Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2009
Nishi-Azabu has always been one of Tokyo’s hottest culinary destinations, but it wasn’t until Metropolis HQ moved to the area last year that we realized how exciting the neighborhood really is. As if to greet us, a whole slew of new restaurants have opened their doors or welcomed new chefs during the past 18 months, adding further spice to this food-lover’s stew. Here are some of our favorites.
Since opening in April, this yakitori grill has been stopping passersby dead in their tracks thanks to its mouthwatering aroma and view through the large front window. Though Yakitori Et Vin Poussin offers private seats tucked in the back, the open counter is best for chatting with the friendly chef about the day’s recommendations. The array of skewers includes sasami (breast, ¥336), hatsu (heart, ¥231), sunagimo (offal, ¥231) and kawa (skin, ¥210), which are offered mocchiri (nearly raw), fuwakari (crispy-soft), or karikari (very crispy and well-done). Our favorite was the plump bonjiri (buttocks, ¥231), but there’s plenty on offer for the less adventurous: recent daily specials have included sticks of Italian cheese tsukune (¥525) and bacon-cheese (¥577). Yakitori Et Vin Poussin is also vegetarian-friendly, with skewers like mushroom grilled with butter (¥315), grilled eringi (¥315) and cold tomato asazuke (¥525). Seven-stick sets are available for ¥1,890, and ten for ¥2,730.
3-2-5 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Open Mon-Fri 6pm-3am, Sat 6-11pm, closed Sun & hols. Tel: 03-3405-0325. Nearest stn: Roppongi, exit 1B.
Our advice when it comes to Txoko: get there while you can. Tokyo’s first restaurant specializing in Basque cuisine offers such brilliant “cost performance” that we worry about its long-term viability. Over the course of a dozen lunchtime visits since its March opening, we’ve never experienced a false note, and the ¥1,000 charge is, almost literally, a steal. Dishes like massive sautéed chicken thighs with mustard sauce, octopus stewed in tomatoes, and simmered pork with cabbage and white beans are all accompanied by an excellent salad (made of greens, apples and balsamic vinegar), a pair of tapas or pintxos (one of which is always a lusciously dense tortilla), dessert and coffee. Dinner at Txoko (pronounced CHOH-ko) may be even better value: the ¥4,500 course meal includes an eight-dish pintxos/tapas platter, soup, meat or fish, a traditional rice dish known as arroz caldoso, dessert and coffee. Nine-item pinxtos and tapas assortments are just ¥2,500.
1-11-13 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5410-1752. Open Mon-Fri 11:45am-2:30pm and 6-11:30pm, Sat-Sun & hols 11:45am-3pm and 6-11:30pm. Nearest stn: Hiro-o. http://tinyurl.com/azabu-basque
Tucked away on a back street around the corner from Gonpachi, Sachi is a cozy little motsu nabe joint. True to its Fukuoka roots, the restaurant specializes in Hakata-style hotpots filled with tongue, intestines and other “motsu.” (For those looking to ease in to the pleasures of organ consumption, this is a good place to start.) The signature dish is a nabe of wagyu small intestine, nira and cabbage in a savory katsuo and konbu broth (¥1,400). There are plenty of “normal” offerings to balance out the motsu selections, like a Korean chijimi pancake (¥1,100) and sagari, a plate of succulent slices of grilled wagyu in a soy and vinegar sauce (¥2,900). We were also impressed by the staff—noticing that we shied away from the various beef sashimi options, the waiter informed us that the sagari was served rare, so they would be happy to grill it a little longer if we disliked raw meat.
2F 1-10-7 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-6438-1110. Open Wed-Mon 6pm-1am (Sun until 11pm), closed Tue. Nearest stn: Hiro-o. www.motsu-sachi.com
What this one-room bistro lacks in space it more than makes up for in passion. Founded in the spring by sommelier Ayano Ikai (formerly of Sir Terence Conran’s Botanica restaurant at Tokyo Midtown) and chef Takayuki Tsuruoka (a veteran of Hiramatsu Paul Bocuse), Les Rendezvous-Tokyo serves classic bistro fare with a seasonal touch. The menu changes often, but a few dishes enjoy permanent residence: bouillabaisse, salad niçoise, and steak with frites. Joining these for autumn are sautéed cepes mushrooms with poached egg and pancetta, pan-fried scallop salad, and wild boar stewed with chestnuts and gobo. Course dinners include a choice of three (¥3,800) or four (¥5,200) items, or you can put yourself in the good hands of chef Tsuruoka for a five-course omakase feast (¥6,800). Ikai pairs the food with an inexpensive selection of interesting Australian wines.
3-13-20 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5410-8110. Open Mon-Sat 5:30pm-11pm (LO), closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Hiro-o. http://lesrendezvous-tokyo.com
Another diminutive outpost of French cooking, the three-year-old Provinage represents a fine-dining alternative just around the corner from the more homey Les Rendezvous-Tokyo. Book a table in the classy main seating area or belly up to the counter and look on as newly installed chef Yasuyuki Kitagawa whips up gourmet fare using prime local ingredients. Appetizers include fresh domestic Akeshi oysters (¥1,500 for three) and a terrine of Hokkaido venison and foie gras with berries compote (¥1,700). Main dishes range from charcoal-grilled Kinka pork with sherry-vinegar sauce (¥2,500) to roasted lamb chop with girolle mushroom and parsley-butter sauce (¥2,800). The attractively priced prix fixe course (¥5,000) includes an amuse bouche, appetizer, choice of main dish, dessert, coffee and petit fours. Provinage is also known as a wine-lover’s hotspot—the owner is a certified sommelier, and the vast cellar belies the restaurant’s small size. The ¥1,200 lunch set, meanwhile, makes this our go-to spot when we’re in need of a midday French-food pick-me-up.
2F, 3-1-9 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5772-7272. Open Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm and 6-10:30pm, Sat 11:30am-3pm and 6-10:30pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Roppongi, exit 1B. www.provinage.com/index.html
This sleek, modern Japanese restaurant sources all its ingredients directly from farmers, breeders and merchants around the nation, serving them up in traditional preparations like sashimi, shabu-shabu, katsu, and a wide variety of meat, fish and vegetable hotpots. The menu ranges from seasonal vegetables with miso-garlic dip (¥1,600) to juicy Kagoshima black-pork steak with ponzu-shoyu sauce (¥1,400) to matcha pudding (¥550). Standout service includes nice touches like peppermint-scented oshibori, while the eye-catching interior makes One Garden an appealing date spot. Course meals are on offer from ¥5,800, and there’s an ample menu of sake, shochu, wine and umeshu to wash down all the eats. One Garden’s sister restaurant is located near Cerulean Tower in Shibuya; check the bilingual website for more info.
3-17-29 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-6440-0880. Open Mon-Sat 6pm-1:30am, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Hiro-o. www.one-garden.jp
Mario Frittoli has been one of Tokyo’s best-known chefs for close to 20 years, so it’s surprising to learn that this Nishi-Azabu hotspot is his first stand-alone restaurant. Yes, the former Still Foods executive chef has finally branched out on his own—and we’re thrilled that his creative Italian cuisine is now so close by. Mario i Sentieri’s stylish interior is heavy on blacks and deep reds, with lots of thick linens, crystal and heavy flatware. The crowd is just as appealing—a mix of white-collar expats, models and food-industry types. Frittoli’s recently introduced lunch service represents excellent value, with a choice of chicken cacciatore (served in a mini hot pot with piadini), Italian-style hamburger, or a grilled vegetable sandwich for just ¥1,000. True gourmands will want to stop by in the evening, when a pair of prix fixe meals showcase the chef’s full range—including a jaw-dropping ¥7,000 dinner that includes two appetizers, pasta and risotto, a main dish, dessert, coffee, plus two glasses of wine.
4-1-10 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-6418-7072. Open Mon-Fri noon-2:30pm and 6pm-midnight, Sat & hols 6pm-midnight, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Hiro-o. http://mario-frittoli.com