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In a state of hibernation. My backlog has long become unsustainable. Will probably tweet more and write less full-length stuff.


Enoteca Norio


I've told some of you already about how I actually had an Italian meal for one of my dinners in Tokyo. It may sound weird, but Japan actually has excellent western food, Italian in particular. During my food anthro class we actually talked about how Italian food swept Japan in the 90s, and the country sort of developed their own style of it. I was thus quite looking forward to our dinner at Enoteca Norio (couldn't find an English page, but that site is good if you can find some help with translation). Norio-san, an acquaintance of my dad's through friend Nobrin, is a Japanese-born and raised chef who studied Italian cooking. My dad had been hyping up his cooking skills for quite some time.

Enoteca Norio is located far down a dark side street in the district of Shinjuku in Tokyo. To be honest, I have no idea how one might stumble upon it without knowing where to look, so it's good to hear Norio-san has a bigger and more central new location (I think in Ginza). Enoteca Norio is a pretty small, two-floor restaurant. A small bar and a few tables make up the downstairs, while the kitchen and more tables are upstairs. Norio-san was apparently a little nervous about handling our group of 11 in the midst of his move, so he left the whole restaurant to us for the night, a luxury we certainly didn't expect.

Despite all I've heard about the good Italian cooking going on in Japan, it was still quite an interesting sight to see a small Japanese guy like Norio preparing the kind of food we ate. Norio-san has a very noble, altruistic vision - to expose the newer generations of Japanese to great Italian food. This apparently means that he tries to keep his prices as low as possible, to the point that we suspect there's no way he is making any money. The restaurant offers a set-style menu of 5 courses (cold app, hot app, pasta, main dish, dessert), with 4-5 choices for each course. The whole thing is 6,000 yen, which is barely over US$50! That's not much for a meal like this to begin with, but throw in the superb quality of the food and the fact that this is Tokyo, and this becomes an absolute steal. Anyway, here it comes...

CAPRESE SALAD I was extremely curious to try this mozzarella/tomato salad because the cheese came from a local Japanese farm. Who knew they were making fresh moz in Japan? The quality was excellent - smooth, creamy, and very clean tasting. The preparation was top notch, with just a bit of olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. The tomatoes were hearty and sweet - I assume they were some kind of Japanese heirloom.

TRIPA ALLA FIORENTINA Another classic Italian dish, this tripe in tomato sauce was just mouthwatering. The steaming hot, simmered tripe was supremely tender, and the sauce had a wonderful sweetness balanced by just a bit of tang. It'd been a while since I'd had this dish, and this version has made me want to eat it regularly. Luckily, we found a very good preparation here in SF at Florio. :)

SMOKED UNAGI PASTA WITH FAVA BEANS AND TOMATOES Now this is what I was looking for in Japanese-style Italian food. Where else would you find unagi in a pasta dish? The noodles were a fresh pasta (something pretty close to tagliolini) and cooked perfectly. The whole dish had a great, strong, smoky flavor. In fact, it was actually reminiscent of the smoked eels I tried while visiting the van Berkels in Holland.

SPAGHETTI WITH UNI Sorry bout the blurry picture on this one. Pretty much everyone at the table ordered this uni spaghetti, and I thought it was quite picture-worthy. I wanted it too, actually, but I couldn't let our whole group not have anyone ordering the unagi pasta. Plus, I have seen uni pasta in the US (Taranta in Boston comes to mind). Anyway, I only tried a couple bites of this, but I remember the uni flavor being actually a bit more subtle than the overwhelming orange color would indicate. The creaminess of urchin sure makes for a great pasta sauce base though.

STEAK Awesome description there huh? The menus were all in Japanese, so Norio-san was giving us basic translations for all of the options. This steak was some kind of sliced rib, and simply superb. The beef had some great marbling going on, which you can partly see. It was also dressed with some kind of vinaigrette that was also on the salad and tomatoes. Oh, those tomatoes... they were every bit as good as the heirlooms you find during peak season here in SF, and matched surprisingly well with the meat. Yummy. I had to jet early to go meet my Yokohama-based friend Yui who I hadn't seen for years for a drink. I missed the included dessert, but it got the rest of the Che family's seal of approval.

So my first proper Western meal in Tokyo was an astounding success. You could plop Enoteca Norio in the middle of SF or Boston and it would compete with each city's best Italian joints. I wish I could help more with the directions and whatnot - Norio-san is a great chef and I hope you can check him out if you're in Tokyo. Let me know if you need more details on his new bigger and badder digs, and I'll... uh.. ask my dad or something.

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