June 30, 2011
Gastronomica Italiana in Ogikubo
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2011
La Gallina, a stylish Italian eatery not yet one year old, is situated on a slightly seamy sidestreet in Ogikubo next to a cosplay joint called AquaDoll. The touts trying to entice passersby to descend to the club, however, don’t seem to care. Such juxtapositions are common along the Chuo line.
The customers at La Gallina don’t mind either. They’ve come for the simple yet delicious food, expertly prepared and served with flair. They are also here for the very reasonable prices.
Chef Miyamoto worked in Puglia, Piemonte and Parma for four years and brought back to Japan considerable skills and an educated palate. His white bean soup (¥600), a deeply satisfying Puglia favorite, is made with puréed cannellini beans moistened with chicken broth, blessed with a hint of sage, then drizzled with a swirl of olive oil and topped with a garlic-infused bruschetta and parsley. Fantastico.
Another excellent starter is his aji mariné with vegetable vinaigrette (¥1,500). This dish, easily shared by two, combines thick slices of tasty horse mackerel with a baby leaf salad and a fine dice of celery, daikon, carrot, whole capers, and slivers of green onion, all bathed in a light, tasty dressing. The careful uniform dice of the veggies subtly shows the impressive knife skills and attention to detail that Miyamoto brings to his cooking.
A variety of pasta dishes are offered, including a few daily menu choices chalked up on the black slate board. The gnocchi with Taleggio cheese (¥1,800), again easily shared, were cloud-like pillows of potato pasta in a creamy, yet tangy sauce. Miyamoto finishes this dish with a line of chopped Italian parsley and another line of freshly ground black pepper across the plate. Unpretentious and delicious.
The main dishes at La Gallina are consistently fine. The grilled pork chop with rosemary (¥1,800) was a generous cut of pork nicely caramelized in spots but still juicy and faintly blushed with pink. The accompanying vegetables—broccoli, carrot, turnip and sugar snap peas—were also nicely grilled and flavored with a rosemary-infused olive oil.
Another winning dish was the roast chicken with red wine sauce (¥1,600). The portion of thigh was perfectly crisped on the outside, yet tender on the inside. The red wine sauce was richly flavored with balsamic vinegar and a few grains of sea salt.
The separate dessert menu offers six or seven choices. The fruit Macedonia (¥500) is a refreshing mélange of apple, orange, grapefruit, and kiwi (both yellow and green), crowned with a dollop of honey gelato. An unusual and tasty end to a meal is Miyamoto’s limoncello bruleé (¥500).
The wine list is well-chosen with a broad selection of Italian whites and reds. Most bottles are priced at less than ¥5,000. One of the best is the young “Super-Tuscan” Dogajolo 2009, an elegant, fruity red (¥4,200).Among the whites, the Monteoro Vermentino Gallura 2009 from Sardinia (¥3,900) is recommended.
The décor, at first, seems simple to the point of austerity. But after a glass or two of spumante (¥800), the off-white plaster walls textured with trowel marks take on the potential of unfinished canvases. And the plain, dark wood tables frame and focus all attention to the food on the plate.
I’ve got only one quibble with La Gallina. I like the heroic tone and polished timbre of the Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, just as much as the next guy, but hearing him belt out his best-selling song “Con te partiro” four times during dinner would strain even the patience of a saint.