When it’s hot and humid enough to feel like you’re in the tropics, there’s only one solution: Eat like you’re there. Street food works well, but it’s far more interesting when those familiar Southeast Asian flavors are given a touch of Tokyo sophistication.
In the past couple of years, An Di (andivietnamese.com) has led the way with its contemporary take on Vietnamese cuisine. Its laid-back but self-assured style is perfectly attuned to the way Tokyo does things these days, with an excellent cellar of natural wine to complement the beguiling herbs and spices of Indochina.
Mymot (mymot.jp/thai) takes a similar tack with Thai cuisine. This idiosyncratic little place close to the river in Meguro operates as a cooking school, specializing in the kind of dishes served in high-end Bangkok restaurants, refracted through a Japanese prism of elegance.
The owner-chef — known to all as “Mymot Sensei” (pronounced “Mimott”) — lived and studied in Thailand for years and has equipped her kitchen with all the essential pestles, mortars and other tools of the Thai cooking trade. However, many of her fresh ingredients are sourced closer to home — even a Japanese equivalent to Thai-style nam pla (fermented fish sauce), that’s produced in Chigasaki on the coast of Kanagawa Prefecture.
Earlier this year she began serving extended omakase (chef’s choice) dinner menus four times a week (¥8,000 per head; cash only; advance reservations required). She works entirely solo, serving all 10 to 12 guests at the same time, so the pace is slow; budget up to three hours for your nine to 10 courses. But the dishes are light, colorful and aromatic. Exactly what you crave in the dog days of summer.
Another new arrival that has flown well under the radar to date is Like (www.instagram.com/like_restaurant_/), the latest venture from chef Taichi Hara. Compared to his other restaurants — Bistro Rojiura, on the edge of Shibuya; and the ever-popular Path in Tomigaya — it has a surprisingly bohemian feel.
Housed on the rambling third floor of an unusual, green metal-clad building on Shirokanedai’s main drag, Like is a curious hybrid of cafe, diner, cocktail bar and late-night music lounge — complete with an outdoor terrace so encased in shrubbery you hardly see the city outside.
At Like, Hara’s cooking heads boldly into “borderless” territory, far beyond the parameters of the high-end French cuisine that he trained in. At lunch, expect curries, spicy dandan noodles, brown rice and the like. The dinner menu is longer and even more eclectic, with guacamole alongside gyōza dumplings, lamb with hummus, and steamed madai (sea bream) with Chinese congee.
As always, Hara uses superb ingredients, served in brilliant combinations. His simmered tofu with mentaiko (spicy pollack roe) sauce is outstanding, as are the hamaguri clams sauteed with kūshinsai (Chinese water spinach). I loved the charcoal-grilled pork served on a bed of mashed potato, with crisped kale and piquant rāyu chili oil.
The wine is natural; the dill gin with elderflower and other cocktails are supervised by Ebisu’s Bar Trench; the coffee is from Fuglen; the music, all analog, is curated by Hara himself. And some nights there are spontaneous after-hours live music jams. All in all, Like could well be the coolest place in town this summer.