Food & Drink | TOKYO FOOD FILE

An Di: Vietnamese cuisine, Japanese sensibility

by Robbie Swinnerton

Special To The Japan Times

Were it not for the name on the illuminated sign hanging at the entrance, you would be hard pressed to identify An Di as a Vietnamese restaurant. Inside or out, there are no other clues — no flags or tourist posters, no signs advertising Saigon’s ubiquitous 333 beer — as what kind of food it serves.

In fact, the first thing you see as you walk through the door is a large new wine refrigerator. This is not by chance or due to lack of space elsewhere on the premises. Wine lies at the core of An Di’s identity.

Owner Motohiro Okoshi is a wine consultant and sommelier of note. His intention, inspired by a trip to Vietnam a couple of years ago, was to create a place where people can enjoy wine with a cuisine that is neither French, Italian nor any of the other usual suspects.

In doing so, he has put together one of the most distinctive new restaurants in the city. The look is simple, with minimal decor, plain wood tables and comfortable, rattan-backed chairs. It feels relaxed and informal, but thought out to the last detail. The same applies to the cooking.

“To give it a genre, you could call it modern Vietnamese,” says Okoshi. “But more precisely it is ‘Vietnamese cuisine of the sort you’ll only find in Japan.’ That’s the food we serve.”

This becomes clear from the very outset of the excellent seven-course set menu (¥5,900). A wooden bowl is placed in front of you filled with roasted cashews and peanuts, diced cucumber, tiny dried shrimp, sesame seeds, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), tomato, coriander and more. And, in the center, you find the ingredient that is the focus of this dish: a small mound of lightly moistened, gently bitter green tea leaves.

The point here is that tea leaf salad is a Burmese dish and isn’t eaten in Vietnam. From the very start you find that An Di is not striving for authenticity. It is exploring and creating its own interpretation of what Vietnamese food might taste like in Japan.

So too with the spring rolls, with fresh red shrimp gleaming beautifully through the translucent rice paper. There are 10 herbs and vegetables inside that wrapping — including shibazuke. The purple color, crunch and distinctive tangy flavor of these Japanese cucumber pickles add a new dimension to the quintessentially Vietnamese spring rolls.

Another highlight is the roast pork, which you wrap inside lettuce leaves with herbs and eat with your hands, dabbing it into a piquant miso dip. To close there are pho noodles and a light dessert.

This is perfect hot weather cuisine, prepared with finesse by veteran chef Shunji Morikawa, who ran the kitchen at Cay, the iconic restaurant in the basement of the Spiral Building in Omotesando, in its peak years.

And, just as Okoshi intended from the start, it is exactly the kind of food that goes well with the wine — and occasionally sake — he has selected for the pairing.

Set menu ¥5,900; wine pairing ¥4,900; also a la carte; English menu; English spoken. Robbie Swinnerton blogs at www.tokyofoodfile.com.

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