by Christine Cunanan-Miki
Tucked away in the basement just off Koto Dori in Aoyama, a few steps away from the fancy boutiques and salons, is a small but stylish restaurant with simple food inspired by Northern Italy, influenced by Japan, and cooked with a lot of heart. With a menu full of unfussy dishes at quite reasonable prices for this fashionable part of town, dinner here certainly makes for a very pleasant evening.
My friend and I started with a mixed appetizer plate that included creamed pumpkin and assorted homemade cured meats — all of which were tasty but not too rich. Then we shared three different kinds of pasta, including one in a deep pesto sauce dotted with juicy bits of scallop, another with spicy tomatoes and shellfish, and a third, which was topped with organic chicken sauteed in lemon and oil. Each was delicious in a very Italian-Japanese way — meaning none of the sauces were too overpowering, but each was delicately and distinctly flavored, and quietly scrumptious. The food here will not make you suddenly jump up and sing praises, but you will definitely end your meal happy and feeling good about the world.
Ristorante Cortesia’s kitchen is run by 34-year-old Taisei Kushima, who is really more a creator of things delicious and beautiful rather than just a good chef. He delights in hunting game and various wild animals himself in the mountains of Nagano and Yamanashi, and then bringing these back to the restaurant to roast or to make sausages, ham, and bacon. When he can, he also sets out to sea for his own fish; and, when time constraints make this impossible, he drives down to Numazu Port to discuss with the fishermen exactly what he would like them to catch. He even makes his own pasta utensils and is now in the middle of creating a line of pottery for use in the restaurant as well. “I like to create things from nature and I also apply this passion for creating things in my cooking,” he explained. “Perhaps it’s the influence of my father, who was a hunter and a mountain man.”
Chef Kushima is now happily applying his creative and culinary skills to a Christmas menu that promises to literally serve the holiday spirit on a platter. Among other things, he’s planning to make a Christmas ball out of New Zealand king salmon and caviar and to fashion a wreath out of lobster meat.
WHAT TO EAT
Chef Kushima’s specialties include homemade sausages, baton, and ham, so the prosciutto ham with wild mushrooms (Prosciutto e Funghi alla griglia, ¥1,500) and Carbonara pasta with pancetta bacon (Carbonara, ¥2,000) are highly recommended. Another homemade treat worth trying is the crab sausage (Salsiccia Granchio, ¥2,000), which Chef Kushima says he created partly to make crab easier to eat.
WHAT TO DRINK
Italian food is best with Italian wine, Kratos Paestum 2004 (¥6,000/ bottle), a refreshing white from the Campagna region, and Il Baciale Monferrato Rosso 2003 (¥7,000/bottle), a medium-bodied red from the Piemonte region, go well with practically any dish.
HOW MUCH DID IT COST
A dinner course for two with several glasses of wine will cost you at least ¥15,000. For a special occasion, try the chef’s six-course o-makase menu (¥10,000).
WHO GOES THERE
People who live or work in the Aoyama area. The restaurant has also received a lot of good coverage in the Japanese media so not a few diners come from the other side of town just for a bowl of pasta and some homemade sausages.
WHO TO ASK FOR
Keijl Okuno, who owns and manages the restaurant, will be happy to suggest dishes and drinks.
B1F 5-4-24 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062