Robb S., a friend of his and I headed out for an evening in Ginza on Saturday, with the themes being "wine" and "late-night". A lot of the food magazines here have been running big articles on Ginza, and there seem to be more places open late at night that don't involve being charged outrageous sums to make pleasant chit-chat with hostesses.
Our first stop was at Vin Picoeur, which advertises itself as wine and "French barbecue" (otherwise known as kushiyaki; grilled things on sticks.) It's a sister restaurant of Aux Amis des Vins, another restaurant in Ginza with French food and an amazingly long French wine list. Tucked away off a side street on the second floor, the whole restaurant seats 20 people, with counter seats for 16 and one four-top table. When you walk in, one of the first things you notice is a large pig hanging upside down in a glass case (I didn't look at it too closely, but I imagine it's real, not just decoration).
The restaurant has two prix fixe menus, one which involves about 5 skewers (including foie gras!) and costs 2000 yen; the second adds a few more skewers, what the restaurant refers to as pot au feu (really French-style oden), a grilled rice ball, and dessert (pudding) for a total of 4000 yen. Since we were a bit overwhelmed by the menu, we had two of the cheaper one, and one of the more expensive, and added on a few things, including a tomato salad and some grilled shiitake mushrooms. Condiments in front of us on the counter included grainy mustard, Dijon mustard, Japanese mustard (karashi), fleur de sel, and shichimi togarashi.
The wine menu was also fairly intimidating, and our hesitation seemed to have been interpreted as not being satisfied with Vin Picoeur's wine menu, because we were handed Aux Amis' list, which was probably about an inch thick. We ended up going with a Chateauneuf du Pape, which, given my ignorance about French wine, I will not try to identify further.
Everything we had was delicious, although I'm not a huge fan of innards other than liver, and the cheaper meal included gizzards while the more expensive included pig heart. As innards go, though, they were edible. The foie gras was an amazing experience. Other skewers included chicken, pork shoulder, pork loin, and eel (should have taken better notes!). Despite the wide range of condiments, I didn't feel particularly compelled to use anything-everything was perfectly grilled, with just the right touch of sea salt. The dessert was amazing, and while the guys seemed happy to leave it to me at first, they soon got their own spoons and dug in. It was a very rich pudding in caramel sauce.
Well sated, we moved on shortly after 10 to our next stop, Torifuji, which is a yakitori and wine place nearby. The kitchen was already closed, but we were able to get a cheese plate and a bottle of wine. Torifuji has a pretty amazing list in that it's not focused all on one region, as is that at Vin Picoeur and many other places. It encompasses French, Italian, Australian, and within American, has Oregon and Washington wines as well as California. Main problem--list is all in Japanese, which makes for a heck of a time trying to figure out things phonetically. We ended up with a bottle of the 1997 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, which was very nice. The place is pretty much lacking in atmosphere; it's an odd space, not particularly attractively done, and looks like it hasn't been redone in a while. So, after finishing our bottle, we moved on to the next stop.
Cardenas is sort of a mini-chain in Tokyo that focuses on sort of California/Pac Rim cuisine, although the different branches have different themes (Ocean, Chinois, and Charcoal Grill). They've opened a branch in Ginza that is open to 3am on all nights except Sunday, so we had to give it a shot. By this time it was getting somewhat late, so we got one decanter of wine (a Trefethen Dry Riesling), and one glass for Robb (Trefethen Chardonnay). We also got two appetizers, one a spring roll with tuna and Japanese potato, and one a deep-fried shrimp and crab cake, wrapped in seaweed, with a Thai-style hot/sour/sweet sauce. Both were quite nice. The room here is very attractive, and they have a counter by the open kitchen that was filling up as the night went on. All in all, it's good to know a late night place in Ginza, as well as a nice restaurant that's open on Sundays. Our good gossip of the evening; they're planning on opening a branch in Yotsuya soon.
Of the three, only Cardenas has an English menu (Vin Picoeur has a wine list written in the alphabet).
Ginza 4-3-4, Tel. 3567-4122
Ginza 6-7-19, Tel. 3571-4391
Ginza 6-9-9, Tel. 5537-5011