Judging by the staggering number of Italian and French restaurants in Japan it would be hard to call which European cuisine is more popular: perhaps both, equally.
But this cuts both ways. In the West, Asian restaurants are on every corner. Even in the lowly city where I come from in Ireland, on my last trip home I noticed a Chinese place, which had been around forever, had turned Japanese — the staff hadn’t.
It’s become a custom of mine to ask the chef or master at these establishments if they have been to the respective country of whose food they spend their days making, and the answer is nearly always no.
But then again do you need to have visited the Louvre to paint a picture?
Ore Beate (literally “pleasurable hours”) is on a quiet street leading away from Umeda in the direction of the Yodo River. It’s a small space, minimally decorated, with only a handful of tables, but it manages quite successfully to avoid a kind of cloistered atmosphere.
Chef and proprietor Takuya Nishitani is tucked away in his kitchen behind a counter that runs most of the length of the restaurant, giving him a good view of proceedings.
His focus is on Italian home cooking and, naturally, pasta dishes feature prominently, including staples such as bucatini all’amatriciana, tagliatelle, spaghetti and other classic home-cooked dishes such as risotto and gnocchi.
On a recent visit for lunch during St. Patrick’s Day, the only course that was left was a “take it or leave it” — antipasti and pasta. Ore Beate is a small operation — one cook, one waiter — so it’s best to be accommodating in order to be accommodated.
The antipasti was a nice variety of meat and seafood: hokkaido crab meat on a crust of garlic bread, sauteed broccoli, cured ham topped with mustard and a small serving of terrine with marinated vegetables — all crowned with rocket leaves dressed in balsamic.
By no means was this elaborate, but it was in keeping with Nishitani’s desire to serve simple (and good looking) Italian food.
The spaghetti continued the theme of simplicity, but was well executed: aubergine and cured bacon ragu enfolded in spaghetti.
Aubergine, or eggplant, depending on your geography, can easily get too soggy, but here it was, to borrow from pasta vocabulary, al dente — just that right amount of bite to it, similar to the spaghetti. The only quibble here, the Parmesan was in all likelihood the powdered type and not from a bloc, and since it, along with the bacon is the source of the umami, the real thing is obviously ideal.
We finished with espresso: a strong shot of Bondolfi. There’s also a decent showing of Italian wines. Nishitani’s take on Italian food is simple and hearty and worth stopping by for.
And to return to that question: Has he been to Italy? Well, what do you think?
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