When Shoko Davis first opened her Wine Cellar more than 10 years ago, it felt like the ultimate neighborhood restaurant. Not just because it ticked all the boxes in terms of food, drink and ambience, but also because it was so far off most people’s radar.
Tucked away in Takanawa, a quiet district of temples and hotels, on a back street that doesn’t even appear on most maps, and hidden from view until you’re virtually stumbling across the threshold, it was one of those places that was too good to share. Those in the know preferred to keep it to themselves.
We too were happy to leave it that way, since Davis had all the right elements in place. The cooking was good and reliable, with inventive touches. Her wine list was well chosen, French and Italian but with plenty of New World bottles. And, above all, the setting was comfortable enough to relax in, but with sufficient style to make it worth heading across town.
A decade later, Takanawa may not be much better known, but the word has certainly got out about Restaurant & Wine Cellar Davis. And it’s just as good as it ever was, we’re happy to report — whether you are dropping by for a bottle (or even just a couple of glasses) with a light meal or settling in for a full-course dinner with all the trimmings.
The wood-and-canvas cocoon-look entrance is still there, with its outside table so popular in the summer months. The walk-in by the door is still primed with a great selection of bottles, ranging from seriously oenophile grands crus to simple (and affordable) vin de table. And the large chalkboard menu, which Davis herself brings around to your table, still offers far too many difficult choices, almost all of which we want to try.
Unless you are having the set ¥3,990 four-course menu — in which case the only decision to make is between fish or meat for your main course — all dishes are intended to be shared by two. Ordering a la carte, a couple of starters followed by a pasta and a main dish is likely to be quite adequate for all but the heftiest of appetites.
Chef Takahiro Morimoto incorporates a good number of Japanese influences and ingredients into his confident European cuisine. We started with a superb plate of pan-fried shirako (cod’s milt), as smooth as cream, lightly butter-browned on the outside, which was perched on top of a galette of shredded red potato, a variety grown in Hokkaido called Northern Ruby.
We were also pleased to find salsify (yama-gobo in Japanese) on the menu. It’s a root similar in shape and texture to burdock (called gobo, although the two plants are not actually related) but rarely seen in Tokyo. It was presented along with caramelized halves of karami– daikon, small white radishes, whose softer texture and piquant flavor contrasted well with the dense salisfy.
The homemade ribbon pasta, a thin tagliatelle, was served with a most delectable ragu made from Hokkaido Ezo-jika venison haunch. With generous amounts of diced mushroom, carrot and apple, the sauce had a pronounced sweetness that was well matched by our wine, a full-bodied but easy-drinking Montepulciano d’Abrazzo (Yume 2005, for just ¥4,900) — a fine recommendation from Davis.
The pasta was the highlight of the meal, but we were also impressed by our main dish: roast breast of wild French wood pigeon. Served red-rare on a bed of barley grain with ink-black trompettes de mort fungi, it was further demonstration that chef Morimoto’s cooking is well worth the effort to search out.
This is especially worth knowing given that the festive season is approaching fast. For four days (Dec. 23-26), Davis will be hosting her 11th annual Christmas dinner (four courses for ¥7,500). It has become a popular and now firmly entrenched local tradition, noteworthy because the centerpiece is a roast goose, a bird vastly superior in flavor to turkey.