by Charles J. Waggon

Somewheres in December I get this Christmas card from my old buddy Chan in Taipei. Back in the 70s, I was work­ing with him on a project there. Always brang some kinda Chinese chow for lunch – got the biggest kick outta seeing me try it. Most stuff I liked, but what really got me going were these little red sausages, sweet and funky, “xiang chang” I think he called ’em.

So I got to staring at Chan’s card and thinking about them sausages, and ‘fore I know it my eyes glaze over, and there’s drool loopin’ out of one corner of my mouth.

“What’s the matter, Charlie?” Kumiko asked, rousing me out of my daze with a worried look. I told her about Chan’s card and the sausages. “I’ve seen sausages like that hanging in this restaurant in Shibuya,” she said helpfully, “but never been there.”

The thought of drool come true got me going. “Then how ’bout we have din­ner there tonight?”

We get to the restaurant around 7:30, and there’s a line out the door and down the street. Really popular place. I have a look-see, and there’s them sausages hanging up inside. But no way were we gonna wait out in the cold for grub, so I start thinking about dinner someplace else.

I look up, and see this sign that just says “Sonoma.” Now what could that be? Sonoma County north of San Francisco is famous for good food and wine. Walk up and check out the menu by the door. Modern California-style, and they got all kinds of things. Kumiko sees they got California wine, and afore I know it, she’s pulling me inside.

Small and cozy, tastefully done interior with a lot of wood.

Menu’s in English; so’s the service. Bread lands at the table with some kind of red pepper and olive spread. Kumiko’s already called for glasses of Sonoma wine, ¥800 a pop, and we order.

First up is the Harvest Green Tacos with Avocado and Tofu Marinade (¥800). Aren’t tacos at all, but big leaves of tender lettuce with red cabbage and herbs on top. Spoon in the marinade of tofu, avocado and toma­to, roll and eat. That’s right – it’s a salad what you eat like a taco. Put hot stuff inside and it’d be Korean.

Next to land is Grilled Wild Mushrooms with Soy and Balsamico Sauce (¥950). What we got here is a plate of deep, dark rich flavors in a sauce that is thorough­ly worked through all kinda mushrooms, well-grilled and very tender. Goes great with the bread, which soaks up that tasty sauce and mushroom broth.

So far we’d only ordered one main course, and it turns out to be huge. Grilled Chile Poblano Pork Spare Ribs (¥1,500) is four fat little ribs, crispy, grilled and tender to the bone, drenched in a thick, tangy sauce that’s not really hot, but rather smoky, rich and complexly flavored, and mixed with shoestrings of tender nopalitos (cactus).

Under all that’s a big mess of Mexican rice to catch the sauce. Likely they had me in mind when they dreamed up this dish. Powerful heap of food for the money. Sure as fire I’ll be pulling up a chair here often.

Now, I just have no idea what kind of restaurant to call this place. “Fabulous and interesting grub” is close as I can get. They got food influences from all over, and damn near the whole menu looks way tempting. Next time I might start with Indian Samosa with Pancetta and Curry Coconut Sauce (¥600) or Hummous and Babaganoush with Pita Bread (¥900).

Then maybe on to Beijing Crab Linguine with Gouda Cheese Cream Sauce (¥1,200) or Chicken Enchiladas with Blue Cheese and lalapeno Sauce (¥1,000). See what I mean? And at these prices, this has gotta be the most impressive Tokyo chow joint in all of 2002.

To get there, go to the 109 Building in Shibuya, and walk to the left up Dogenzaka. Take the first right on a small street, then the first left (at the brick Chinese restaurant) that angles up a little hill. Sonoma on your right, just before the top.

2-25-17 Dogenzaka 3rd floor
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 3462-7766
Sunday-Thursday 6 p.m. to midnight
Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.