by Charles J.

“There’s this little Italian place the other side of Meiji-dori,” suggested Oscar. Didn’t seem to interest the rest of us.

“How ’bout that hamburger place up the road a piece?” Franklin piped in.

“Charlie Jake don’t like them ‘burgers,” Bud said. “Right Charlie?”

“Darn straight,” I shot back, “I ain’t going no place what puts avocado on a damn hamburger. What they think this is, Los Angeles?”

“Well, we can always go over to the New Sanno,” volun­teered Bud.

“Seems like we always go to the New Sanno…” sighed Oscar.

A few times a year, me and my Old Japan Hand buddies get together for lunch on a Friday. Often times it stretches well into the evening as we cast nets into the collective slough of our Asian experiences and drag out memories like old waterlogged boots.

For some reason we always meet in Hiroo, front of the National Azabu. Ol’ Franklin likes his ice cream, so we’re usual­ly milling around the ice cream shop till everyone shows up.

That day I was kinda in the mood for Japanese food, though I didn’t think anyone else wanted it. We usually go for steak, pizza, Italian food, what have you.

Oh, sometimes we do Chinese. But since we couldn’t agree on anything, I decided to ante up and suggest Japanese.

“Well….how ’bout we have Japanese?” I shrugged. Everyone starts lookin’ at each other, and smiles break out.

“Hey, Charlie, that’s a great idea,” beamed Franklin, as Oscar and Bud nodded in approval. “I was wantin’ Japanese, too, but…

“Where we gonna find a place’s got Japanese food?” Bud mused.

“Any place. Even Hiroo’s got Japanese restaurants” I stammered. “Look, how ’bout that one over there?”

Right across the street I spied a little white sign next to the flower shop. Franklin finished his double scoop, and we walked over to look. Sure enough, there was a Japanese restaurant downstairs, so we all piled in.

The place is called Kicho, and it has a fine modern Japanese interior. Not too fancy, but tasteful. They got a small counter, and the rest is tables.

The Kicho Cozen lunch comes with sashimi and a small pail of tasty little dishes

Oscar and I got the Kicho Cozen lunch of the day, while Bud and Franklin ordered the Sukiyaki lunch. The prices sur­prised me: ¥1,300 for your gozen and ¥1,500 for your sukiyaki, which the menu said was made using 100 grams of genuine Japanese beef. I thought that stuff was supposed to be expen­sive as all get out.

“There’s your quarter pounder,” I told Franklin.

We agreed it was all good chow, and quite a cut above average. Nicely filling, not too heavy. As Bud and Franklin scarfed the beef, Oscar and I compared notes as we picked and prodded through the assortment of little delicacies. The day’s sashimi (snapper and scallop) was superb.

Went back the next week for dinner with my secretary, Kumiko. That’s when the food really got interesting. The hand­written Japanese menu was hard for me to follow, and Kumiko was making sense of it for me.

Lots of tempting dishes around from ¥1,200 to ¥2,000. Scallop and smoked cheese in lay­ers, wrapped with tofu curd sheets and deep fried. Oysters with baked apple. Fresh tuna with cheese baked into a crois­sant-type thing. And more fish choices than you could imagine.

We were stumped, so we ordered the set dinners. Kumiko got a dinner course made to be had with wine, while I got the more traditional-style Rakuzen course. Both are only ¥3,800. There’s also a chefs Omakase course at ¥5,500. They ask that you reserve the courses in advance, and we were lucky because they had a sudden can­cellation that night.

Kumiko got a real surprise with the wine menu—the prices are about the same as retail. She spotted a bottle of French wine from Cahors at ¥3,000 and snapped it up. They got wines from all over the place, mostly around ¥2,000 to ¥4,500. Good sake were around ¥2,000 for a 720-ml. bottle, though I ordered mine by the glass.

The bigger surprise is that, if you don’t like any of their wines or sake, you can bring in your own. They don’t hit you with a corkage fee, but they do charge you ¥300 for each glass you use. For those who really like their drink, you really can’t do better than that.

Charlie Jake sez two thumbs up for lunch or dinner. Reservations recommended. Just across the street from the ice cream shop at National Azabu Supermarket. You can’t miss.

Comutow Hiroo Bldg., B1
5-16-6 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 3445-9205
Lunch: Noon to 1:30 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 to 10 p.m.

 Closed Sundays, national holidays and the second Saturday of the month.