Casual Italian cafe hits the spot

Food & Drink - May 7th, 2004
tokyoweekender_The no-nonsense decor of Ina is bright and cheerful

by Charles J. Waggon

“I’m in the mood for Italian food, Charlie,” Kumiko sighed, “but I’m not in the mood to go to an Italian restau­rant. Does that make sense?”

Actually, I didn’t expect my assistant Kumiko to be making sense. But that did. We’d just fin­ished the last meeting of the spring visit from the top brass from Headquarters stateside. That means lots of meetings; from the breakfast meetings that our guys want, to the evening meetings our local staff wants. And means Kumiko has to be translator from when the cock crows till cows come home.

For dinner most nights over the past ten days, we’d alternate between Japanese food at nearly every kind of place, and thick hunks of every kind of meat at the Oak Door, Lawry’s and Tony Roma’s. No wonder Kumiko was hankerin’ for some simple Italian food. Now I could get my mind around that. But what I couldn’t fathom at hardly was we were standing right in front of the Almond, and you couldn’t throw a rock in any direction without hitting some kinda Italian restau­rant. And Kumiko didn’t seem interested in any one of them.

“I don’t know,” she said blankly, staring into space. “Someplace simple and quiet, and where the waiters aren’t all over you.” I was almost expecting her to add “I vant to be alone.” She was bushed, frazzled and running on empty.

Funny thing, I knew just the place. It’s a cute little joint called Cafe Italiano Ina, on the second floor one of them little buildings near the Roppongi crossing. You’d miss it if you didn’t see the sign. Happened upon it the night they opened at the end of March. New place, looked good, gave it a try. Got me a plate of spaghetti, a bottle of beer, and left without spending hardly nothing.

Ina is quiet, simple, inexpen­sive. No fussy Italian decor what makes you think you’re eating dinner in some damn travel agency. No kinda fancy attitude, neither. Feels like a little mom and pop joint, probably is. Right away I liked the brightly painted wood carvings on the wall.

We were there in a minute, and Kumiko took to it right away. “This is exactly what I had in mind, Charlie, how did you find it?” she sighed as we took a table.

Started out with Vegetable Caponata (¥580), which got your stewed tomatos, zukes, onions, Japanese eggplant and more, fresh basil shreds on top. Went on to Red Snapper Carpaccio (¥880), which is just an Italian way of say­ing sashimi, each slice topped with a tasty ume dressing, superb. Anchovy and Spinach Spaghetti (¥930), lots of greens, anchovy bits and olive oil — they must’ve seen me coming. Kinmedai Snapper (¥1,000) firm, nicely braised, with a generous dab of caper sauce.

House-smoked duck

Good, no-nonsense chow, reasonable prices, but what really got me a rollin’ my eyes and moanin’ was the House-smoked Duck (¥880) — outstanding slices of duck breast, soft with a perfect texture and lots of smoky goodness set off well with the Italian balsamico vinegar dressing. One bite into this one and I ordered another right away.

Naturally, at these prices, por­tions here are small, but for one or two people, that works out in your favor since you can order a mess of little tilings without going much over a few thousand per person. So we kept ordering.

One of the daily specials, baby lobster carpaccio with wasabi-mayo dressing, was a small por­tion but very fresh and tasty. And a plate of garlic toast, tiny pieces, but loaded with garlic, came with a fresh tomato-onion-garlic salsa what you load on with a little spoon.

Kumiko was thrilled they had a bunch of Italian wine, and I was thrilled that weren’t none of it expensive. Good list for a guy like me; five reds, five whites, ¥2,200 to ¥4,600 a bottle, with red and white by the glass at ¥400.

A little dab of everything with the cute dessert assortment

Come time for dessert, I’m stuffed but Kumiko’s gotta have something. Couldn’t make up her mind so she got the dessert assortment, just ¥550 and there’s a bit of everything on the plate, but all together not too much.

The check came and Kumiko picked it up to look, then handed it to me. We had lobster and red snapper sashimi, roast duck, spaghetti, dessert, two glasses of wine — the works. For less than ¥7,000. In Roppongi, no less. I was sure proud of myself.

“Charlie,” Kumiko mumbled through a mouthful of tiramisu, “You really find some great places. But you’re still a cheapskate.”

Cafe Italiano Ina
4-11-8 Roppongi 2F Minatoku, Tokyo Tel. 3401-1444
Open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Closed some Sundays, so call first.
The restauraunt is a one-minute walk from the police box at the Roppongi crossing