Closed on Sundays. Open from 5:00 to 11:00
Telephone - 03-3232-1997
Menu - In Italian and Japanese
Credit Cards - No
Taverna is unique. I have been its most faithful customer ever since I came to Japan in 1982, and I have always considered to be one of the best Italian restaurants in Tokyo.
Many other places are just as good, but none is better, and they cost invariably twice as much or more. Plus, Taverna has a certain something I can't explain that reminds me of home, a pleasant homeliness I never tire of. Fujimoto san, the owner, and Kaminoda san, the waiter, know me and my tastes very well, and that adds to the pleasure of eating there. It's a quaint and pleasant environment that I find extremely relaxing and friendly.
Two years ago (in the year 2000), however, disaster struck and the cook who had been working there from the very beginning left, leaving all customers, me included, in the lurch. His helper did his best to learn fast the art, but in the beginning he just couldn't cope. I am happy to report, and as a matter of fact I should have done it as long as a year earlier, that he has overcome his limitations, and Taverna again deserves five stars, in my book at least. Spending literally little more than the price of an appetizer at Elio's you can have a complete and excellent meal here. And food here is better than at Elio's.
As you enter, you can see at the right their collection of traditional Roman appetizers. They are all excellent and you can have three kinds with all their sets, which start at 2600 yen. The cheapest includes appetizers, a pasta dish or risotto of your choice, and a salad or dessert. The most expensive sets include a main dish, which can also be freely chosen. You can order à-la-carte, too, but I strongly recommend the sets. They are just too convenient.
This is what I recommend:
Call to make a reservation and ask for a table (as opposed to a seat at the counter, where you might very well end up eating). Take the best set, which costs I think 2900 yen, and choose:
- Appetizers, if possible including Peperoni alla romana (bell peppers) and broccoli
- Spaghetti alla bolognese or Risotto alla milanese
- Saltimbocca alla romana or Scaloppine all'aglio
- Orange sherbet
- A coffee (not included)
- An Amaro Averna (a digestive, also not included)
I guarantee complete satisfaction.
Il Castello -Italian ***
Address - Shinjuku-ku, Takadanobaba 1-34-14
Opening hours -Lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday
Telephone - 03-3208-0432
Menu - In Italian and Japanese
Credit Cards - OK
This is a good Italian restaurant, but more pricey than the nearby Taverna. Actually, it is considerably more expensive, but the menu changes once every while and is considerably fancier. My main gripe is that service quality is erratic. Food and wines are very good, however, if not as typical as those served at Taverna, and the cook has been the same for the past ten years, which guarantees consistency of taste. If you want something classier than Taverna, I recommend either "Il Fornello", "Il Cantuccio" or "La Granata" (see reviews), which offer more for the same money, unless you have no time or desire to go too far. In this case, you will find Il Castello behind Big Box, on the main street in front of MacDonald's. My friend Sohan, the owner of Bourbon Street, is a regular customer.
Yesterday I had an excellent meal at Il Castello. The desserts especially were spectacularly good: rare and wonderful stuff very expertly prepared. I once again hated the service, though, which was as usual slow and sloppy. Twenty minutes to get your pre-prepared appetizers seem too much, and one hour to wait for a plate of spaghetti is definitely too long. The numerous staff is disorganized and fairly incompetent, but I must say that I, restless and high-strung soul that I am, was the only one to really get worked up about it.