Don’t get me wrong, I love Japanese food. I can’t get enough zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles eaten dipped in a light soy sauce) and fresh sushi but honestly, eating it everyday would get tiresome. Probably not anytime soon but…eventually. The good news is that Tokyo is not just about tempura and udon. As I mentioned before, the city has become such an international gourmet city that Michelin called Tokyo the world’s best culinary destination and gave the city’s restaurants a total of 191 stars, nearly tripling the total held by Paris (65). The Japanese have learned from the world’s cuisine and many extremely good Italian, French, etc restaurants have emerged in Tokyo.
What’s more surprising is that you can get a good meal anywhere here…from a humble beef bowl stand to the poshest kaiseki establishments.
I headed to Roppongi Hills since I heard there was a great art exhibit at the Mori Art Museum and sky deck at the top. One of my favorite places is the Tate Modern in London so when I heard that there was a modern art exhibit featuring some pieces borrowed from the Tate, I thought it would be a good way to spend the day. More on the Turner Prize exhibit and the sky deck later on.
I had also heard of a great “fast food” pasta place in Roppongi Hills, a massive shopping/cinema/museum complex, called simply “Te”. Te appears to have been pulled from futuristic, big-brother society movies like Equilibrium or Gattaca with the spotless white walls, white counter, white stools and stainless steel everything else. There are eleven different pastas to choose from, varying from bolognese, tuna and broccoli, and arrabbiata.
Since I love pesto, I thought I’d try the “pasta genovese“, described as fresh basil and pine nuts. There are two chefs behind the counter who greet you warmly and tell you that you make your order, much like many small restaurants in Japan, from the vending machine off to the side. After you get a ticket, they ask if you are eating here or taking it with you.
My meal took about ten minutes to prepare as I watched one chef cook the spaghetti and then toss it in a mix of fresh basil and olive oil (and I think a bit of parmigiano reggiano) before mixing in some pine nuts. Some of the ingredients are prepped before hand but each dish is made to order…and made very quickly!
The pasta is a perfect al dente with a bit of a bite to it and the pesto was so beautiful and fragrant that I scooped the rest into my spoon and ate it after all my noodles were gone. This was one of the best pestos I’ve ever had…miles and miles above the stuff you’d normally get from a grocery store and maybe even better than, dare I say it, many popular Italian restaurants. The portions aren’t huge (you can order an extra large portion for 200 yen more) but very, very good for something that was a mere 680 yen in the world’s most expensive city.
My first experience at Te was so good that I went back after I came out of the Mori Art Museum hours later. The same chefs were still there and I get the idea that they weren’t all that surprised to see me back so quickly. I ordered a spaghetti vongole bianco (fresh clams with olive oil and garlic) to go, to see how this would differ from eating at the counter.
The container was searing hot to the touch and opening it up brought on a cloud of steam that immediately fogged my glasses. I have a feeling that you could probably take this home after a ride on the subway and it would still be nice and warm. The sauce is full of garlic in a light but flavorful olive oil…and look at all those clams!
This isn’t the two or three clams that we saw thrown into random bowls of noodles in Taipei (as well as Dot Com Toilet). It was a freakin’ mountain of them!
I’d hazard a guess that there were probably more clams than spaghetti in my little take-out bowl. They were indeed fresh and every one was open, without any sand or fishy taste that you might get from…lesser quality clams. Perfect for a dish with so much garlic…and all for only 780 yen. A steal in this city.
I think by the time I return to Canada, I will have gone to Te at least two or three more times. It’s that good…and that good of a value. Even though it’s prepared quickly, you get the idea that the chefs take great pride in making each order perfect. I’ve been to Italy (twice!) and I think this place, a little place that sits less than 15 people in a mall in Japan, is just as good… if not better.