Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Casita

Everyone’s been in one of those situations where you’re asked to come up with a restaurant recommendation at short notice, right? (Especially if you write a blog about restaurants ). The deal is a table for 4, Pacific Rim food, Japanese beef, reasonably quiet, on Friday … and it’s payday in Tokyo. Oh, and the guy asking is the new Boss. Hmmm…

I hadn’t been to Casita since I’d started this blog, so maybe a quick call to my mate the Maitre ‘d can scrounge up a table - ah, I see, Gerard’s left the restaurant, (he’s now at Hiroo 148, I believe). Oh boy! From challenge to potential disaster in less time than it takes to peel a banana. Maybe it wasn’t a good sign, but “yes, of course we have a table for the Old Bastard” seemed like a whole lot better than any other option with 5 minutes to go. And to their credit, I’ll say up front that they did a great job in finessing a plea into a bargain.

Maybe it was something about the way I looked, but after the apology for the temporary lack of Australian beer (how could they know?), the staff raced out some ice cold Asahi for the Expat and I while we waited for The Boss and The Consultant to finish a hushed-tones conversation. I’ll never know what the discussion was about, but I’m still convinced it was something to do with my lime green socks and how you can never trust those sort of exhibitionists to choose a good restaurant. Gentle Reader, can you imagine the shame of it all after I had moved heaven and earth to get this reservation?

All 4 of us decided on the set course menu #2, which I imagine was a great relief for the wait staff with the OB the only Japanese speaker on the table. Take my advice and try the set menus here - it gives a good idea of the versatility of the kitchen, although there are some yawning crevasses when they get too het up about a West Coast view of food (West Coast Rule of Thumb: Always add one flavor too many).

We (I) chose the William Fevre 2005 Chablis Premier Cru to start the wine. A good example of how to do Chardonnay right, this is a pleasant wine drinking well right now. Pity The Boss was there actually, as I had suddenly developed an overwhelming urge to get on the outside of as much of this Chablis as possible. I was saved by the Amuse, which appears poorly translated on the menu as “Well-Being” Spoon. The Japanese is much better (一杯の幸福) - A Spoonful of Heaven is a better description. Seafood in Aspic with a Tomato Relish seemed to compliment the wine well, and I was probably grinning like a maniac at this stage. We’d been in brainstorming and strategy meetings for 7 hours, so my brain was mush by this stage … and the Expat starts with a disadvantage anyway.

The Cold Appetizer was Snapper Carpaccio with a tropical fruit salsa. This course, simple to prepare and delightful on the eye, is a good example of Casita getting it right. A delicate balance of textures and colors, that tastes good yet doesn’t dominate a conversation with either friends or a good wine.

This was followed by Caramelized Fois Gras with Apple & Ginger Confiture. Perhaps Chef was having some of the Chablis as well, but mine was over-crystallized and reminded me more of county fair toffee apples than fat geese. Better to take back control of this one, Chef, and leave the Sous to the salads, I think. Our fish course was Sea Bass - Chef followed Google’s advice and did no evil here, but it wasn’t a stand-out and perhaps lost something to the last drops of the Chablis.

Japanese beef deserves a delicate wine, and the Sommelier’s recommendation failed it badly. Hint: The drawing of the lizard on the label of the LaGarto 2005 Merlot gives some idea as to the origin of this wine . Way too powerful, still bruised from fight to get it into the bottle, and a good example of what can happen when a grape variety is taken out of context and geography. Better to admire Argentinian rugby and soccer than oenology and viticulture, in my book.
Our beef, with a Radish Vinaigrette Sauce, was excellent - while the Consultant was expecting a marbled peice of Kobe Beef, my personal view is that there is room for both a contemporary treatment like this as well as the traditional and somewhat hackneyed cattle and beer metaphor (not true by the way). Well turned out, and full of flavor.

We finished with a sample of desserts, and retired to the balcony to drink some good coffee in the balmy evening air. All in all, a good but not great meal that often threatened to disappoint but somehow struggled through. Casita would do better to focus on developing a reputation for clarity in its food direction, rather than trying to carry the “resort restaurant” metaphor too far. Less concentration on the dating behavior of Japanese females, and more effort on the dining experience please.

Food: 7/10, Wine 6/10, Ambience: 8/10, Service: 7/10, Price 6/10. Overall: 34/50 (Two Forks)5-51-8 Jingumae, La Porte Aoyama 3F (Just east Of the UN University). 03-5485-7353

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Indeed a true pleasure, and one that I hope to enjoy with my bride sometime soon, rather than a man in lime green socks.

The food was quite nice, the ambience inviting, and the outdoor experience was like taking a quick retreat away from Tokyo. I should say the OB nailed the review, with the exception of the commentary regarding our dearly departed feathered friend and his beloved liver. The intersection of the sweet caramel crystals and the rich, fatty fair was incredibly good, and worth the trip all on its own......in my humble opinion.