Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2008

Photos Courtesy of Kagurazaka Stagione

Photos Courtesy of Kagurazaka Stagione

It would have been easy to forget that we were on our way to an Italian restaurant when we snuck into the tiny, Kyoto-like alleyways of Kagurazaka. We finally found Kakurembo Yokocho (“hide and seek alley”), but only with the help of a friendly local obachan who admitted that she herself still gets lost in the neighborhood. The restaurant is located behind a traditional wooden gate that opens to a Japanese-style garden, but the elevator to fifth floor whisks visitors from old Edo to modern Italy, where the fine aroma of zesty herbs and olive oil fills the air.

Though we made reservations for dinner a full week in advance, we still couldn’t manage to snag seats on Kagurazaka Stagione’s beautiful terrace. Waves of envy swept over us as we eyed the lucky diners enjoying the summer breeze while lounging on wide sofas. The tables inside were just as full, and the crowd kept the attentive staff busy. The restaurant’s décor is clean and simple, with white linen tablecloths and comfy-looking counter seats that let diners see the chefs at work.

After passing the classy glass wine cabinet at the entrance, we decided that we’d definitely order a bottle, and on this humid night, we needed something refreshing. “Sparkling” was our answer, so from the vast list we decided on the slightly carbonated, dark cherry-colored Lambrusco Reggiano Secco “Concerto” 2007 (¥4,200). Despite its ruby hue, the texture was neither too light nor too heavy, and went well with all our food orders.

Unusual for a restaurant in Japan, we were served excellent complimentary bread and golden olive oil, which gave us high expectations for the pizza to come.

Photos Courtesy of Kagurazaka Stagione

Photos Courtesy of Kagurazaka Stagione

For appetizers, we selected garlic-marinated angel shrimp, pinchos-style (¥1,700)—a bite of black olive, shrimp and sweet tomato skewered on a toothpick, with rich pesto sauce drizzled on top (and also painted artistically on the white canvas-like plate). Our other selection was insalata caprese (¥1,600), with sweet tomatoes, chunky mozzarella and fresh basil leaves—a classic combination.

Next came the pizza, perfectly charred and puffed. The tomato sauce-based Napoletana (¥2,100) was topped with just the right proportions of buffalo mozzarella, capers, anchovies, black olives and oregano. We also tried the Salsiccia (¥2,200), with mozzarella, pork sausage, broccoli and Grana Padano cheese, but to our disappointment the flavor lacked impact thanks to a too-light sauce.

For pasta, we chose the spaghettini peperoncino with raw uni and mitsuba leaves (¥2,000), a wonderful combination of simple garlic seasonings which didn’t overpower the flavor of fresh seafood; the Japanese herb added a refreshing touch.

Kagurazaka Stagione’s location was more than we could ask for, which probably explains the slightly overpriced fare. But we knew we wouldn’t have minded the high cost so much if we had been outdoors.