Beacon Brunch – closed

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** Updated Dec 2016 – sadly Beacon has closed. A new shop, Crista, has opened in the same space, also by the same owner and chef.

Brunch at Beacon is a taste of America in Tokyo. David Chiddo works his magic at this urban chophouse located between Shibuya and Omotesando. I picked Beacon for Sunday brunch thinking I would go for a burger and martini. But, once I took a look at the menu the huevos rancheros jumped out of the menu and I am so glad I got it. I loved the green rice and beans. I was sad when the plate was empty. And, I could see that many others in the restaurant were enjoying the burger.

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Portions are generous, another nod to American brunches. The brunch menu includes a selection from the bread basket, fruit, and coffee, tea, or espresso drinks. My girlfriend who studied at university in Minnesota also felt right at home with this hearty plate of eggs Florentine. Many of our fellow diners were talking in English, something that I am not used to, so I totally felt like I was back in the USA. Staff are attentive and there is a great buzz in the restaurant. Diners are here to relax and be taken care of.

There is a counter if you are dining solo. Beacon’s a great spot for meeting friends at. It’s popular so reservations are highly recommended. If you are from America, you will feel right back at home. Other brunch menu highlights include Belgian waffles and fried chicken, steak and eggs, and almond French toast made with brioche.

One of Tokyo’s best brunches.

Beacon

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 1-2-5

03-6418-0077

Gotta Go – Utsuwa Kenshin

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Asato Ikeda-san’s gorgeous pottery. I first came across these at Den in Jimbocho.

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Saké tastes better when served in something this beautiful.

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Bob Tobin and Hitoshi Ohashi of the Tobin Ohashi Gallery first introduced me to Kenshin Sato-san of Kenshin Utsuwa. When I asked chef Zaiyu Hasegawa-san of Den about these cups he too said that Kenshin Utsuwa would have these. I have been following Kenshin Utsuwa on Facebook as he  hosts many special events around the city. I contacted Sato-san and placed an order for the cups. Here I am picking up the cups and pourer. What I am holding is not what I bought, but a piece he had in his gallery.Image

Kenshin Utsuwa is a small, but well-stocked gallery in between Shibuya and Omotesando. I got lost finding it, so be sure to have a good map. This day there were several gorgeous pieces from a potter in Hokkaido.

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If you want to invest in some handcrafted pottery, be sure to visit Kenshin Utsuwa while in Tokyo. First though, call ahead and make sure the shop is open. As he hosts special showings throughout the city he often closes the gallery. The Kenshin Utsuwa Facebook page always is updated with his current shows.

Utsuwa Kenshin

http://www.utsuwa-kenshin.com

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-3-4, Star Building 2F

Phone and Fax: 03-6427-9782

Facebook page

Urban BBQ Smokehouse by TY Harbor

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 BBQ and sauces

Chef David Chiddo of the TY Harbor group has several successful restaurants in the city including Cicada and Beacon. His most recent shop, Smokehouse, is an urban barbecue with a great list of craft beers, both domestic and from the USA, as well as one of the city’s best selection of American spirits. Smokehouse is conveniently located near Omotesando. It’s a casual place and great for meeting friends for a drink and good food. The store is kid-friendly and has a kids’ menu if you ask for it. Here is my review of Smokehouse in Metropolis magazine. Here I share some photos of the food and scene at Smokehouse.

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House BBQ sauces

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Smokehouse interior

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Chicken fingers kids’ lunch

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Smoked wings

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Iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing

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Macaroni and cheese, okra, and creamed spinach sides

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Burger and onion rings
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Yamagata sausage and fries

Smokehouse

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-17-13

03-6450-5855

Smokehouse opened in October of 2013

Tokyo’s Best Mamé Daifuku

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Wagashi, traditional Japanese confectionaries, are often made with azuki, tiny red beans, and mochi, sticky rice pounded until its like a taffy. While I grew up eating some of these, I was never a big fan until I tried the mamé daifuku from Mizuho in Harajuku.

The smooth azuki paste is not too sweet. But what makes this sweet, about the size of my fist, are the ever-so-lightly salted black beans that are in the mochi. It is often listed in magazines and television programs as one of the best mamé daifuku in the city, and for good reasons.

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Mizuho is located on one of the narrow streets off of Omotesando. The shop opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes when it sells out. It is closed on Sundays.

If you are not a fan of wagashi, try Mizuho. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Mizuho 瑞穂

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 6-8-7

Le Pain Quotidien

Pain1

For one year I lived in Brussels. Just down the street from my apartment was a Le Pain Quotidien. I went about two to three times a week. Some nights for a baguette to have with wine and cheese. Mornings I could pop in and pick up a croissant. There was a small garden in the back with some tables and inside a large communal table. On the table were jars of confitures and chocolate-hazelnut spread. It was a popular shop and I loved seeing what the customers were dining on. Usually the signature open-faced tartines or salads.

Pain2

I then moved back to New York City and couldn’t be any happier when Le Pain Quotidien opened in Manhattan. The branch I went to the most was in Soho, just down the street from the French Culinary Institute where I took both the bread and culinary programs. The ambience was a bit different in NYC, but the bread was just as good. Here we could order wine by the carafe and some cheese to enjoy with our bread.

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And, now Le Pain Quotidien has followed me to Tokyo. I believe the first location opened near Shiba Koen which is an area I hardly ever get to. And, as there are so many great boulangeries in the city there is no need to make a special trip. The shop in Omotesando is just around the corner from where my cousin lives. She has a young boy and this is a kid-friendly shop so we came for lunch.Pain4

I was excited to see the breads I love so much, a communal table, and the familiar menu. This Mediterranean platter has hummous, tahini, and tabbouleh. The only thing that really changed from the other restaurants I’ve been to in the past is that there is a mini-buffet where the complimentary spreads are congregated. While there is a communal table, everyone this day was sitting at the tables.

It’s perfect for the solo diner or if you want to come with friends. The menu has frittatas, salads, and tartines. A great spot to keep on your radar when in Omotesando and vegetarian-friendly.

And, as one would expect of a European bakery, it is open bright and early in the morning, starting at 7:30 a.m. Some great bakeries in this city that don’t open until 10 a.m. or even later. This and Gontran Cherrier are an exception.

Pain5Le Pain Quotidien Omotesando

Minato-ku, Kita-Aoyama 3-5-15

03-6721-1173

7:30 a.m. – 23:00 (last order at 22:00)

Other branches at Shiba Koen 3-3-1, and Opera City in Nishi-Shinjuku.

Tokyo’s Best Coffee – Five Questions for Mal Simpson

While Japan is known for its rich tea culture, there is no shortage of coffee shops, some with a cult following. Many citizens of this fast-paced metropolis stay energized with java. Shochu is more up my alley so I asked a friend, and coffee aficionado, who has made the rounds of Tokyo’s top coffee destinations for his verdict.

Mal Simpson, from Sydney, is part of the management team at Decanter, the flagship restaurant at the Tokyo American Club. See more on Mal below.

1. How did you get into coffee? Do you make coffee at home? If so, where do you buy your beans?

From my café days, the coffee machine was always so close to the kitchen line. When I open new places I always ask the chefs to try the coffee. They seem to know what they like even if they are not connoisseurs as such.

I don’t generally make coffee at home but if in a jam or too lazy to leave the house I use a MyPressi Twist hand held coffee maker. I buy my beans at NOZY Café, great blends and they always change their line up. Plus you get a great discount on a coffee when you buy beans there.

2. What is unique about the Tokyo coffee scene? The siphon coffee? Art work on lattes?

The art on some of these lattes is pretty awesome at some of the joints. Worthy of their own art exhibition for sure. Now there’s an idea! I prefer consistency and convenience with my coffee. I return to my regular haunts mainly because of these aspects.

3. Any thoughts of the ubiquitous canned coffee. Have you seen the Georgia Wa mattcha flavored coffee?

I think there is a statistic somewhere that says there is a vending machine in Japan for every 20-odd people. I do drink canned coffee every once in a while when an interesting new one comes out. The hot cans in winter-time come in handy. One in each hand whilst walking to the train station keeps you warm.

4. What do you think about old-style coffee shops like Renoir?

Yes I don’t frequent the old style “kissatens” at all. The ones I have been to are dark and gloomy and full of old people drinking watered down coffee through coffee stained teeth and chain smoking in constant haze of smoke. You get an ashtray and a glass of water as soon as you sit down. I read that there used to be around 160,000 kissatens in post WW2 Japan. Now there are less than 70,000 left, fading away in favour of the Starbucks, Excelsior Café and new-look Doutor Cafes. The one I went to in Nerima just outside central Tokyo looked like the furniture, décor, the staff and the menu prices had not changed in 50 years.

5. Your favorite coffee shops in Tokyo? Any coffee shops with really good food? What makes them special? 

It is hard to find a café in Tokyo that has all my prerequisites. Ultra cool, good service, fun staff, outdoor seating, great coffee and chilled music. But there are a few gems around that are worthy of a mention. (All coffee photos by Mal Simpson.)

 

Nozy – Sangenjaya (Setagaya-ku, Sangenjaya 2-29-7, http://www.nozycoffee.jp) – Home roasted, single origin, yes very old school idea considering the fad these days. Popular with cyclists, slightly off the beaten track though. They roast the beans in a small room right next to the coffee machine. You can imagine the beans hardly have time to cool before they are ground up and made into your coffee order. Talk about fresh! Owner Masataka Nojo started out in Shonan I heard back in his University days. Grab a brew take away and sit across the road in Setagaya Park. The coffee flavour will linger on in your mouth for the rest of the afternoon.

 

Streamer – Harajuku (Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 3-28-19, http://streamercoffee.com) – The owner Hiroshi Sawada seemingly has managed to make baristas look like rock stars. He has done collaborations with Apple, New Balance, Armarni, Casio, Patagonia and his latest gig is Barista Sports wear. Some of the merchandising he does in store is pretty cool too.

 

Lattest – Omotesando (Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 3-5-2m http://lattest.jp) Produced by Sawada of Streamer, inside looks like a warehouse art gallery. Staff are passionate about coffee and very friendly. As my friend quickly noticed, the girls’ uniform seems to be cut off jeans and sneaker. He often stays for several coffees of an afternoon.

 

Globe – Ikejiri (Setagaya-ku, Ikejiri 2-7-8, http://www.globe-antiques.com/cafe/) I love hanging out at this place on a rainy afternoon. Set in the corner of a huge antique shop in an equally impressive multi-storied building. You can basically buy the chair you are sitting on and add it to your bill. Fun selection of cakes under the counter and coffee served in a French-style bowl.

 

Gazebo – Daikanyama (Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Nishi 1-33-15, http://www.gazebo.jp) One of the only places that you can sit in the sun and people watch whilst sipping coffee on the patio. They do a very reasonable light lunch set weekdays. Gazebo was one of the first places I found in Tokyo that had a discount when you “checked-in” to Gazebo using facebook.

 

Breadworks – Tennozu Isle (Shinagawa-ku, Higashi-Shinagawa 2-1-6, http://www.tyharborbrewing.co.jp/en/breadworks/about/story-of-breadworks/) – By the same guys who do Cicada and TY Harbour brewery etc. Built in an old factory warehouse and with a great deck for seating out along the waters edge. It hardly feels like you’re in Tokyo. I can never decide if I want to have their coffee and fresh made bread/pastries or go next door for a beer breakfast at TY Harbour. Worth a trip out there for brunch.

 

Nakameguro Lounge – Nakameguro (Meguro-ku, Kami-Meguro 3-6-18, http://nakameguro-lounge.net) – Ultra cool themed lounge. Always playing cool deep house or lounge and the odd acid jazz or sultry jazz track. Great coffee, excellent service and very reasonable prices for coffee and food.

 

Bear Pond – Shimokitazawa (Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-36-12, http://www.bear-pond.com) – I think I would incur a wrath of complaints if I didn’t mention Bear Pond. Although my experience there was not as pleasant as others. I found the hand written signs around warning you not to take photos a little off-putting and the staff were far to overly “secretive” about their beans and roasting. The place is no bigger than a six mat tatami room and too far out of the way for me to make regular trips out there. In saying that, it is insanely popular and it was a great coffee. You should try the Ristretto. The owner is obviously totally into the coffee but I still rate NOZY Café as the best so far.

More on Mal:

After Graphic Design College thinking I could change the world, I quickly lost my passion for design and the inbred big corporate industry advertising and wound up helping out in my friends sushi bar. After wondering around the Japanese resto scene on the Gold Coast for a few years I eventually found some direction by studying Cajun Cooking at New Orleans Café (1996) in Sydney under my Chef mentor Chef Shea of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril’s kitchens fame. Played around in fine dining in Sydney for a while at Coast and Manta (1998) before moving to Tokyo. Opened a small restaurant in Ebisu with Chef David Miney of Harvey Nichols/London (1999-2001) After another brief stint in Sydney (2001-2002) re-opening a revamped New Orleans Café. Moved back to Tokyo and started up as Maitre’d at the newly opened Legato from Global Dining (2003-2006). Moved to London (2006-2010) and opened 4 Japanese restaurants, mainly for the Bincho Yakitori group with UK Restaurateurs David Miney, Dominic Ford and Ronnie Truss. (2011) Now at TAC as part of the Management team, started the new restaurant Decanter and helped developed the Vegas-style Steak House concept.

Hobbies: Abseiling, Rock climbing, Cycling, Hiking, Tennis. I still do some activities with the local Boy Scouts of America as a Venturer Leader. Travel of course, as well as coffee and drinking wine… they go hand in hand really…

Two Rooms

Two Rooms

Two Rooms

Two Rooms near Omotesando has one of Tokyo’s best dream teams at the helm of the restaurant. In the kitchen, chef Matthew Crabbe’s impressive resume includes the New York Bar and Grill at the Park Hyatt and Kyoto’s Hyatt Regency. Eddie Baffoe was the popular bar manager at the Oak Door at the Grand Hyatt. Rounding out the team, Nathan Smith’s most recent position was as the Food and Beverage Director at the Park Hyatt. The stellar trio bring to the table enough experience between them that expectations are high, and they do not disappoint.

Two Rooms consists of a dining room, complete with counter seats overlooking the open kitchen, communal tables and booths along one wall. The other room consists of a bar overlooking a well stocked wine cellar. One of the central highlights of the space is the open-air terrace. The ideal late afternoon cocktail can be enjoyed on the outdoor patio, and the evening brings a cool and lively vibe to the bar area.

There is a great list of cocktails including mojitos based on fresh fruit juice like passion fruit and mango. The 1,800 bottle wine list is one of the better ones to be found in Tokyo. Mostly filled with new world wines, regions like Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. are well represented. Classic wines from Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and a handful of Italians round out the line-up.

The Two Rooms Caesar salad is a well-seasoned delight and the fresh local fruit tomatoes are sweet and juicy, served with Italian buffalo mozzarella. Well-selected meats are simply seasoned and grilled. Options include pork from Iwate, Fukushima chicken, and marbled wagyu beef from the Hida Takayama area. If you prefer meatier steaks, you might want to lean towards the Australian cuts from Rangers Valley. Popular sides include the fried fat cut potatoes and the mushrooms sautéed with hazelnuts.

Two Rooms excels at using local ingredients, and this continues with the dessert menu. Amaou strawberries bursting with flavor and aroma are served as a bavrois with lemon meringue. The crème brulee is based on Shizuoka matcha green tea and is paired with kinako (roasted soybean powder) ice cream and Okinawa brown sugar.

The bar menu includes a popular Two Rooms burger as well as prime steak on ciabatta. Sunday brunch tempts diners with Kyoto carrot cake loaf, rum raisin banana French toast, and eggs Benedict.

The dining room is filled with a fair mix of locals and foreigners. Service is professional while maintaining a casual air that evokes the charm of a high-end Western concern. The best part of Two Rooms is the feeling that you are welcome and that this is somewhere one can easily call home. Regardless of the occasion or the time of day, Two Rooms is a great place for food or drinks.

Two Rooms, 5F AO Building 3-11-7 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, tel: 03-3498-0002

This first appeared in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal.

http://accjjournal.com/two-rooms/

Harajuku Taproom for Craft Beer

Bryan & Sayuri Baird's Harajuku Taproom

Bryan & Sayuri Baird's Harajuku Taproom

Photo by Keigo Moriyama

Tokyo is filled with many options for beer and food. What makes one pub stick out over the rest is the quality of the beer and the Harajuku Taproom is one place not to be missed for fans of craft beer. This article from Metropolis, written by my editor, Steve Trautlein, introduces readers to the great pub in Harajuku, just off the popular Takeshita Dori and the wonderful beers handcrafted by American Bryan Baird. Bryan and his wife Sayuri-san have opened up their third taproom in Japan. You will not be disappointed.

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/bar-reviews/harajuku-taproom/

Tokyo Bargain Dining – Maisen Tonkatsu in Omotesando まい泉とんかつ

Maisen's Tonkatsu

Maisen's Tonkatsu

If you have not had tonkatsu in Japan you probably have not experienced the juicy pork cutlet with the crispy panko breaded. This served up with a hot bowl of rice and a large haystack of julienned cabbage does not disappoint. Season the cabbage and pork with some tonkatsu dressing, a dark, sweet, thick sauce (think ketchup and Worcestershire sauce) and dig in.

There are many shops in Tokyo, but one of the perennial favorite on any round up of tonkatsu shops consistently has Maisen at the top. There are many shops, including in depachika for take-out, throughout the city. The main shop, in Aoyama, is a few blocks behind Omotesando Hills, and a short walk from the funky shopping street Takeshita Dori in Harajuku.

Maisen Interior

Maisen Interior

There are several rooms on the two story shop in Aoyama. This is the main dining room. It used to be a bathhouse. I don’t sense it when I am there, and I don’t know why anyone who writes about it seems to feel like they need to mention it. I am including it in this blog so that you can know that yes, this is the tonkatsu shop that used to be a bathhouse.

Maisen Counter

Maisen Counter

There is usually a line, don’t worry, it moves quickly as it is a large restaurant. This here is the counter and guests are usually lined up on the right hand side along the window. There is also a take-out cart in front of the shop.

The tonkatsu sandwich is also popular, fried cutlets with sauce between white bread. I prefer my tonkatsu hot so have not come to understand the popularity of these sandwiches. My recommendation is any small farmed pork on the menu. I have had a great Okinawan pork in the past. Also, be sure to upgrade the soup to a tonjiru, thin slices of pork with vegetables in a miso soup.

Maisen まい泉

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 4-8-5 渋谷区神宮前4-8-5

Phone: 03-3470-0071

http://mai-sen.com/

Food & Wine Go List 2009 for Tokyo

Nihonbashi Yukari

Nihonbashi Yukari

I am often asked for my recommendations for my favorite restaurants in the city. Here is my contribution to Food & Wine’s 2009 Go List for Tokyo.

Japanese chefs are dictating the world’s dining trends with their fierce devotion to seasonality and respect for aesthetics. For more great restaurants, check out our guide to the world’s best places to eat.

Restaurants:

GINZA HARUTAKA

Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-5-8, Kawabata Bldg. 3F

03-3573-1144

Chef Harutaka Takahashi may have a Michelin-starred resume, but he isn’t showy. He turns exceptional seafood into perfect sashimi and sushi in a simple space down the street from Tsukiji Market.
We loved: Anago (eel) broiled in a sweet soy-based sauce.

IVAN RAMEN

Setagaya-ku, Minamikarasuyama 3-24-7

03-6750-5540

http://www.ivanramen.com/

Native New Yorker Ivan Orkin faced skeptics when he opened a 10-seat ramen counter in the Setagaya neighborhood almost two years ago. But now, ramen connoisseurs make pilgrimages to eat his homemade noodles doused in a chicken-and-seafood broth and topped with luxurious slabs of roast pork or nests of pickled bamboo shoots.
We loved: Whole wheat noodles with slow-cooked charred pork topped with a spicy sesame-and-peanut salad.
Insider tip: Ask for the gentei, or daily special.

KONDO

Chuo-ku, Ginza 5-5-13, Sakaguchi Bldg. 9th fl.

03-5568-0923

At this tiny tempura temple, baskets of seasonal vegetables sit on the counter waiting to be battered, deep-fried and served right out of the bubbling oil. Chef Fumio Kondo carefully monitors the temperature of the oil and the cooking time to create a delicate, crisp shell. He serves sweet soy tsuyu dipping sauce on the side, but purists stick to salt.
We loved: Lacy nests of julienned carrots and Satsumaimo sweet potato.

TOFUYA UKAI

Minato-ku, Shiba Koen 4-4-13
03-3436-1028

At this 100-year-old reconstructed sake brewery, the classic kaiseki courses, like seasonal sashimi and seared wagyu, are delicious. The highlight is soy in several forms, including decadent twice-cooked tofu and freshly made tofu simmering in a hot pot of creamy soy milk.
We loved: Deep-fried tofu spread with dengaku miso.
Insider tip: The gift shop sells jars of the sweet dengaku miso.

WAKETOKUYAMA

Minato-ku, Minami-Azabu 5-1-5

03-5789-3838

Revered chef Hiromitsu Nozaki owns several other places in Tokyo, but he likes to hang out behind the counter at his little kappo restaurant (a relaxed relative of kaiseki) in upscale Hiroo. Nozaki preaches the philosophy of shun, or seasonality, as he assembles gorgeous dishes like uni topped shimeji mushrooms.
We loved: Abalone with kimo (liver) sauce and toasted nori.

Hot Food Zone: Kagurazaka

Once renowned for its geisha houses, this area near Iidabashi Station is now called “Petit France” for its many brasseries, bistros and wine bars. Also here are some of the best places to eat nearly every style of Japanese cuisine, like steamed dumplings at 50 Ban (Kagurazaka 3-2), tempura at geisha house–turned–restaurant Tenko (Kagurazaka 3-1) and traditional sweets at Baikatei (Kagurazaka 6-15).

Where to Eat Near: Omotesando’s Shops

MAISEN TONKATSU

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 4-8-5

03-3470-0071

Hidden behind the Omotesando Hills shopping complex, this is a classic spot for humble tonkatsu: fried panko-breaded pork cutlets made from prized regional breeds like Okinawa’s red benibuta hog.

OMOTESANDO UKAI-TEI

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 5-10-1, Gyre Bldg. 5th fl.

03-5467-5252

At this luxe new teppanyaki restaurant, Venetian glass and European art set a fancy stage for chefs grilling extraordinary seafood, vegetables and marbled beef.

YANMO

Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-5-25, T Place Bldg. B1

03-5466-0636

Seafood from the Izu Peninsula, brought in daily, elevates the reasonably priced lunch specials at this excellent restaurant on a side street behind Comme des Garçons.