Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on March 2009
When “things go south” it usually means they’ve taken a turn for the worse, but at Tharros it’s great news. This lively, welcoming spot next to Shibuya station specializes in food and wine from Sardinia, Sicily and other areas in southern Italy. Open for just about a year now, Tharros has been gaining a rep by word of satisfied mouth, and the place is jumping Thursdays through Saturdays. Early in the week, though, you can get a table without a reservation.
Chef Keitaro Baba worked for two years in Sardinian kitchens, then spent three more in southern Italy educating his palate. He wants his food to be cheap and simple. And his Sicilian antipasti selections, in fact, are probably too cheap, he says.
That choice is one of best deals on the menu: a selection of small dishes, rather like tapas, in sets of five, six, seven or eight. You get five for ¥1,200, and each additional dish is an extra ¥200. An order of these antipasti for two will almost make a meal. Ingredients change every night, but a recent selection included escabeche—small fried fish marinated in vinegar and onions; squid and green asparagus; caponata—Sicilian ratatouille; baby scallops with marinated mushrooms; and poached tuna luxuriating in olive oil.
The extensive à la carte menu features several house-made fresh pastas such as gnocchetti with Sardinian pecorino sardo cheese and black pepper (¥1,900), or the shepherd’s-style lasagna (¥1,700). The ever-changing daily menu recently offered fantastico “meat-thick” shiitake mushrooms sautéed in garlic oil (¥900), and an unusual trevise risotto (¥1,800).
The energy Tharros exudes is infectious. In the large open kitchen, the white-uniformed cooks are in constant motion. One young woman bakes the bread—including focaccia and grissini—as well as the desserts. One fellow mans the pasta station. One more guy takes care of main dishes. And the boss, Chef Baba, stylish in his black T-shirt, keeps a sharp eye on all the operations while his favorite music, funky Cuban salsa, grooves from the speakers.
Sardinian wines are starting to get the recognition they deserve, and the list here is well-chosen and decently priced, with some 20 whites and two dozen reds all from the south plus a few from Puglia and Basilicata. Occasionally, Baba allows a northern interloper into the club—a Toscana, or a Chianti Classico. An array of four or five bottles will be brought to your table if you want a by-the-glass selection.
One of the cool things about Tharros is that the bar counter is always uncrowded, and it offers a separate, cheaper menu. Try the salami, ham, and cheese platter with its seven types of meat, including house-made prosciutto cotto with a wedge of pecorino cheese (¥1,000), or just stop in for a quick ¥100 cup of espresso.