by Christine Cunanan Miki
There we were on an early summer Sunday night having cocktails with friends on the terrace of La Colina, with a forest of greenery in front of us and a romantic view of sparkly skyscrapers in the background, feeling like we were anywhere else but in Tokyo. Everyone was in relax mode even if there was work the next day.
Much of the cool-down was inspired by La Colina’s first-rate setting. With its multinational clientele and staff, chic outdoor furniture and large terracotta-potted plants, and even a rattan lounge-bed on one side for those who order one too many margaritas, it’s really more Asian resort than mid-tier Tokyo restaurant. And, in spite of the fact that we were actually in the middle of Roppongi, it was quiet save for the pleasant chatter of diners around. If not for the cool evening breeze, I could’ve sworn we were in Singapore.
If you’re stuck in Tokyo and hankering for a place to chill out in this summer, look no further than this little spot of paradise in the swanky new Midtown complex. La Colina’s terrace is a wonderful place to slowly savor the evening in once the sun goes down; and even the food they serve will make you think you’re on holiday.
We started the evening with a round of margaritas and some rather expensive guacamole dip that arrived with only four measly tortilla chips—and more chips cost extra. My neighbor Bruce, who knows his liquor, gave the drinks high marks for taste. He also liked it that the margaritas were served with proper ice cubes instead of crushed ice. Meanwhile, La Colina’s menu states that the guacamole dip will be specially made to our preferences, but no one asked us how we wanted ours and before we knew it, the dip was on the table. It was okay, but I would have preferred more salt.
I chose a six-course dinner menu (¥6,830), which seemed reasonable but was actually hit-and-miss—as was the service. However, the atmosphere made up for it and most dishes were good enough to prevent me from asking for my money back.
The meal began with a round of appetizers that were thankfully not the usual Tex-Mex fare. The crispy tortilla with soft octopus (tostada de pulpo) was rather bland; but the seafood and tomato soup (chilpachole mixto), Mexico’s version of bouillabaisse, was delecta-bly spicy with herbs and chilis. A country-style cactus and potato salad (ensalada de nopales) initially didn’t look very appealing, but we loved the softness of the cactus and its rich sour-and-salty taste.
We greatly enjoyed the two main courses that followed. A chicken crepe swimming in a mole (Mexican sauce) made of pistachio nuts tasted like a chicken sandwich—but an excellent one at that. We could not have enough of it. Then some hefty slices of tuna were served on a bed of peppery mole, seared on the outside and almost sashimi-quality rare inside. It was not as good as the chicken, but it was a refreshing take on a popular fish dish found in many fusion restaurants as well as in fancy places along America’s West Coast.
Of course, we had to have extra orders of dessert to supplement the delicious crushed pineapple cake that came with our meal; and two offerings particularly piqued my interest. One was a dark chocolate cake with a hint of chili and with all the appropriate heaviness of Mexico’s tumultuous past seemingly baked into it. It was rich, moody, and exotic. Another was a lovely milky flan called “flan de la abuela” (grandmother’s flan) that was so thick, creamy, and beautifully old-fashioned that I myself remembered the after-school treats that my grandmother, of Spanish ancestry, used to make. That alone is worth a second trip.