The good news: The rainy season is over. The bad news: The Great Heat is now upon us, blanketing the city. The only recourse: eat lightly, eat late and eat outside. Here are a few places where you are likely to find the Food File enjoying the night sky, cradling a glass in the cool of the evening with a breeze ruffling the pages of our menu.
In terms of buzz and wow factor, there is nowhere to beat the sleek new Two Rooms Grill/Bar, close by Omotesando. Occupying the entire fifth floor of the eye-arresting Ao Building — that angular glass facade is so prism-sharp it puts the “Ow!” in Aoyama — this was the major restaurant opening of the spring.
The main dining room is impressive, with its open kitchen, floor-to-ceiling windows and modernist decor. So too is the high-end menu offered by Chef Matthew Crabbe (formerly of the New York Grill), with its emphasis on prime seafood and steak. But for the duration of the summer at least, our focus will be neither there nor on the “other room,” the smaller but equally striking lounge/bar. It will be on the outside terrace by the walkway separating the two.
It’s just about perfect. Sheltered and not too large, it has seats that are comfortable, generous in size and low enough to lie back luxuriously. A water pool disappears into infinity with barely the trace of a ripple on its surface. In front of you is a panoramic view across the rooftops, and, as dusk falls and the lights start to illuminate the high-rise skyline of Shinjuku, this has to be one of the finest vistas in the city.
To further enhance the experience, the drinks list spans the gamut. The cocktails are reassuringly unstinting in strength. There’s a choice of 10 or so wines by the glass (from a hefty ¥1,400) and a couple of thousand by the bottle (from ¥5,500) from the racks of the walk-in wine cellar in the adjacent bar. Beer is a more affordable ¥800.
The key factor for us, though, is the quality of the Two Rooms bar snacks. There are oysters on the half-shell or oysters Kilpatrick to go with an opening glass of sauvignon blanc; prosciutto (premium San Daniele) and cheese plates to follow; and unstoppably good thick-cut fried potato wedges lavished with delicate shavings of pecorino cheese.
There are plenty of heartier offerings too. We loved the creamy, garlicky hummus, served with homemade ciabatta. The Caesar salad is made by someone who really understands the recipe. And once we started sipping on full-bodied zinfandel, the steak sandwich was superb, the slices of beef char-grilled rare and right. What’s not to like?
The service is efficient but easygoing. There’s no dress code — every day seems to be casual Friday, with shorts and aloha shirts on view not just out on the terrace but in the bar and restaurant too. And it stays open well past midnight (though the food stops at 10 p.m.). Just get there early if you want a seat — this is the coolest open-air summer spot in town.
Ao Bldg. 5F, 3-11-7 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku; (03) 3498-0002; www.tworooms.jp; restaurant open daily 11:30 a.m-2:30 p.m. and 6-10:30 p.m. (last order); lounge and bar open 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
If you do miss out on an outdoors seat at Two Rooms, the nearest alternative is just one floor down at the equally new but far more sedate Cafe Landtmann. An offspring of the renowned Viennese establishment, this too has a highly respectable terrace where you can sip a crisp Riesling or Gruner Veldliner. Ao Bldg. 4F, 3-11-7 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku; (03) 3498-2061; www.giraud.co.jp/landtmann/