Monday, April 27, 2009

59. Restaurant Review: L-Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Roppongi Hills)

A sister restaurant to the chef's Paris location, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a welcome addition to Tokyo. The French restaurant is 'Roppongi Hills Casual' (meaning: not that casual) and most guests are seated at a long bar counter that overlooks a completely visible kitchen. There are also three tables that can seat four each.

Sit at the counter, the show is better. The shiny silver (spotlessly clean) kitchen is full of activity, with a staff dressed in all black working in perfect coordination.

I was there for dinner with my husband. We started with a few appetizers including the best shrimp I have ever eaten in my life. It was lightly battered and fried and it melted in my mouth. Pricey at 1000 yen each, but I'd order them again.

My main dish was a marinated white fish (3,200 yen), my husband had lamb chops (3,900). Both absolutely delicious. We stopped there, but all of the French people around us (there were quite a few) had a cheese plate with bottles of wine, then coffee,...

Glasses of the house red were 1,300 yen, a 500ml bottle of Evian, 700 yen.There is a 10% service charge, and our bill came to 16,389 yen. Not somewhere you could eat on a regular basis. But, it was some of the best food I've ever eaten in Tokyo, I would recommend it, hands down.

Reservations are only accepted for lunch and early dinner.

Menus are in French and Japanese. If you don't read either, just pick anything - it all seems to be delicious.

Address: Roppongi Hills Hillside, 2nd Floor, 6-10-1 Roppongi
Hours of Operation: 11:00- 22:00 (last order is at 22:00).
Tel: 03-5772-7500

Next door is the Robuchon Boutique, which sells traditional French breads and pastries.

58. Restaurant Review: K-Shiki (Mandarin Oriental Hotel)

With incredible views of Tokyo from the 38th floor, K'Shiki is a restaurant in the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It has an elegant Japanese feel, with huge windows overlooking the city.

I visited this restaurant in a group of 25, and it was strongly suggested that we order the Mandarin Lunch Set. Three members that were unable to eat seafood ordered a pizza set instead, but the rest of us never saw a menu.

The lunch was 'Asian-inspired'. First, an appetizer of raw? scallops and octopus, cut into tiny pieces and mixed together. Perhaps a dish the Japanese would really like, it was not a big hit for our American crowd. Next was a wasabi flavored cream risotto with seaweed sprinkles. I found it quite tasty, but two of the ladies close to me only had a bite.

The main dish was a choice of roasted tenderloin or sea bream in a rice cracker coating. Both of these entrees were excellent. For dessert we had some vanilla bean ice cream and a fried wonton stuffed with chocolate. Everyone liked the ice cream (of course), but the wonton with chocolate was not that tasty. We also had a choice of tea or coffee.

Considering that the Mandarin Oriental is a major international hotel chain, I think they should have thought twice about recommending this set to our group. Americans are not known for having adventurous palettes. I have lived in Japan for 11 years, and even I wish that I had been given a different choice.

Service was excellent, although I felt there was too much of a gap between when we finished and when the desserts and coffee/tea arrived. Also, when asked if we preferred separate checks, we said 'yes'. I don't think they anticipated a 'yes' and there was quite a bit of commotion. We did get our separate checks, though.

The Mandarin Lunch Set was 3500 yen with a 10% service charge (a 5% consumption tax was already included). I will never understand why there has to be a service charge. Almost nowhere else in Japan is one ever included. I always feel cheated when foreign hotel chains insist on this practice. Since we had just completed a tour of the spa and they were courting our business, we did receive a 10% discount on our meal. That took care of our service charge, but everyone else in the restaurant still had to pay one.

I also ordered their least expensive glass of wine (1400 yen). One coke was ordered (900 yen). With drink prices so high, our other 23 members just drank water.

Although the view was magnificent, I doubt I will eat here again. I may, however, bring guests from overseas to the hotel. Perhaps we'll have better luck at one of the other restaurants, or maybe we'll just have drinks. For those who don't want to spend a lot of money for the view, just stand in the lobby. Or, even better, go to the bathroom. Definitely one of Tokyo's best free views of the city!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

57. Area Review: Sangenjaya (Setagaya)

Just outside of Shibuya on the Den-en-toshi Line is Sangenjaya, which means 'three tea houses'. The area was given this name because travelers from the countryside would stop here on their way into Tokyo. The tea houses are gone, and although there are a number of nice shops/restaurants in the area, there are three main reasons to visit:

First, it is a starting/ending station of the Tokyu Setagaya Line, one of only two remaining streetcars in Tokyo.

Second, is the Carrot Tower. It is Setagaya Ward's tallest building, and as it was built to attract people to Sangenjaya and the ward itself, it has a free observatory on the 26th floor.
There are many observatories in Tokyo, but I like this one because Sangenjaya lies outside of the Yamanote Line and their are no other tall buildings nearby. It gives a very unique perspective of the city.

The best way to enjoy the observatory is to have lunch there. Since the Carrot Tower is owned by the Setagaya Government, the restaurant has a cafeteria feeling, but the view and tasty food more than make up for its lack of style. The menu is all in Japanese, but if you can read katakana, you can read most of the choices. Best of all, lunches start at only 1100 yen and usually include salad and coffee/tea.
The Setagaya Public Theatre is also located in the Carrot Tower. And, I am happy to say, they actually have an English website:

The third reason to visit Sangenjaya is because it is home to one of Tokyo's two Samba Festivals (the other is in Asakusa). It is called the 'Sancha Matsuri' and in 2008 was held on August 23 and 24. The festival commemorates the historic relationship between Japan and Brazil, and it features an impressive Samba parade, live performances, and booths selling a wide variety of products.