Arriving at Falo, prepare for a few surprises of the most pleasant kind. The first is that this sleek-looking new Italian restaurant, which opened in May in Daikanyama, feels and functions like a traditional izakaya tavern.
For a start, there are no tables. Instead, you sit at the wooden counter that runs around all four sides of the open kitchen. The reason is immediately obvious: the focus of the room — and of Falo’s menu — is the charcoal grill that stands like an altar at the center. No matter where you’re sitting, you get a ringside view.
Despite Falo’s look and lineage — it’s an offshoot of Mondo, a discreet (and rather good) Italian restaurant in the swish backstreets of Jiyugaoka — it’s not in any way exclusive. In fact, the decor is simple, the setting casual and the welcome as down to earth as at any izakaya. The food, though, is a class above.
Instead of the standard otoshi — the obligatory opening tidbit (coperto in Italian) — the meal opens with a selection of five small plates, such as escabeche or marinated eggplant. Modeled on the Kyoto obanzai (small-dish) tradition but using Mediterranean recipes, each is little more than a couple of bites. But they give you something to munch on as you mull what you want for your main dish.
There are four or five options, involving meat, fowl or fish. All are cooked from scratch over the charcoal, a process that can take an hour or more. Head chef Noritaka Kashimura, who used to be at Acqua Pazza in Hiroo, has his grilling technique down pat and knows all the right seasonings.
His signature dish is porchetta, the classic Italian dish of rich, fatty pork. Because he only prepares two batches each evening, carving up the rolls into generous slices, you need to put your order in as soon as you arrive.
Even better is the duck breast. He rubs the skin with a seasoning that is described as shichimi (Japanese seven spice) but is actually his own secret mix containing charred onion and powered fennel flowers. It forms a crisp, spicy crust around the tender, oozing pink flesh. This is cooking that repays your patience.
Not that you have to twiddle your thumbs. There’s a whole page of inventive “while you’re waiting” side dishes. Don’t miss the grilled cutlassfish, which Kashimura winds around a bamboo tube and serves with herbs and red peppercorns. And be sure to order the chilled, sweet-corn “tofu” — actually more like a savory blancmange — topped with superbly fresh uni (sea urchin) and drizzled with olive oil.
There are pasta dishes if you still feel hungry, and good desserts as well. The wine list is more than adequate. And the cheerful mood is reinforced with a constant soundtrack of 1980s and ’90s Top 40 pop standards. The final surprise comes at the end with the check: Despite its sophistication and location, Falo can be remarkably affordable.