Thursday, May 26, 2011

66. Restaurant Review: Ristorante Stefano (Kagurazaka)

Want delicious, authentic, Venetian-style Italian food in Kagurazaka; then visit Ristorante Stefano. You can't go wrong when Stefano himself is very 'hands-on' in this quaint little bistro.

The atmosphere is warm, with dark wood beams crossing a white ceiling, and walls half wood and half 'beige-clay' colored. Table cloths are also beige, and wood chairs are covered in a European-style burgundy print. There are fresh flowers on every table, and candles which are lit in the evening. Decorations are minimal, with simple plates and masks from Venice adding to the ambiance. Italian music plays lightly in the background; while during the day, two frosted windows let in light, but cannot be seen through.

There is seating for about 24. Most tables are for two, but can be pushed together for larger parties.

Upon being seated, I was brought a green glass bottle filled with cold water. Although the sets are explained in English, the menu items themselves are only in Italian and Japanese. However, they were not so difficult to figure out and if you have any doubts, ask Stefano to explain them to you, he speaks wonderful English.

I ordered the least expensive lunch set, the Mezzo. It included a choice of appetizer, choice of pasta, a side of bread, coffee (or tea), and dessert for 2100 yen. I also ordered a glass of the house red wine which was 730 yen.

The wine was very good, and was served at room temperature. My appetizer choice was asparagus wrapped in bacon and topped with a slightly cooked egg, which I broke open to allow the yolk to run all over. Not the lowest calorie choice, I know. But, absolutely melt-in-your-mouth! The lady next to me had a large, tasty-looking salad.

I was given a small basket filled with three types of bread; focaccia (they alternate, rosemary or oregano), a whole grain, and a short, dry 'cracker' called grissini. All were baked on the premises.

The pasta I chose was gnocchi with rucola, tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese in an olive oil sauce. Absolutely delicious, but I would not choose this appetizer and pasta combination again as both were very rich. Maybe I'll have the salad next time...

After lunch I was given a choice of a multitude of different coffee and tea choices. I had the ice coffee, but only because the temperature in the restaurant was a little warm. I don't know if it was warm on purpose (the clientele was 90% Japanese women, who are always cold), or if it was just that day. I plan to visit again (and again) and I hope it is cooler next time.

Dessert was a beautifully presented pannacota with a small slice of apple tart. It was garnished with cream, fresh mint, and some tasty sauces.

Stefano constantly made the rounds, conversing with all of the patrons and often serving the dishes himself. He was charming and explained the ingredients of each dish.

There are three lunch sets to choose from. The Mezzo, mentioned above. The Pieno, same but add a main course (3150 yen). And, the Stefano Special Course - daily specialties for 4200 yen. Customers can also choose from the a la carte menu and they will receive 10% off during lunch time.

In the evening, choose from an a la carte menu, which is divided into Venetian traditional dishes and Stefano’s Veneto specialties, in addition to daily specials. There is also a fixed course at 8500 yen, or choose from a variety of courses starting at 4500 yen. A 500 yen table charge includes dessert plate and coffee/tea.

I highly recommend Ristorante Stefano if you are in Kagurazaka and have a craving for Italian!
UPDATE:  I recently met someone from the Italian Embassy and I asked them for their three favorite Italian restaurants - Stefano's was one of them!
Hours of Operation:
Tues - Sat. 11:30 - 14:00 (last order) / 18:00 - 22:00 (last order)
Sun. 12:00 - 14:00 (last order) / 17:30 - 21:00 (last order)
Closed on Mondays.

Address: Terui Bld. 1F, 6-47 Kagurazaka
*One minute walk from Kagurazaka Station (Kagurazaka Exit). Beside 'Softbank'. Down a long, slightly dark corridor. Look for the menu posted on a podium near the sidewalk.

Phone:  03-5228-7515

NEW INFORMATION:  Stefano has opened a more casual establishment just up the slope from Ristorante Stefano.  It is called 'Brusca'.  They occasionally have live music.  See the above website for more information.

Address:  Hosoya Bld., 2F, 107 Yarai, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo
Phone:  03-6457-5788, closed on Monday

Friday, November 19, 2010

65. Museum Review: Hara Museum of Contemporary Art

Founded in 1979, the Hara Museum was one of the first contemporary art museums in Japan.  Located in Shingawa Ward, the building was originally a private residence constructed in 1938. 

The entrance to the museum is surrounded by lovely shade trees, and a number of exhibits are scattered around the lawn.  Inside are two floors containing 5 gallery spaces and a cafe overlooking a grassy space that contains more exhibits and outdoor seating. 
The museums's collection comprises of about 1,000 works by leading and upcoming artists from around the world.  In addition to permanent sculptures in the garden, there are some very interesting permanent exhibits inside including 'My Drawing Room' by Yoshitomo Nara and 'Time Link' by Tatsuo Miyajima. 
By the way, when you wander the museum, don't hesitate to open any doors that you see.  Except for the obvious (toilet, office), behind most doors are exhibits themselves. 
On my most recent visit, the museum was holding a special exhibition for Jae-Eun Choi called 'Forests of Asoka'.  I often find the exhibits here to be quite bizarre, but was pleasantly surprised with Choi's work.  *Her exhibit runs through December 26, 2010.
This museum never seems to be busy, and they offer a couple of really tasty lunch specials, as well as some yummy desserts.  Although I don't find the garden space (above) to be that impressive, it is a quiet oasis in the city.  The garden/park of Gotenyama is directly behind the museum and entry is free.

Address:  4-7-25, Kitashinagawa, Shingawa Ward
Phone:  03-3445-0651
Hours of Operation:  11:00am - 5:00pm, Wednesdays until 8:00pm.  *Last entry 30 min. before closing.
Closed:  Mondays
Admission:  1000 yen (general), 700 (high school and univ student), 500 yen (elem and Jr high).
*Free for students through high school every Saturday during the school terms.

Directions:  5 minutes by taxi or 15 minutes by foot from Shinagawa Station (Takanawa Exit).  Or, from the same station, take the No. 96 bus, and get off at the first stop (Gotenyama), and walk 3 minutes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

64. Museum Review: Shiodome Museum / Rouault Gallery (Shiodome)

When Panasonic opened their new headquarters in Shiodome in 2003, they also opened the Shiodome Museum to showcase the paintings and prints of the twentieth century French painter Georges Rouault (1871-1958).  Their collection, which consists of approximately 200 of his works, have been collected by the company as part of its cultural contribution to society.
A rotating selection of Rouault's work is on permanent display, and the museum periodically holds special exhibitions relating to the artist. In addition, the museum holds exhibitions on themes corresponding to the actual undertakings of the company, such as "architecture and living" and "life and design."
The current exhibition, Hans Coper Retrospective - Innovation in 20th Century Ceramics, runs from June 26, 2010 - September 5, 2010.  Hans Coper was one of the masters of British ceramics in the 20th century.  If you've never seen his work, this is a great opportunity - It is impressive and  very original.
The museum itself is very quiet (very few people know of its existence), well laid out, and easy to get to. 
Hours of operation:  10:00 am - 6:00 pm (Entry until 5:30 pm).  Closed on Mondays (excluding holidays), New Year holidays, museum summer holidays, and during changes of exhibits. 
Admission:  Adults:500/ Senior high school and college students:300/ Elementary school and junior high school students:200/ Seniors:400     (Different fees may be charged during special exhibitions.)
Address:  Shiodome Museum   4F Pansonic Electric Works Tokyo Headquarters, 1-5-1 Higashi-Shimbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 105-8301
Phone:   03-5777-8600

Five-minutes' walk from Ginzaguchi Exit of JR Shimbashi Station.
Three-minutes' walk from Exit 2 of Shimbashi Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line.
Three-minutes' walk from the ticket wicket of Shimbashi Station on the Toei Asakusa Line.
One-minutes' walk from Exits 3 and 4 of Shiodome Station on the Toei Oedo Line

Thursday, April 15, 2010

63. Museum Review: Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum

Taro Okamoto was Japan's pioneer in avante-garde art.  He was a painter, photographer, sculptor, designer, and more!  Influenced by Picasso at a young age, his art was radically different than anything a Japanese had ever created before. 

Here is a very interesting video about him:
The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum in Minami-Aoyama was Okamoto's home and studio for over 40 years. He lived there until his death in 1996 at the age of 84.  The museum has over 600 pieces, including a 140cm prototype for his 'Tower of the Sun', which is a 70 meter tall sculpture created as the symbol of the 1970 Osaka Expo.
In addition to displaying his works, the museum kept Okamoto's studio and garden intact. 

A small cafe called 'A Piece of Cake' sits next to the garden and it is not necessary to pay the entrance fee to enter either.  The day I was there a Japanese mom had brought her daughter to the garden to color (see photo below).  Obviously inspired, the two of them were drawing vigorously!    
Many of the paintings here are unfinished works as Okamoto had already donated over 1,800 of his pieces to the city of Kawasaki before he passed away.  You can see my entry on that museum here:

Even if you are not a fan of this type of art, the museum is a quiet, and interesting, oasis not far from Omotesando. 
Admission:  600 yen for adults, 300 yen for elementary school students
Hours of Operation:  10am - 6pm (last entry at 5:30).  Closed on Tuesdays and during the New Year's holidays.

Address:  Minato-ku, Minami Aoyama 6-1-19, 8 minutes walk from Omotesando Station.
 Use exit A5, go right.  Walk down to the third traffic light and turn right (the Nezu Museum will be in front of you).  Walk straight, and just before the main street (and traffic light), make a right. 
Phone:  03-3406-0801
Website:  http://www/  (Japanese only)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

62. Museum Review - Nezu Museum

Recently re-opened after a three year renovation, the Nezu Museum is an incredible oasis within Tokyo. The industrialist and President of Tobu Railway, Kaichiro Nezu, originally opened this museum at his private residence in 1941. The museum and grounds cover more than 20,000 square meters. Within that space are the museum itself, a large Japanese garden, several tea houses, and a small cafe.

The museum is divided into 6 galleries:
1) Special Exhibitions
2) Paintings and Calligraphy
3) Sculpture
4) Bronzes
5) Decorative Arts
6) Tea Arts
The collection also includes lacquerware, bamboo crafts, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and archaeological materials. Altogether the museum possesses over 7,000 pieces, including 7 works designated as National Treasures, 87 Important Cultural Properties, and 96 Important Art Objects. The museum's most famous pieces are its ancient Chinese bronzes and a folding screen of irises by the 17th century artist, Korin Ogata.

The current special exhibition (11/18/09 - 12/23/09) is 'Nezu Seizan: Tea and Art'. Mr. Nezu was an enthusiastic practioner of tea ceremony and he was famous for his end of year 'tea parties' and his incredible collection of tea related artifacts.
All exhibits are labeled in English.
This was my first visit to the Nezu Museum, and I was not disappointed. I was very impressed by the building itself, and its exhibits. But the garden took me completely by surprise. I have visited most of the gardens in Tokyo and this is now my very favorite. It is especially beautiful in the fall.
Unbelievably, it is just down the street from Aoyama-dori and Omotesando Station!
Address: 6-5-1 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062

Getting there: 8 minute walk from exit A5 of Omotesando Station of the Ginza, Hanzomon, and Chiyoda subway lines. It is also 5 minutes from Minami Aoyama 6-chome Bus stop on the Metropolitan Bus Shibu 88 that runs between Shibuya and Shimbashi Stations.

Entrance fees: 1000 yen for regular collection, 1200 for special exhibitions

Hours of Operation: 10am - 5pm (last entry at 4:30). Closed on Mondays, during exhibition installations, and during the New Year's holiday period. When a National Holiday falls on a Monday, the museum is open on that Monday and is closed the next day.

Website: *They have a fantastic English website, and the curator speaks perfect English.

I highly recommend this museum to anyone interested in Japanese culture, art, and gardens

Thursday, October 1, 2009

61. Transportation Review: Tokyo Shitamachi Bus

The Tokyo Shitamachi Bus is a new bus service for the touristy 'downtown' sections of the city. The bus runs back and forth between Tokyo Station and Ryogoku and costs 200 yen per ride for adults (100 for children). They also offer a one-day Toei Bus pass for 500 yen (250 for children), which includes some really good discounts at locations along the route. The pass is good for the Shitamachi bus, and all other Toei buses.

The bus itself has been designed in a retro style, with a large round window on both sides of the back. If you ride the bus, sit beside one of these windows for the best views. Pay or show your pass when you get on the bus, press a button before the stop you want, to get off. Be sure to grab the two English brochures on the bus, they contain a lot of helpful information and good maps.

There are tv's on the bus with English subtitles and stops are announced in a number of different languages. Buses run daily at 30 minute intervals from 9:00 am to around 6:00pm. If you go from end to end, it takes about one hour. The ride is pretty slow, but it gives a good view of the area.

Bus stops are marked in Japanese and English with a sign that says 'tokyo shitamachi bus'.

Here are the stops:

1) Tokyo Station (Marunouchi North Exit)
2) Nihombashi Mitsukoshi
3) Sudacho (Akihabara) - on weekdays and Saturdays
Manseibashi (Akihabara) - on Sundays and holidays
4) Ueno Koen (park) Yamashita / Ueno Station
5) Kikuyabashi (Kappabashi Dogugai Street)
6) Asakusa Kaminarimon
7a) Ryogoku Station
7b) Toei Ryogoku Station (Edo-Tokyo Museum)

I highly recommend this bus to tourists (and locals alike), especially for an entire day of sightseeing in Shitamachi. 500 yen for a day pass (with discounts at locations along the route) is an excellent deal!

*By the way, the Ryogoku Station bus stop is just outside and down the street a little from the West Exit. Just behind the bus stop is a tiny tourist center with really good walking maps of Ryogoku. The maps do not have any English writing on the outside of them, but the map inside is labeled in Japanese and English. Currently the outside of the brochure is burgundy with mostly white printing and a wood block print picture. Be sure to get one!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

60. Temple Review: Tsukiji Honganji

The Tsukiji Honganji Temple dates back to 1617 when Junnyo Shonin, the 12th leader of the Jodo Shinshu Sect of Buddhism in Kyoto, established a branch temple in Edo (Tokyo). Known at that time as the 'Edo-Asakusa Gobo', the temple burned down in the Great Fire of 1657. Permission to rebuild in the same spot was denied by the feudal government. Instead, an area of the shoreline of Hatchobori was reclaimed from the sea by devout followers, many who lived on nearby Tsukudajima. The word Tsukiji means 'built up land', so the temple came to be called 'Tsukiji Gobo' and the district around it became known as Tsukiji.The temple was destroyed again in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and it was rebuilt from 1931 to 1934 with an Indian architectural motif designed by Chuta Itoh, a professor of Architecture at Tokyo University. It will be observing the 750th memorial service of its founder in 2012.

Although the building is large and impressive looking from the outside, the temple grounds themselves are just a huge paved parking lot. Anyone is welcome to go inside, but as the hall is filled with cheap theater seats, it is not terribly impressive. There are English brochures available near the front door, and they explain the history of the temple and the important artifacts stored there. Unless you happen to be walking down the street or visiting Tsukiji Fish Market, I would not go out of my way to visit this temple.
Monthly Dharma talks in English are held generally on the last Saturday from 5:30pm. There is more information on their website:
Morning and evening worship services (in Japanese) are held daily at 7:00am and 4:00pm. There are also special services throughout the year (New Years, Buddha's Birthday,...).
Address: 3-15-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku 104-8435, Tokyo
Phone: 03-3541-1131
Getting there: Hibiya Line to Tsukiji Station. Or, the Oedo Line to Tsukiji-shijo Station.