Why You Should be Eating Italian in Tokyo

Tacubo

Hokkaido Winter Potato Vichyssoise with Virgin Oyster

A good chef friend was visiting from NYC. He’s lived in Tokyo for years and knows that Italian done by Japanese chefs is one of Tokyo’s greatest culinary treats. I was thrilled to hear we were going for Italian and that a food editor was picking our lunch spot. A tiny Hiroshima virgin oyster in the chilled soup was rich in umami. The skin of the potato was grated and used in the Parmigiano-Reggiano crisp, a brilliant Japanese concept of using every part of the product.

Tacubo

Karatsu Sazae with Aonori Butter

Sazae, turban-wreath shell, is a tiny conch-shaped shellfish. Here it is sautéed in an aonori (laver) butter sauce and seasoned with some garlic chips. Some warm bread came just in time to soak up the butter sauce.

Tacubo

Fresh Shirasu and Karasumi Pasta

Chef Tacubo excels in pasta and meat dishes. The pasta in this dish was well-seasoned as he seasons it with asari (littleneck clams) jus before plating. It is topped with fresh shirasu (tiny sardines) and karasumi (bottarga roe) and dill. A great fusion dish of East meets West.

Tacubo

Orecchiette and Sausage

Another brilliant dish.

Tacubo

Aomori Pork and Wild Asparagus

The pork from Aomori was well-balanced with the wild asparagus and edamame. The African salt pearls, I believe from Djibouti, are like large grains of sand. Sadly I had to head home early so I missed the dessert which was lemon-based.

Aria di Tacubo is a short walk from Ebisu station. It is a tiny, well-lit spot at lunch. Only a few tables, about 16 seats, so reservations are required. We sat down to an empty restaurant at 12:30 p.m. and by 1 p.m. it was full. Chef Tacubo has a strong following so be sure to plan ahead. Lunch starts at 2,900 JPY for 3 courses with one pasta, but you’ll want to be sure to have at least two pasta, so starting at 4,900 JPY. Dinner starts at 8,500 JPY. The wine list is not exclusive to Italy and we enjoyed a few wines with our meal. The sommelier was very helpful in helping us pair wines with the menu.

Come here to see the sophisticated work of a Japanese chef who knows Japanese ingredients well and can assemble them into Italian cuisine. My NYC chef friend is right when he says that tourists to Japan are missing out on a big part of the food scene here by limiting themselves to Japanese cuisine. It is a great idea to have one Italian meal while in Tokyo, and Aria di Tacubo should be near the top of that list.

Perhaps the greatest pleasure is experiencing the seasonal ingredients, this time of year includes the nama-shirasu and sazae. Bravissimo, chef Tacubo!

Aria di Tacubo

Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-12-11, Bios Bldg. 4F

Aria di Tacubo Facebook

Pizzeria GG

GG1Anyone who knows the Tokyo food scene is aware of the many wood-burning ovens and great pizzerias in the city. Some of my favorites, like Seirinkan in Naka-Meguro, are a trip for me to get to. I’ve been looking for something closer to where we live on the Chuo line. Sadly, most of it is disappointing.

I’ve heard of Pizzeria GG but have had the hardest time locating it. I’ve seen it on TV and in magazines, but for all of the time I spend in Kichijoji, I’ve never been able to find it. Finally, with the help of an iPad and some satellites far up in the sky, I succeeded. I had walked by it for months. If you don’t know what to look for, you two will walk right by.

I was with our son this day so took the meat pie. It’s a large pizza and one should go on an empty stomach. The crust was thick on the edges and thin in the middle. For me it’s a great pie. The dough is chewy, toppings are generous, and best of all, it’s close to home.

GG2

The fritto misto was of zucchini, bell peppers, and sweet potatoes. Hot out of the oil and our serving of vegetables for this lunch.GG3

Proper wood-burning oven. GG4And, the exterior, which I have marched right by. I even stood in front of it, holding my iPad that said I had arrived at my destination, and couldn’t spot it.

Will definitely go back. It’s very close to the lovely Inokashira Koen, which would be perfect for a long walk before (or after) the pizza. I hear it fills up quickly on the weekends, so go early or late. Better yet, come on a weekday if you can.

Pizzeria GG

Tokyo-to, Musashino-shi, Kichijoji Minamicho 1-17-1, B1

0422-26-5024

Roma Pizza in Tokyo

Napoletana pizza are not the only type of pizzas tempting diners in Tokyo. Roma pizzas, with a thinner and thus crispier crust, are also popular and authentic versions too are available in the city.

Pizzeria Romana Gianicolo

Pizzeria Romana Gianicolo

Pizzeria Romana Gianicolo

Minato-ku, Azabu Juban 2-8-8, Watanabe Bldg. B1

03-6435-2080

11:30 – 14:30; 18:00 – 22:30

closed Monday

http://www.gianicolo.jp/

Pizzeria Romana Bernini

Pizzeria Romana Bernini

Pizzeria Romana Bernini

Chuo-ku, Ginza 2-11-13

03-6228-4774

11:45 – 14:00; 18:00 – 23:00

no holidays

http://www.bernini.jp/pizzeria/

Pizzeria Sabatini Aoyama

Pizzeria Sabatini Aoyama

Pizzeria Sabatini Aoyama

Minato-ku, Kita Aoyama 2-13-5, Suncrest Bldg B1

03-3402-2027

11:30 – 14:30; 17:30 – 22:30

no holidays

http://www.sabatini.co.jp/pizzeria_aoyama/index.html

Il Pentito

Il Pentito

Il Pentito

Shibuya-ku, Yoyogi 3-1-3, AXIS 1F

03-3320-5699

19:00 – 22:00

closed Sunday and holidays

http://www.meridionale.com/index.html

bigote

bigote

bigote

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Honcho 4-7-4

03-5203-1919

12:00 – 16:00; 18:30 – 22:30

closed Saturday, Sunday, and holidays

Napoletana pizza in Tokyo.

Napoletana Pizza in Tokyo

aogi pizza

aogi pizza

Peppe

Peppe

Perhaps the best place to get a really great pizza outside of Italy is not New York City but in Tokyo. The website for the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana lists thirty-five authentic Napoletana pizzerias in Japan.

Many of the pizzaiolos have apprenticed in Italy, bake their pizzas in wood burning ovens, and do an outstanding job of replicating authentic Italian pizzas. Alan Richman wrote an excellent piece about this (as well as French and Chinese cuisine in Japan) in this piece in GQ magazine. His piece opens up in Nakameguro with Kakinuma-san of Seirinkan, who is one of the most revered pizzaiolos in Japan. There are only two pizzas on his menu, marinara or Margherita as well as some salads, pastas, and other dishes. I always get the broccoli sautéed with garlic and then save the garlic oil to dip the crust of the pizza into later.

Thanks to Tokyo’s pizza boom there are now several more restaurants in the metropolis to satiate your craving for pizza. Here are just some (of many).

Seirinkan

Seirinkan

Seirinkan 聖林館

Meguro-ku, Nakameguro 2-6-4

03-3714-5160

11:30 – sold out; 18:00 – 21:30

no holidays

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1317/A131701/13003188/

la bicocca

la bicocca

la bicocca

Setagaya-ku, Kamiuma 4-5-1

03-3410-7710

11:30 – 14:00; 17:30 – 22:00

closed Monday

http://www.la-bicocca.jp/

Peppe, at only twenty-six years old, may appear to be young for a pizzaiolo but has said that he has been helping out in pizzerias in his native Naples since he was twelve.

Tarantella da Luigi

Tarantella da Luigi

Tarantella da Luigi

Minato-ku, Shirokane 3-22-2

03-6408-5552

12:00 – 14:00 Saturday and holidays

17:30 – 23:00 Monday – Saturday (until 22:00 on Sunday)

no holidays

http://tarantella-da-luigi.com/

Teratoka-san has apprenticed with seven pizzerias in Naples and has spent more time in Italy making pizza than in Japan.

aogi Soshigaya

aogi Soshigaya

aogi Soshigaya

Setagaya-ku, Soshigaya 2-4-7, Soshigaya Danchi Building #1

03-6411-9676

12:00 – 14:00; 18:00 – 22:30

closed Tuesday

http://r.tabelog.com/tokyo/A1318/A131814/13117590/

Goto-san serves authentic Napolitan pizza as well as a local version which is topped with shirasu (boiled baby anchovies) and nori.

da Isa

Pizzeria e Trattoria da Isa

Pizzeria e Trattoria da Isa

Meguro-ku, Aobadai 1-28-9

03-5768-3739

11:30 – 14:00 (until 14:30 on Saturday and holidays)

17:30 – 22:00

no holidays

http://www.da-isa.jp/

Yamamoto-san prides his pizza on its ingredients. The flour and salt are imported from Italy. The dough is slowly fermented at room temperature for eight to ten hours.

Roma pizza in Tokyo.

Seirinkan

Seirinkan

Seirinkan

Photo by Chuck Tanaka Peterson

As a New Yorker who visited Japan often in the early ‘70s as a child, I have ingrained in my memory a pizza that was topped with squid legs. I remember the disappointment of the tentacles peeking out from under the cheese almost taunting me. For the longest time I avoided pizza in Japan. Besides, there are so many great things to get here like tempura, tonkatsu, and ramen, why bother with mediocre pizza? GQ contributor, Alan Richman—the “most decorated food writer in history”—encouraged me to check out Seirinkan in Nakameguro. I went, albeit with little confidence that I would be satisfied or satiated.

The first good sign, Seirinkan is easy to find: Just a few minutes walk from Nakameguro station. The restaurant is spread over three floors and a narrow, spiral staircase connects the floors. The owner, Susumu Kakinuma, has an affinity for military souvenirs.

Restaurants like Seirinkan that focus on their craft often have limited menus. Seirinkan’s menu offers simple ingredients like cheese and tomato sauce on handmade dough, heated in a wood-burning oven until crispy and piping hot. You can select from either a Margherita of tomato and buffalo mozzarella or a marinara of tomato and garlic. Pizzas this simple insist upon quality ingredients. Cooked to exactly the perfect moment, the middle ingredients melt together and the outside crust is puffy, scorched, and crispy.

The side dishes round out the menu with salads such as Caprese, or ruccola and Parmigiano, sliced prosciutto, and broccoli in a garlic olive oil sauce. The staff suggested that we save the garlic infused olive oil to dip the pizza crust into. Brilliant advice and it has become a regular part of every visit since.

Service is simple as is the menu. My only complaint is that the staff opened the wine before bringing it to the table. My three thirsty friends looked at me disappointingly when the server presented an opened half bottle. I wanted to refuse the bottle but my Japanese companions were too embarrassed.

Seirinkan is open for lunch and is often on the quiet side. Dinners can be very busy. Note that Seirinkan’s website advises diners that the restaurant will close early if they run out of pizza. While my craving for pizza no longer exists, the search for an authentic bagel continues.

Seirinkan
Meguro-ku, Kamimeguro 2-6-4
Tokyo, tel: 03-3714-5160, Web: www.seirinkan.jp 

This first appeared in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal:

http://accjjournal.com/seirinkan/