Beware of basement dining bars with neon signs, dim lighting and moody music. All too often they deliver style with little substance and menus that titillate but fail to deliver. Thankfully, there are a few exceptions. In Nishi-Azabu, one of the best is S’accapau.
From the street, there are few clues to differentiate it from the many other well-heeled late-night spots intended for nibbling, dating and whiling away humid summer evenings. The layout inside also follows the standard pattern: plush chairs well spaced along a counter the color of gun metal that looks onto a gleaming bar, plus a few tables at the back for those who prefer to dine discreetly.
It does not instill huge confidence to find the kitchen tucked away at the far end of the bar, as if it were an afterthought. Nor will your heart rejoice when you are handed the menu and find it bears the overblown title “Impressions of July.” But once the dishes start to arrive, those initial suspicions are soon allayed.
From start to finish — appetizers that do what they’re supposed to by perking up the palate with forthright flavors; desserts that are restrained and even witty — the modern Italian-inflected cooking is inventive, artfully presented and above all, remarkably accomplished.
Last month, the eight-course menu kicked off with a “chopped carpaccio” — others might call it a tartare — of kanpachi (amberjack), piled with crunchy flying-fish roe, slivers of sweet red Tropea onions and crunchy green samphire (“sea asparagus”) and crowned with a scoop of gelato prepared from uni (sea urchin). With such a brilliant combination or flavors, textures and colors, the last of our misgivings were banished.
A fat, juicy white asparagus paired with firefly squid and tuna bottarga was followed by a plate of tiny but intensely flavorful ravioli filled with bright green fava beans and morsels of rabbit. And a risotto rich with snow crab meat led into a dish of pan-fried scallops plated beautifully on tender spring cabbage and garnished with wild asparagus, pea greens and nasturtium leaves.
The highlight was the main course of free-range shamo gamecock served three ways: a strip of tender white breast; juicy thigh with lovely crunchy skin; and a small disk of minced meat as tasty as a miniature hamburg steak.
Just as unexpected as the quality of the cuisine were the wines offered alongside it. Ranging from Italy and Australia to the islands of western Greece, all of them were low-intervention (read “natural”), all tasty, and some of them excellent. What a bonus.
But bottom line, hats off to the chef. Taku Tabuchi is not a household name in his hometown. But that’s because until returning here to open S’accappau last June, he spent the previous 15 years in Europe — first in Italy and then at the helm of Italian restaurants in Hamburg, Germany.
At most dining bars, the emphasis is placed on the bar rather than the dining. At S’accapau, Tabuchi redresses that balance with panache. His is definitely a name to bookmark for the future.
Nishiazabu 1124 Bldg. B1, 1-12-4 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku; 03-6721-0935; saccapau.jp/en; open 6 p.m.-2:30 a.m. (L.O.); closed Sun.; set menu ¥8,000 (also a la carte); wine pairing from ¥6,000; closest station: Roppongi; smoking not permitted; major credit cards; English menu; English spoken. Robbie Swinnerton blogs at tokyofoodfile.com