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Ostü: Great Italian across the way from Yoyogi Park

by Robbie Swinnerton

The only drawback to the sakura season is that no matter how beautiful the blossoms, the celebrations can get very chilly. You need a backup plan, somewhere you can repair to for warmth and sustenance. If you’re anywhere near Yoyogi Park, you won’t do better than Ostü.

This smart but self-effacing little Italian just a minute’s stroll from the park’s tranquil rear exit (on the opposite side from Harajuku Station) is a bit special. No ordinary neighborhood ristorante, it is one of the few in Tokyo to specialize in the hearty cucina of Piedmont.

Of the six years owner-chef Masato Miyane spent in Italy, five were in this fertile region to the northwest of Turin, known for its agriculture and wine. Living and working with a local chef and his family, he did more than just pick up the recipes and cooking techniques of Piedmont. He also put down roots, learning about the culture and people — and the all-important terroir of the nearby Barolo winemakers.

Not that Ostü looks in any way rustic: With the crisp tablecloths and the polished service, it could only ever be in Tokyo. But the aromas that waft into the dining room from Miyane’s compact open kitchen tell another story.

From the rich, appetizing ragu that he ladles over his tajarin, a delicate Piedmontese take on spaghettini — like all his pasta, carefully prepared in-house — to the delectable arrosto di maiale, his signature slow-roast pork that just melts off the bone, Miyane’s cooking is a beguiling blend of hearty and sophisticated.

And look out for his ravioli, especially the delicate version known as agnolotti del plin, which he stuffs with three kinds of meat (beef, pork and rabbit) and tops with a generous serving of shaved truffles.

To mark the start of spring, Miyane has been serving seasonal specials, such as succulent grilled Kagoshima horse meat (in Japanese, sakuraniku). Also in April, his regional menu (lunch ¥5,000; dinner ¥7,000; advance reservation required), features lamb instead of pork, as a nod to the Piedmontese Easter observances.

About that name: Ostü may not sound very Italian, but it’s pure Piedmontese dialect. It means osteria, a place more elaborate than a standard trattoria but less full-blown formal than a restaurant. That exactly sums up Ostü.

A word of caution: Just because it has a quiet location, well away from the shopping streets of either Shibuya or Yoyogi, that doesn’t mean it’s not popular. Don’t expect to walk straight in, least of all in peak blossom season. Ostü has its own private view of sakura directly in front of its window. Needless to say, tables are at a premium at this time of year.

5-67-6 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; 03-5454-8700; www.ostu.jp; open 12 p.m.-3:30 p.m. and 6-11 p.m. (closed Weds.); nearest station Yoyogi-Koen; no smoking; lunch from ¥1,800 per head, dinner from ¥7,000 (plus drinks); major cards OK; English menu; some English spoken. Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.