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The tastiest pasta is always made by hand

by Robbie Swinnerton

There’s nothing quite so satisfying as fresh-made pasta. Spaghetti out of the packet is only as good as the sauce that’s served over it. But freshly rolled pasta, whether it comes as strips, strings, bows or curlicues, has a texture, taste and vitality all its own.

Finding fresh pasta on the menu is a sign that the chef is an artisan, prepared to take the extra time and effort. It is also a reliable indication that the rest of the meal is going to be just as good, from the opening antipasti to the final dolce. Here are three places that prove the point.

Trattoria della Lanterna Magica is the quintessential Tokyo neighborhood trattoria. Not just because it is always bustling and friendly, serves excellent, unpretentious cucina and does so at prices that are always affordable, but because it is far enough from the beaten track that it feels intensely local.

The antipasti are great — feed your eyes on the deli case as you squeeze past the open kitchen — and so are the main-course meats. But for many, Lanterna Magica’s strongest suit is its handmade pasta and gnocchi. Choose from fettuccini, pappardelle or more unusual styles, such as chunky tonnarelli or cheese-rich passatelli in broth.

Lanterna Magica is not flashy or delicate but it is most definitely fun. A mere five-minute stroll from Meguro Station, it is so hidden away in the residential backstreets you’d never stumble on it by chance. And that’s the way the regulars who live nearby would happily keep it.

The ceiling-high glass-fronted cellar at Incanto indicates you will not lack for good wine. The display of pasta samples by the entrance reassures that the food is equally outstanding. This intimate osteria close to Hiroo manages to tick all the right boxes.

Every day, chef Noriyuki Koike offers a dozen handmade pastas, all made in-house and served with distinctive regional sauces. Whether it’s agnoletti, a Piemonte ravioli stuffed with rabbit meat, or Sardinian lorighittas topped with lamb ragù, everything is exceptional. The rest of his repertoire is equally eclectic, spanning the length and breadth of Italy. His cooking is both subtle and satisfying.

Casa Vecchia, in the backstreets of Yoyogi-Uehara, may look humble but its pasta selection is anything but. Chef Hidenori Misaki prepares at least a dozen kinds fresh each day, including his signature dish, fazzoletti, a delicate handkerchief pasta in which blue borage flowers are sandwiched between two layers of ultra-fine dough. Too good to leave to the locals, Casa Vecchia is worth a trip across town.

If you’re looking for good fresh pasta to cook at home, try larger branches of Dean & Deluca (look for the Oltrevino brand) or department stores. Or order online from Henjin-nama-pasta, a funky little specialist store based in Ekoda, Nerima Ward: www.nama-pasta.jp (Japanese only).

Trattoria della Lanterna Magica, 2-9-26 Kami-Osaki, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo; (03) 6408-1488. Nearest station: Meguro. Open 5:30-11 p.m. (last order), closed Sun. www.lanternamagica.jp. Incanto, Purele Hiroo 2F, 4-12-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3473-0567. Nearest station: Hiroo. Open 6-11 p.m. (Sat. till 10:30 p.m.); wine bar till 1 a.m. (Sat. till 11 p.m.); closed Sun. and first Mon. each month. www.incanto.jp. Casa Vecchia, 1-34-10 Uehara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3468-4280. Nearest station: Yoyogi-Uehara. Open 12-2 p.m. and 6-10 p.m.; closed Mon. www.casa-vecchia.jp.