by Christine Cunanan-Miki
LOCATED IN a quirky little house with a glass verandah just opposite the Aoyama Cemetery on Gaien Nishi Street, from the outside Chez Pierre looks like it “landed” in Tokyo straight from a little village in the French countryside. Inside, Pierre Prigent and his friendly staff await to give you what is perhaps Tokyo’s most authentic brasserie experience.
Chez Pierre has been a long-term fixture on the Tokyo restaurant scene and a great favorite of serious Japanese Francophiles. Some of the restaurant’s Japanese regulars sit at the same table at the same time and on the same day of each week, tucking into hearty French fare with gusto. On weekends, an elderly Japanese man who speaks flawless French nurses a basket of bread and bottle of wine solo for hours at one of the verandah tables, perhaps reminiscing about his Parisian sojourns. In the dead of winter, he sometimes wears a beret and keeps a blanket on his lap to fight of the chill, but he never fails to appear for his weekly meal.
Many French residents of Tokyo, on the other hand, seem more inclined to reserve Chez Pierre for special occasions, perhaps because they already cook French food at home and also because this restaurant is not exactly cheap. On ordinary days one sees only the odd Frenchman (or woman) dining there; but on Christmas or Valentine’s Day, for example, the community is out in full force for a gourmet celebration.
The restaurant itself is charmingly old-fashioned—as is Pierre. It’s all kitschy furniture and plastic flowers, but somehow everything looks cozy. On the walls are posters featuring French wine and food, while printed maps of France with each region characterized by a typical dish are used as placemats.
Like most good restaurants, the menu here changes with the seasons. From mid-July to mid-November, for example, moules are flown in from Normandy on Fridays so that weekend diners can savor them stewed lightly in onions, tomatoes, herbs and white wine. In the autumn, Pierre brings around choice cuts of game for roasting. As the days and nights grow even colder, heartier fare starts to appear, including choucroute and bean casseroles. Regardless of the time of year, however, my all-time favorites are the Special Seafood Salad, a vegetable salad topped with slivers of lobster, shellfish and various seafood pate, and tender beef cheeks stewed in a red wine sauce. And if it’s the season, I start with a heaped bowl of moules and end with Chez Pierre’s signature Creme Caramel, which is wonderfully thick in flavor and
Chez Pierre’s chefs are Japanese but, after tasting the fruits of their labors, one would be excused for assuming they were born and bred in Paris.
Cafe Terrasse Restaurant Chez Pierre
23-10 Minami-Aoyama 1-Chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Request Honma-san, the Japanese chef, to make you a Special Seafood Salad (¥3,000) as a starter and then beef cheeks stewed in a red wine sauce (¥3,800) for your main course. If you prefer fish, Pierre always has an excellent and fresh selection.
A bottle of Champagne Demoiselle of Vranken (¥9,000), a light bubbly consisting of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir, which is only available at Chez
Pierre. For reds and whites, the wine list changes every month so it’s best to ask Pierre for a reasonably priced suggestion.
On nice days, the tables for two in the indoor verandah are great. Some of the regulars also like to sit on bar stools and at the kitchen counter.
¥25,000 for two people, including two glasses of wine each and service charge.
Long-time expatriates, Japanese Francophiles, and occasionally lots of people dressed in black from the funeral home across the street.
Pierre himself — he is always happy to give suggestions on food and wine.