by Christine Cunanan-Miki 

DINNER AT Luxor is not your typical upscale Italian dining experience. Its sleek but cozy interiors, fashionable diners and overall frenetic high-energy atmosphere reminds one of a New York restaurant du jour, while its extensive menu — strong on flavorful pastas and meat dishes, liberally peppered with delicacies like home-made sun dried tomatoes and Oscietra caviar — practically shouts “excellent ristorante in Tuscany!”

Whether it is the food, the presentation or the atmosphere, everything is just a little bit more at Luxor — which is probably how owner-chef Mario Frittoli wants it anyway. He described his cooking philosophy best when he said, “People come here for good food, of course. But they also come here to be entertained.” So, expect dinner here to be more of a glamorous event rather than a meal — particularly if you decide to close the menus and leave yourselves in Mario’s hands.

On the spur of the moment he will whip up delightful dishes based on the special ingredients that have landed on his kitchen table from somewhere in the world. One evening, for example, he prepared four different kinds of Tuscan appetizers laced with white truffles followed by grilled juicy Fiorentina steaks for our party of four. On our most recent visit, Mario combined smoked foie gras with beef carpaccio as an appetizer and afterwards served a heavy and almost pungent crab sauce with home- made, perfectly al dente tagliolini. For our main courses, he fried an Iberico pork cutlet (fresh from Spain) in a black truffle sauce and sautéed a sea bream fillet in a handful of Mediterranean spices.

The cost of dishes that are not on the menu are calculated based on ingredients (so those who specifically ask for kilos of truffles may be in for a credit card shock afterwards), but for those who don’t like to be surprised either by food or price, Luxor’s a la carte and set menus (lunch from ¥1,500 and a four-course tasting menu for ¥7,000 plus tax and service charges) are equally attractive.

Luxor has an extensive selection of Italian, French and Californian wines in varying price ranges and also decent selections by the glass, including a reliable Sauvignon Blanc, Con Vento 2000, Castello Del Terriccio (¥1,300) and a full-bodied red called Mastremilio 2001, Villa Caprareccia (¥1,500).

Your choice of table at Luxor depends on why you are going. If you want to exchange easy banter with Mario while he works, you should probably reserve one of the “Chef’s Tables,” a row of tables right next to the open kitchen counters. However, if you delight in seeing and being seen, the center tables provide a good vantage point. The Japanese diners tend to be on the chic side regardless of age – the last night we were there, two impeccably dressed women in their 70s held court at a nearby table. Within the foreign community, Luxor is a favorite of couples going out in groups, and of financial industry types on expense accounts who come often and demand the best meal possible, and who never even bother to look at the menu – or the bill.

Luxor, Barbizon 25 2F, Shirokanedai 5-4-7, Minato-ku, tel. 03-3446-6900

The a la carte menu changes seasonally so it’s hard to recommend a particular dish. However, Luxor specializes in pasta and meat dishes, and its mainstay, hand-made tagliolini, is especially good.

The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Marina Cvetic 2000, Masciarelli (¥8,500) is a well-balanced red, while the Cubia Insolia 2002, Cosumano (¥7,000) is a flavorful Sicilian white that goes well with appetizers and fish dishes.

A “Chef’s Table” next to the open kitchen is great for foodies who like seeing the action in the kitchen. If you’re more interested in people watching, go for any of the center tables in the main dining area.

For two people expect to pay ¥26,000, including two glasses of wine each and service charge.

Expensively dressed Japanese, bankers on expense accounts, models, foreign yuppie-type couples on group dates.

Nicolo, the Italian waiter, for food and Tetsuo Miyajima, the sommelier, for wine.