Friday, 5 June 2009

Antonio's - the quintessential Italian institution!

Some may have noticed, Gentle Reader, that your Humble Correspondent rarely reviews the grand dining institutions that grace this fair city. There be dragons there, I fear, because people have strong views about these culinary icons. There is also the worry that one might be institutionalized oneself, having crossed the stile of middle age and started down the steep slope of decrepitude. So I have always refrained from discussing Petit Point (still my favorite restaurant in Tokyo), Les Saisons, and others. But, as Lewis Carroll wrote in The Walrus and The Carpenter:

"The time has come," the Walrus said,"To talk of many things".
Antonio's is, verily, an institution having been in continuous operation in various locations around Japan for more than sixty (yes, 60!) years. The main branch, in Minami Aoyama, is redolent with that tradition and boasts many happy regulars (Japanese: 常連 jouren) who both sustain and celebrate the Cancemi heritage. Said Antonio (see this history) chose Japan to ply his trade after Italy's surrender in 1943, having happened to be here at the time. Over the years, Antonio built a burgeoning culinary empire and the family continues to be deeply involved in operations.
With the Child Bride engaged in trade nearby, it was obvious that I should remedy an omission of near 20 years by magnanimously offering to escort her to dinner ... hoping my lack of readies would be overlooked in her surprise at such an invitation. We were greeted by the fair Ms Cancemi - surely the grand-daughter or great-grand-daughter of the gallant Antonio - and whisked off to a table that allowed us to enjoy a view of the main dining room and its curios without seeming to intrude on the dining pleasures of other guests.
Your Humble Correspondent(s) dined sumptuously, although she had the temerity to order the Cotoletta Milanese despite the fact that I wanted it. Ever your ready servant, Gentle Reader, I am always loathe to order the same dish as another at table - so I suffered through a wonderfully delicious Cotoletta Parmesano with that sad pout and quivering lip that so endears me to dining companions. We had both tried some frighteningly fresh salad before this, toasting the occasion with some fine Italian beer served in chilled tall glasses before moving on to a luscious Soave Classico that - while a little over-priced - matched the strong flavors of the food to perfection.
Antonio's is a very, very good example of traditional Italian cuisine backed by a noble record of success over three generations - all of this in one of the most difficult "foodie" cities in the world. I, for one, will use it as the yardstick by which I shall measure other Italian venues in Tokyo. It deserves your respect, Gentle Reader, but it also deserves your custom. Too good to waste on flitsome corporate fly-by-nights, take friends and colleagues to Antonio's.
And cast an eye around for a portly gent obviously escaped from an institution. I shall, no doubt, wink knowingly!
Antonio's [Map]: 7-3-6 Minami Aoyama, Minato Ward. t: 03-3797-0388
Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 7/10; Service: 8/10; Antonio-ness: 7/10; Price: ($$) 7/10. Total: 37/50

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