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.
**THIS REVIEW WAS WRITTEN IN 2009. THIS IS A COPY OF AN UPDATED LUNCH MENU.
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!
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