Tokyo is well served for Vietnamese food these days, and there’s no compelling need to venture far from the center when the craving arises for pho, cha gio and banh xeo. Even so, many of our favorite places are far from the mainstream. But few are as obscure — or as worth searching out — as Bistro Authentique.
The setting is as improbable as the name: A tiny one-counter hole-in-the-wall restaurant at the far end of a humid, odoriferous underground arcade in Asakusa that feels like a time warp back to the 1970s. Barely big enough for seven seats squeezed around an equally microscopic kitchen area, it looks modest even for a noodle joint. You certainly don’t expect to find an extensive menu — or such excellent cooking.
There’s a slew of starters, salads, soups and main dishes, not to mention the range of noodle and rice dishes — and even desserts. We’ve only just started to skim the surface of this menu, but we already have a favorite in the excellent house special: ground pork cooked with lemongrass and served over rice in donburi style. And the bun bo hue (Hue style noodles with beef) is every bit as searingly spicy as advertised.
How can a place this good exist out of sight and under the radar like this? All makes sense when you find out that owner Noriyuki Nakatsuka used to be head chef at Cyclo in Roppongi. After setting up in Koenji for a couple of years, he opened Bistro Authentique in Asakusa on March 10. It was not the best timing, but now finally the word is getting out.
Bistro Authentique, Asakusa Chika Shotengai, 1-1-12 Asakusa, Taito-ku; (03) 6802- 8545; nearest station Asakusa (Ginza, Asakusa and Tobu lines); authentique.at.webry.info. Open noon-3 p.m. and 2-10 p.m. (last order); closed Monday (and other occasional holidays). Japanese menu; no credit cards (cash only).