Nico's Reviews ( Italian )

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  • Pizzeria e Trattoria da Isa (Italian / Nakameguro)
  • 2012/08/25
  • There's pizza, and there's the pizza at da Isa. I love the atmosphere of a casual eatery (though the prices suggest otherwise -- better hit it at lunch time when the pizzas come for 1000 yen), and the charred and chewy crust. The owner is often at the shop, personally handling the oven. I've had various margaritas and other pizzas, as well as a fried pizza that I only recommend if you're feeling indulgent.

    This is quite a nice treat, and the perfect combination of top-level food in an unpretentious environment.
  • Grom (Ice Cream / Shinjuku)
  • 2009/08/13
  • Much fanfare has been made out of Grom, the premium Italian ice cream company that was endorsed by Slow Food International.

    I happened to walk by on the rare occasion when there wasn’t a line stretching for at least half an hour, so I lined up to try their ethical ice creams. I got a sicilian lemon sorbet, paired with super bitter Bolivian chocolate.

    Both flavors were good. The lemon sorbet was tart, with a hint of sweet, while the chocolate one was expectably bitter with notes of sweet.

    Where this shop fell through was in texture. Premium ice cream is like a miracle soft cream in your mouth, but I kept on finding chunks of ice and other undesirable textures in mine.

    Pay a visit, but don’t expect the ice cream miracle that you would think is coming your way judging from the lines outside.

  • Paradiso: Kojimachi (Italian / Ichigaya)
  • 2009/08/13
  • Paradiso delivered a satisfying lunch deal in Kojimachi. I got the pasta lunch set, which came with the pasta of the day, salad, bruschetta, dessert and a drink.

    The best part of the meal was the pasta, which came in the form of spaghetti with a tomato-mushroom sauce that had been spiked with smart hints of chili pepper. The bruschetta was a touch dry, but the fresh tomatoes on top were sweet.

    The salad, however, was a different story. There are few things that irk me off as much as wet salad. Buy a spinner! My salad was sitting on a poodle of water, which also diluted the dressing. ugh.

    My take? Visit if in the area, but not worth a detour.
  • Pizzeria D'Oro: Kojimachi (Italian / Yotsuya)
  • 2009/07/30
  • The level of Italian food in Tokyo can be quite high, but Pizzeria D’Oro is nowhere near some of the better places. In fact, it felt like an amateur attempt against professional rivals.

    Why would I be so critical and call them amateur?

    1) The portions are out of control. Sometimes it’s nice when a restaurant serves a bit more than usual, but my plate was literally overflowing with pasta in a way that made it less appetizing.

    2) The sauce was pure cream. Supposedly there were scallops in the mix, but everything was drowned in so much cream, it could have been horse meat or scallops and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. By the time I got through enough of the pasta to uncover the bottom of the plate, there was so much cream, it could have dubbed as a soup serving.

    3) I found a piece of scallop shell in my mouth after it hid inside the pasta and made its way in. Luckily I identified the sucker (about the size on a 5-yen coin) before I had a chance to crack my teeth against it.

    Maybe they do better pizza here, but after the disappointing experience, I don’t think I’m coming back.
  • Plates: Hiroo (Italian / Hiroo)
  • 2008/08/27
  • I used to work around Hiroo, and I became a regular at Plates for close to a year. At the beginning I tried various things on the menu, but in time settled on the one and only thing I eat there: the ham, baby leafs and parmesan pizza.

    The downstairs houses a big wood-fired oven, while the upstairs has a medium-sized dinning room with murals adorning the walls.

    I would always share one lunch with a friend. If you try having a lunch special by yourself, it is just too much. Half a pizza per person is more than enough.

    The crust is thin and usually crunchy. We usually got some olive oil for dipping as well. They have different chefs though, and their skill shows in how thin they can roll the dough, which then determines if the crust ends up crunchy or doughy.

    Plates is not reinventing the wheel with their pizza, but their lunch deals are pretty good if you share them between two, and it amounts to a satisfying meal.
  • grigio la tavola (Italian / Akasaka)
  • 2008/07/30
  • Pretty average

    I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat at grigio, but if you’re stuck at Akasaka Sacas, it’s not all that bad (there’s definitely worse in that building, like Jim Thompson!).

    By far the most interesting part of the meal was a pork terrine served with pesto (630 yen). The kitchen added ear bits to the mix that added a nice crunch and pushed it to the next level. The gnocchi, on the other hand, were heavy (served with a cream/sage sauce, 1,360 yen).

    The semi-freddo dessert was well done; creamy but refreshing and with a healthy dose of mixed nuts and fruits (700 yen). You can get wine by the glass (790 yen) but I’d stay away from it...better order a bottle and get something good coming your way.

    Not bad, but not even close to what Italian food could be like. The prices are easy on the wallet, which adds to the appeal, but not much else after that.
  • Ostrea: Akasaka (American / Akasaka)
  • 2008/05/26
  • I've never heard of another place where you can gorge on as many fried oysters as you can for 1,000 yen. This explains why Ostrea is so busy at lunch time, and why they need to keep refilling the oyster section every two minutes.

    I wondered in by chance and was given the last table available. Pay 1,000 yen and get unlimited access to the buffet. On my particular day, it included a choice of three pastas, one risotto, a salad bar, two cold dishes (fish terrine and cold chicken), a dessert bar and drinks. Plus, unlimited fried oysters. This is indeed quite the deal, and I was surprised that the food was quite tasty, well made and fresh in spite of the low prices.

    The downside to Ostrea is that it might be too popular. The food at the buffet runs out quickly and the kitchen had some serious trouble keeping up with our appetites. My suggestion is to hit it either before or right after the lunch rush, because during the 12-1pm slot there's just too many people in here.

    The design is stylish, and the music that goes with it is that new techno/ethnic sound that has become so popular at upscale and contemporary cocktail bars. At night the waiters tell me that they stock between ten and thirty oyster varieties, and you can have a sampler to compare the flavours.

    If you can get in (I saw several people turned down), I heartily recommend a visit for lunch. Just make sure you don't eat breakfast beforehand.
  • Caffe Aromatica (Italian / Shinjuku)
  • 2008/03/23
  • The atmosphere of a restaurant is sometimes as important as the food being served. If the service sucks, the room is uninviting, and all you want to do is run away, it doesn’t matter if you have an iron chef on the other side whipping up a 10-course meal.

    Caffe Aromatica clearly understands this; it is an incredibly friendly restaurant in which to have “serious” food. It is the kind of restaurant where you can explode into laughter and not worry too much about it.

    Aromatica stays true to one of the tenets of Italian cooking: If the ingredients are top-notch, don’t do much to them. Let them shine on their own. They don’t do complicated sauces, no presentations that reach 30cm above the plate; just simple food prepared with good ingredients and correct technique.

    I ordered the chef’s tasting menu (5,000 yen), which seems to be a better deal than ordering a la carte where the dishes range around 2,000-2,500 yen each.

    My first dish was the most successful, and one that I’ll probably remember for years to come. Good wines reveal themselves slowly in the mouth. First the alcohol hits you, then the fruit, finally the tannins, and in the end you’re left with a long finish. My Sakuradai (sea bram) carpaccio tasted in layers just like that. First the texture of sprouts, then the fish, the cracked salt, the olive oil, the dill -- the flavor continued to change and evolve as I munched my way through it.

    The pastas were ok (spring cabbage with bread crumbs; clams and broccoli shoots), but the chefs added too much pasta water leaving them on the salty side. The clams however were an excellent example of great ingredients -- I don’t remember eating such a sweet clam ever before.

    The main dishes consisted of sakuramasu (cherry salmon) served with tomatoes and fresh mozarella, and quail with broad beans and rosemary. Both dishes were good, and the combination of raw and cooked tomatoes in the salmon was gorgeous.

    The tasting menu ended with a choice of dessert and coffee. I settled for the cassata with passion fruit sauce. The creamy ice cream was balanced by the sour of the fruit and burnt caramel nuts added contrast to the dish.

    This is a restaurant to keep in mind, even if the location is out of the way and not at all attractive. The food is good, and the laid back atmosphere is even better.
  • Piccolo Grande (Italian / Azabu-juban)
  • 2008/03/11
  • Piccolo Grande serves slightly upscale Italian home-cooking in a welcoming room in Roppongi. Nonetheless, inasmuch as I wanted to love it, I just couldn't. Sometimes there's a certain affinity between a restaurant and its regulars; you can't describe why you love going back, but there's something that is impossible to resist. The food was good at Piccolo Grande and I would heartily recommend it to people looking for comfort Italian food, but I know that I won't be going back. Why? Piccolo Grande and I just didn't hit it off.

    The meal started with an aperitif of Italian Spumante (800 yen), which is Italian for sparkling wine. Soon thereafter our appetizer -- the chef's salad (1600 yen) -- arrived. The salad was a collection of greens with shaved parmesan, mortadella and soft-boiled eggs on top, and dressed in olive oil and crunchy bread crumbs. While the salad was good, I'd stick to the more economical salads in the menu (600-800 yen) that don't include the chef's “surprise” (we didn't know what the toppings would be until it showed up, and they don't seem worth the 100 percent markup).

    Dinner continued with a creamy porcini risotto (1700 yen). The server informed us that they source fresh porcinis when in season, and if this is the case, I'd definitely recommend going for them. Porcinis are a wild mushroom with a strong earthy and nutty flavour that do wonders when thrown in a risotto. Our rice was properly cooked al dente with a strong earthy punch from the mushrooms, even if slightly undersalted.

    At this point I asked the waiter to recommend a wine pairing for the next course (1200 yen per glass). Unfortunately the waiter showed me the bottle for two seconds, which didn't give me enough time to remember the label, but it was an excellent red and a good match with the roasted pork in marsala sauce that followed (2800 yen). The pork was also excellent -- slightly rare in the center and caramelized outside, served with a sweet marsala sauce and assorted vegetables.

    To finish things up, cassatta (800 yen), which is an Italian ice cream dessert made with assorted dried fruits and nuts. This was slightly sweet for my taste, but then again, overall I prefer subtly sweetened desserts so it's probably fine for everybody else. To finish the evening off, we got a Campari with soda (800 yen). If you haven't had Campari before, be warned that it's a very bitter liqueur, but one that does wonders in helping digestion.

    The service at Piccolo Grande was perfect, though they were a bit rude at first when we asked if we could be moved to a better table (they gave us a dark table by the wall when there were lots of other tables available that they claimed were reserved but for which nobody showed up). After that, the service was flawless, and provided you have a reservation, Piccolo Grande should be a good spot to bring business associates, family, significant others or dates for an upscale yet homy Italian meal. Unfortunately though, I won't be visiting back as something just didn't click with me. I'm sure the rest of you might enjoy it more.
  • Trattoria Rusticanella (Italian / Akasaka)
  • 2008/03/06
  • This is a restaurant I wanted to like but couldn't. I'm all in favor of simple dishes that highlight ingredients by what they are but sometimes they need a bit of a twist to really shine.

    The restaurant's name, Rusticanella, suggests that they are trying to feature rustic Italian food in an upscale environment. However, their food was simply boring, and if you're going to charge upscale prices for rustic food, you better do something to it.

    I got the chef's special lunch course (2,500 yen) which included an appetizer, a pasta dish, a fish dish, coffee and dessert. The appetizer consisted of three mounds of thinly shaved pork marinated in olive oil and capers in one case, Japanese style in the second and kimchi in the third. This was by far the best dish of the day.

    The pasta was a weird concoction featuring sardines, pine nuts, celery, tomato and raisins. I still don't understand what the raisins were doing there. The final dish was white fish steamed with green vegetables and olives, and when I complain about rustic being almost lazy, this is what I have in mind. The soup/sauce was basically olive water mixed in with a bit of fish and nothing else.

    Dessert was a small collection of bites that was rather nice, and the espresso machiatto at the end was done superbly. The bread was also good, but oddly enough I had to ask for the requisite olive oil that goes with it.

    The room is nice, with lots of modern art, and it has an upscale whif to it. Still, I'm not going back to pay for overpriced barebones food.
  • TERRAZZA SANREMO (Italian / Akasaka)
  • 2008/02/26
  • Terrazza served me one of the saltiest pastas I’ve ever had. It was supposed to taste like pesto and garlic, but it tasted more like boiled down pasta water with kilos of salt in it. On top of that, someone forgot to tell them to cut the lettuce before sending it out because I got two oversized leaves that were plain awkward to eat.

    The restaurant seems to have quite a following at lunch time; all the tables were full when I went to have their 1,000 yen set. But, I can’t understand why people would go back. I know I won’t.

    Service was prompt, and the room looks like it was shipped from Italy with assembly instructions to make it look like an old-school pizza place. My take...with so many good choices in Akasaka, don’t drop your money here.
  • Pizza Salvatore Cuomo (Italian / Shinjuku)
  • 2007/11/16
  • The pizza is good, there's no doubt about that.

    Other than that, this place doesn't feel much different than your regular off-the-mill Italian place in Japan. The service was perfect and I loved how attentive my waitress was (as opposed to hurting my tonsils shouting sumimasen across a busy izakaya), but there's still something that throws me off when an Italian restaurant decides to shout all their orders to each other and to me in Italian (Bonna sera instead of Irasshaimase, prego instead of kudasai, etc.).

    I started with a glass of 2007 fresh Italian wine available by the glass (580 yen). The wine was fruity and young, but in such a small glass! I definitely walked away with what would be considered 1/3 of a glass at most restaurants.

    The pizza was a different story -- ham, bits of cheese, marinara sauce and olives made for an excellent pie. The crust was perfect, and the toppings in great harmony. I'd definitely recommend this place for the pizza alone.

    As for location, they tried hard to conceal the basement aspect to it, since the restaurant sits in the basement of Shinjuku, underneath kabuki-cho (take the stairs next to Don Quijote). The loud Italian pop-opera didn't help my ears, but other people on dates seemed either oblivious or entranced by it. On the whole, Salvatore is a nice option in Shinjuku for great pizza. Just don't come to get hammered on wine here.
  • Noodle Workshop (Italian / Roppongi)
  • 2007/10/28
  • The noodle workshop gives you exactly what you see, but delivers no surprises. Yet, for the price range, you can't be that picky and this eatery definitely stands out among the cheaper options at Tokyo Midtown.

    I settled for a tom yam noodle soup (850 yen), that was watery but with the unmistakable scent of coriander, together with a house salad with smoked salmon (450 yen).

    The noodles were ok, and this would definitely warm anyone up in the winter. Some of the mushrooms dancing in the broth were quite tasty. The salad was predictable but delivered its dose of roughage which is what I was after.

    As for atmosphere, the noodle workshop is plain stale. Their tables might look smart from afar, but as soon as you sit, you wish they had invested in normal chairs. A much better bet is to get everything to go and settle in the beautiful gardens that surround Midtown. On the whole, this is not bad if you're wondering around with a tight budget in Midtown, but if you can afford a bit more, there's definitely better places around here.
  • Acqa Vino (Italian / Hiroo)
  • 2007/10/11
  • Salads are tricky. They look deceptively simple, but getting the combinations right is much harder. My lunch at Acquavino unfortunately featured one such salad?it was covered in dressing that stretched like glue, looked like gruel, tasted commercial and bathed a random assortment of vegetables that didn't do much for each other.

    Beyond the salad, my set lunch (1350 yen) included a panini that was just average, featuring tomatoes, ham and mozarella cheese (where was the basil?), a delicious cold corn soup and a few pickles. My lunch companion ordered the brown rice with tuna curry (1350 yen) that was health food gone wrong. The huge platter featured a large mound of plain brown rice with a sauce-like tuna casserole that tasted sweet and didn't mix well with the rice.

    Redemption came via a tasty tiramisu for dessert (400 yen) and a great espresso that was included with the lunch. The strength at Acquavino seems to lie in its collection of competitively priced Italian wines and the wine seminars they offer once a month. Nonetheless, Hiroo has better options for lunch so unless you're coming for dinner to appreciate the wine, I'd head somewhere else instead.
  • Pushike Pasta Club (Italian / Ikebukuro)
  • 2007/10/11
  • Pushike is located inside the underground Ikebukuro Shopping Park (ISP), which means that there's no sunlight or windows, and the restaurant has the unfortunate feel of yet another cookie-cutter Italian eatery in Tokyo. Having said that, they do deliver some half-decent pasta at reasonable prices so it's not a bad choice if looking for a meal a cut above fast food.

    I ordered the “Grafte” set (1750 yen), which came with a sample of appetizers, a choice of pasta, dessert and a glass of wine. The appetizers consisted of a small omelet, potato salad and a piece of breaded chicken. The best part was the warm omelet, which made for nice contrast with the cold greens (except that it got soggy while being radiated). For the pasta course, I opted for a yuzu-pepper sauce, that came with a few greens mixed in. This was not a bad combination, and the pasta was quite nice. Finally, a dessert that would be best forgotten. I am inclined to think that Pushike doesn't make its own desserts (a lot of restaurants don't) and that this was a piece of commercial apple pie dressed with their own strawberry sauce. In either case, it was pretty bad, and you'd be better advised to pick up dessert at one of the many bakeries in the ground floors of Ikebukuro station rather than here.

    Pushike is not a place to keep in your list of “must-go” restaurants. Rather, this is a place to keep in the backburner if the need ever arose for a quick and cheap meal without leaving Ikebukuro station.
  • Belvedere (Italian / Shimbashi)
  • 2007/10/10
  • Belvedere means “beautiful view” in Italian, which is exactly what those lucky enough to snap one of four tables by the window overlooking the Ginza district will get. Located on the 41st floor of the City Center building in Shinbashi, Belvedere serves home-style yet contemporary Tuscan cooking together with an impressive wine list and a more impressive view of the Tokyo skyline. Even if not on one of the four lucky tables, the rest of the restaurant still enjoys a prime view of the city and is a good choice for business outings, dates, special occasions, and those days when we feel in need of a treat.

    Everything started with a salad. Shaved ham at the bottom, mixed greens on top, one cherry tomato cut in half and a pesto vinaigrette for lubrication and flavour. The ham was moist, and the cherry tomato was sweet, which made for good contrast with the garlicky pesto and the bitter greens. The waiter then brought over olive oil and two slices of warm bread. Olive oil producers in Tuscany sometimes refer to their product as fluid gold. I have no idea if this olive oil was from Tuscany, but i sure felt that I was drinking something worth its weight at least in silver, if not outright gold.

    In proper Italian style, the meal moved to a pasta dish, which was squid-ink linguine with baby squid and broccoli in a tomato sauce. The pasta was cooked al dente, and the baby squid boiled tender and delicious. I had never popped in a whole squid before, and it's certainly interesting to feel the different textures around their body (i.e. tentacles = chewy with a bite, body = sponge-like but soft).

    Stereotypes that come out of Tuscany often include a grandmother lovingly preparing dinner for an extremely loud and populous family. Of course, most restaurants don't have an aging grandmother in their kitchen who refuses to cook with a recipe and instead relies on her heart. But, that does not mean that they can't pump out food that tastes just like it. My final dish, braised beef in a tomato sauce with assorted vegetables, evoked the best of comfort food and was certainly a winner in my books.

    Dessert came in two parts. First, pineapple ice cream, pannacotta and pineapple sauce with flavoured sugars, to be followed by a candy platter that included a macaroon, candied orange peel and almond candy together with an espresso. The ice cream was a tad too sweet and the sugar around it made it even sweeter, but the macaroon was moist and chewy.

    Belverede boasts an impressive wine list that, of course, focuses in Italy. They stock over 100 labels, and there is plenty of choice by the glass. During lunch time a four course meal like mine costs 3,700 yen after taxes and service charges (there is a simpler menu for 2,500 and a more elaborate one for 4,000). Dinner time gets more expensive, with courses ranging between 6,000-10,000 yen. A la carte ordering is also available. The window-side tables fit two people, and would be a perfect spot for a romantic dinner. Call ahead to reserve them as I am sure they are in high demand. Otherwise, enjoy this impressive Italian restaurant high up in the skies of Tokyo.
  • Trattoria Pinosalice (Italian / Shibuya)
  • 2007/10/02
  • I'm personally obsessive about visiting a new restaurant every time I eat out. Very few restaurants make me want to go back and try their full menu, but Pinosalice was one of them-I can't wait to go back and try some of the other items on offer.

    Our meal started with a selection of antipasto platters (1500 yen for five plates; 2500 for eight) that delivered little tastes of what the chef could accomplish. To begin with, in true Italian style, we were given homemade bread made with potato flour and a little pool of olive oil. We then proceeded to devour a bite-size morsel of eel in consome gelatin and assorted vegetables. This was followed by homemade sausages, rice salad, carrot salad with raw ham and a bruschetta. The bruschetta was absolutely perfect-a tiny amount of garlic rubbed onto the bread, ricotta cheese, fresh tomatoes and olive oil turned this deceptively simple sandwich into a masterpiece.

    The waitress was very knowledgeable about the wide selection of Italian wines available by the glass, half a bottle and full bottle. One surprising thing is that you can try the wines before deciding on which one you would like to purchase even by the glass (800-1200 yen per glass, depending on the wine)! She gave us small tastes of four different wines before we finally settled on her suggestion.

    Our meal continued with a bucatini pasta with ragu sauce (1500 yen). Bucatinis are like spaghettis but hollow in the middle allowing for more sauce to penetrate them. The sauce was perfect-spicy and meat like a good ragu should be-and the pasta still had that elusive bite that comes when boiled the exact amount of time. This was followed by a final course of grilled fish (1500 yen). The fish was excellent and served with lemon and herbed salt.

    To finish, we ordered a ricotta and orange creme brulee served with homemade candied fig ice cream (800 yen). I cannot begin to describe how delicious this was. This is without doubt the best brulee I've ever had. The ricotta cheese adds an extra of layer of flavour and texture that sets this brulee apart from all the other ones. The ice cream was also wonderful.

    My only wish is that Pinosalice had a set course; instead, they divided their menu into the traditional steps of an Italian dinner (antipasti, pasta, meat or fish dish, dessert), but it could be made easier. All in all however, this is one excellent Italian restaurant that can pull off that magic that comes with simple ingredients and great combinations. I can't wait to go back and try some of their other offerings such as stewed horse meat or rabbit! And I can't wait to keep on sampling that gorgeous wine list!
  • Trattoria Don Alporto (Italian / Ikebukuro)
  • 2007/07/29
  • Located on the 12th floor of the Tobu department store, Al Porto is quite a nice experience and not bad food at all. It's not gourmet, but it never promised to be either.

    We ordered the set lunch menu (1450 yen), which is a much better deal than ordering a la carte (1200-1600 per pasta). The set included a small salad of mixed greens, bacon and way too much dressing, a choice of three pastas, dessert and coffee.

    I opted for the tuna and caper pasta with an “oil sauce.” Whomever is writing their menu should hopefully consider changing the name of the “oil sauce”; I'm sure they can do better than that. At any rate, the oil sauce is just a mix of olive oil with pasta water. The noodles were correctly cooked and I was pleasantly full by the end of my bowl. Dessert was a small pannacotta with raspberry sauce and finally a cup of coffee. My companion had a tomato-chicken pasta, and he said it tasted quite good as well.

    The chef is a bit of a narcissist. His biography and picture are printed on the menu, and a massive picture of him stands in front of the restaurant. Apparently he worked in Italy but there was no need for the picture unless he was better looking or clad in a bathing suit. In any case, Al Porto would be an ok choice for lunch in the Ikebukuro area and the window tables have quite a nice view of the surroundings.
  • Pasta Cafe CHAYA (Italian / Tokyo Station)
  • 2007/06/03
  • Chaya Pasta cafe is a good place to recharge your batteries around Tokyo station. Conveniently located a few minutes away from the gates, the portions are hearty and abundant.

    To get there, take the stairs down to the underground Yaesu mall and walk to the end of Lemon Road. The cafe runs two locations almost side by side; one is a bit fancier with tables and a waitress while the other features a counter designed for solo dinning or at most two people. There is no big difference in prices, but Chaya II, the one with the tables, is slightly more expensive.

    I ordered one of the lunch specials, which featured two types of pasta, a salad and a bun. One of the pastas is fixed (mine was a penne with a spicy arabiata sauce), and the price of the set menu changes depending on your choice of the second pasta. I picked an olive oil, scallops and garlic pasta which turned out to be rather good, I suspect because it was swimming in olive oil with perfectly browned garlic. The salad was refreshing, but they could have left the bun in the kitchen.

    Set menus range between 900-1200 yen, while the a la carte menu ranges between 600-1200 per portion. They offer half portions, which might be a good idea if you are not up for a big helping of carbs. A small wine list could add a touch of class to an evening meal. Overall Chaya is a no-frills place to recharge batteries and indulge in some comfort food at reasonable prices.