Food & Drink - March 2nd, 2007

by Christine Cunanan-Miki

When a friend reserved the fusion restaurant Legato for dinner one recent Saturday, I arrived not ready to be pleased with my meal. Although upscale and trendy, it was part of a food conglomerate I’d always felt dished up more decor than flavor. Moreover, I’d been there several times before and the food had always been good enough, rather than great; so that I’d actually never dined there on my  own accord.

What a pleasant surprise, then, to find myself finishing everything on my plate and even reaching over to have more of my husband’s pasta. I don’t know what happened, but sometime in between my last visit over a year ago and last week, it seems the kitchen had cleaned up its act. For one thing, the menu is smaller— everything fits neatly into one page—and those who reserve in advance actually get a personalized one. This probably allows Japanese chef Nao Mizuguchi to focus on his specialties. My orders had intense and clear flavors (rather than the neither-here-nor-there tastes that some restaurants usually pass off as “fusion”) and the ingredients’ quality was very satisfactory for the prices. Also, a highly regarded French pastry chef named Stephane Vieux now oversees the desserts, so the sweets on offer are more sophisticated and refined, and they’ve become an essential part of the evening rather than an afterthought. Stephane trained at Guy Savoy and Pierre Herme in Paris before moving to Tokyo.

For starters I ordered a salad of king crab, avocado and grapefruit with shallot and apple dressing (¥1,650) and a half-portion of calamari and rape blossoms linguine with bottarga and olive oil (¥750). My salad came with generous portions of shredded crab and great chunks of avocado, that paired excellently with leafy greens, sweet cherry tomatoes and a tangy dressing. Meanwhile, my pasta was perfectly al dente and, again, the grated bottarga on top was not just an expensive gourmet ingredient they’d listed to jazz up the offering, but something you could actually taste. The pasta sauce was full of garlic and naturally salty with seafood rather than something out of a bottle.

My main dish, a 150-gram fillet of Miyazaki beef topped with wasabi, garlic and soy sauce (¥4,500), was a well-chosen cut of meat. It was tender, but neither fatty nor oily in the way expensive Japanese beef usually is; and it had the kind of meaty flavor that you’re more likely to enjoy in US beef. Meanwhile, the minced garlic that coated the entire topside of my steak probably had good intentions, but it virtually drowned out the wasabi kick I was expecting. Still, I would order it again, although perhaps with a request to go easy on the garlic.

Legato’s chocolate fondant was pure pleasure and, at ¥1,000, such a treat. It had a crusty top and a firm but soft cake, and the chocolate oozed out as hoped for, and mixed deliciously with a scoop of butter caramel ice cream waiting invitingly on one side of the plate.

Of course, Legato isn’t exactly fine dining, so readers should not expect the kind of culinary perfection found in top Tokyo establishments. A friend described it very accurately as “high-end comfort food”—the kind you’d like to eat on a more-than-casual night out with a bunch of good friends. The interiors will not disappoint, either. Prepare to be mesmerized by golden walls, Moroccan-style star lanterns, sparkly drop lights in the center of the room that seem to float on top of diners’ heads, and fantastic views of Tokyo.

I was happy with everything I ordered: crab, avocado and grapefruit salad (¥1,650), calamari and rape blossoms linguine (¥1,500), 150 grams of Miyazaki beef fillet (¥4,500), and chocolate fondant (¥1,000).

Legato has a proper wine menu, and also a decent set of red and white wines that cost ¥3,990 per bottle. We tried both—a 2001 Pinot Gris called Miserys from Domaine Puig Parahy for ¥7,800 and a 2003 Rioja  called Heredad de Aduna from the ¥3,990 list—and, frankly, unless you’re a stickler, the cheaper set isn’t bad.

Table 52 has plush banquette sofas for seats, more privacy, and great views of Tokyo and the restaurant.

Lots of foreigners in groups and an unusually high number of young Japanese who speak excellent English (judging from overheard conversations).

My husband and I paid ¥25,000 for our share of the meal for four, including champagne and two bottles of wine. It would have cost less than ¥20,000 if we’d cut out the bubbly.

15F E Space Tower
3-6 Maruyamacho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 03-5784-2121