A famous Irish poet said that once you have defined a relationship as “love”, then the very act of naming it causes it to lose its meaning, its luster. In Japan, many relationships do not use the word love; it is implicit in its passion and tenderness, and a never ending desire to be with someone.
The movie “Roman Holiday” takes us to a gentler, romantic time, one languishing on long lunches and al fresco dinners on a warm starry night. Nestled between the Spanish Steps of Harajuku Bell Pier and the tree lined pedestrian friendly walkway, Carmine Omotesando Stand is casual yet elegant, with an intimate and convivial atmosphere. One could easily fall in love with life on a starry night of wonderful food and banter amongst friends, not that you need to vocalize such declarations of affection.
The owner, Carmine Cozzolino, has remained true to his Italian roots, with a quintessentially fresh and wholesome menu that is made for sharing, like an Italian version of tapas. The big wooden counter resembles a country kitchen, and for the coffee aficionado, the genuine coffee machine makes the real thing. The spirit of this eatery lies in its fully stocked bar, with a glass of Sangiovese Di Romania (380 yen) transporting me to the wineries in the foothills behind Ravenna. Less tart than its Tuscan neighbors, it is a perfect accompliment to the rustic joys of the beef kidney and tomato stew (450 yen), or the whole shrimp grilled, barbeque style. The shrimp and avocado cocktail sounds like a throwback to the nineteen seventies, while the weighty richness of the mushrooms in piping hot olive oil demands an order of a soothing cold beer or a glass of Tavola Toscania Bianco. In fact the Japanese menu uses the word “Otsumami”, a term to mean light meals and snacks that partner well with alcohol.
If you are after something more substantial, the Scampi gratinati alle erbe (Scampi gratin with herbs) or the Spaghetti alle vongole e pomodorini (Spaghetti with clams and tomatoes) from the Japanese/English/ Italian language menu works a treat. Meat eaters are catered for too, with Lonza di maiale “RAL” griglia salsa peverada (Pork Loin) and Coscia di faraona arrosto al rosmarino (roast guinea fowl thigh with rosemary) giving part time vegetarians a run for their money (2500 yen). Inspired by his homeland in Northern Italy, this recipe has been a favorite of Italian aristocracy for more than six hundred years. For a more substantial culinary journey, savor the four course set menu with coffee, good value at 3950 yen.
Finish your vacation to Little Italy with a Budino Alla Zucca (Pumpkin Pudding) or a Panna Cotta (both 400 yen each). In true Carmine fashion, it is best washed down with an espresso coffee. Un espresso per favore!