by Christine Cunanan-Miki
Somewhere in Roppongi Hills is the restaurant that garlic built. Il Mulino New York, the famous New York restaurant voted by Zagat as the city’s number one Italian restaurant for the 19th year in a row, has literally made culinary news on its penchant for garlic, garlic — and still more garlic.
Last year, Il Mulino New York opened its Tokyo restaurant with the same formula and recipes, and — interestingly — the same giant portions dished out in Greenwich Village. This is definitely not a restaurant for shy stomachs since everything is done with a flourish and in large portions. Every order is triple the usual Tokyo sizes so it’s best to share everything, and even drinks are filled to the brim so it feels like you’re drinking water out of wine glasses. This is not the place for shy budgets either, since the bill at the end of the evening is likely to be sizable as well.
Il Mulino New York proprietors Fernando and Gino Masci, who hail from Abruzzo in central Italy, take pride in serving what they describe as classical Roman food. However, I personally wouldn’t exactly call the food at Il Mulino New York Italian because I’ve never had meals so aggressive in taste and impression in all my years of diligently traveling — or rather eating — through Italy. The menu may sound the same, but somehow this is not how food usually tastes almost anywhere back in the home country.
Il Mulino New York is more of what I would label New York Italian. For me, New York Italian combines traditional food with a brash New World way of cooking, resulting in a no-holds barred meal that’s strong, sexy and overloaded with the ‘wow’ factor.
And sure enough, almost everything at Il Mulino New York is designed to impress. Apart from the jaw-dropping serving sizes, the restaurant takes care to ensure that having dinner here is part theatrical evening. Fresh scampi are brought to your table at the outset to encourage you to order the house specialty, garlic sauteed scampi with risotto. Order the assorted fruits dessert and a waiter will appear before you and display with a flourish his prowess at peeling oranges and apples. And just before dessert on each visit, I was distracted out of conversation to find a friendly young lady twirling a tablecloth in front of me for Il Mulino New York’s version of a party trick. She then proceeded to flawlessly replace the existing tablecloth with this rolled cloth without taking any of the glasses and utensils completely off the table. On this most recent visit, the staunch environmentalist in me finally asked, “Do you really need to change the tablecloth every time?” The young lady smiled and replied, “It’s sort of a performance for the guests.”
That said, I loved the food here. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you enjoy garlic and strong flavors, look no further than this restaurant. The evening starts off with complimentary plates of bruschetta (bread slices rubbed with garlic and olive oil) topped with tomatoes, chunks of Parmesan cheese, garlic bread, salami and razor-thin sauteed zucchini — all before you’ve even finished ordering your actual meal. These appetizers are so good and filling that one time a friend suggested going home right there and then and saving a bundle of money. The rest of the meal, however, is certainly worth staying (and paying) for. The scampi with risotto combines very tender prawns in a buttery cheese risotto that I’m still thinking about even now, while the black truffle ravioli is a rich dish of creamy goodness. Meanwhile, Il Mulino New York’s version of ossobuco, which is served with a Milan-style saffron risotto, had a huge veal shank bone full of meat and chewy ligaments in a delicious but cholesterol-popping olive oil-based sauce. My husband preferred the scaloppini alla marsala but I enjoyed the ossobuco so much that I happily stayed home the following evening to feast on the leftovers I insisted on bringing back. Even now as I write this, I have one eye on a calendar, trying to find the time and excuse for a visit to Il Mulino New York sometime soon.
WHAT TO EAT
We loved the garlic sauteed scampi served over risotto (¥7,701) and the black truffle ravioli (¥6,200). For main courses, the ossobuco (¥9,811) and the scaloppini alla marsala (¥5,460) were big winners. II Mulino New York’s dessert wagon had lots ol great offerings including a tiramisu made with chocolate chips and probably the only zabaglione I have ever really enjoyed. For a grand finale, older the assorted seasonal fruit platter (¥2,100).
WHAT TO DRINK
We didn’t find any particularly impressive wines by the glass hut there were several good Tuscan reds to complement the strong taste of the food, including the Antinori 2001 from Tignanello (¥20,580 per bottle) and varying vintages of the San Guido from Sassicaia (¥33,600 to ¥399,000).
WHERE TO SIT
The corner tables are great for people watching. If you want to be the focus of other people’s attention, pick one of the tables in the center of the room.
MOW MUCH DID IT COST
It’ll cost at least ¥40,000 for several dishes and a bottle of wine for two people.
WHO GOES THERE
Roppongi Hills denizens, celebrities, power players, and those who like New York-style food.
WHO TO ASK FOR
General Manager Takaaki Washida speaks English and takes care of all the regulars.
Il Mulino New York
Residence D 2F, Roppongi Hills, 6-12-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo