restaurant review

PATINASTELLA: Exploration of California wines at LA celebrity chef’s restaurant tucked away in Shibuya

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By Maki Yasuda

In a rather unlikely location on the fringe of Shibuya in the semi-residential neighborhood behind Bunkamura is PATINASTELLA in Tokyo, which opened at the end of last year as the first operation outside of the U.S. for the Patina Group restaurant empire. The flagship Patina restaurant of celebrity chef Joachim Splichal in Los Angeles, located inside the spectacular Walt Disney Concert Hall (relocated from its original Melrose Avenue spot in 2003), is one of the early pioneers that put modern Californian-French on the culinary map, and a fixture on the showbiz capital’s upscale dining scene, catering to such high-profile events as the Emmy Awards. The Tokyo outpost - set in the ground floor of a nondescript apartment building - is a much cozier affair, but nevertheless is a smart and elegant dining spot that’s good to know about, and should be of special interest for California wine lovers.

The smart and modern interior of the main dining room in polished wood with elements of stainless steel, the square beige chairs, and the placemat table setting is a bit déjà vu of an all-day dining venue in a nice hotel, which in a good way, means it’s also a good place for business lunches and dinners, of which there aren’t too many others in the vicinity (while there are quite a few IT companies’ offices nearby, as well as NHK). The night I was there, the diners at other tables were people in suits who appeared to have come for precisely that purpose. The look of the staff in uniform and their polite, professional service is also that of a hotel restaurant, which I suppose could be related to the fact that the Patina Group also runs food service venues in cultural centers and museum (in addition, this Tokyo restaurant is a collaboration with the Japanese Shidax Group, which you may know as the company that runs the Shidax karaoke halls).

The four-course menu at 6,200 yen and five-course at 7,700 yen lets you choose each course from the a la carte menu, where signature Patina dishes are marked with a ‘P.’ Executive chef Hitoshi Sugiura is originally from a classical Japanese cuisine background, and this seems to show in the gentle taste and detail-oriented presentation of every dish. (I’m not sure whether he was kidding or not when I asked about the really precise green semi-circles of avocado paste that decorated my dinner companion’s plate of smoked salmon; he said he’d worked on it using a compass.)

The real strength of PATINASTELLA shines through when the wine is poured. The California-heavy list, with some French and a sprinkling of Italian and German, is very attractive. There is a well-selected offering by the glass, and bottles for every price range. Californian wines being such good value for money, there’s great drinking pleasure to be found even for under 5,000 yen a bottle. Go above the 10,000-yen mark and you can find some serious high-pointer wines of notable wineries such as Paul Hobbs and Chateau Montelena. At the high end of the Californians are the superstars such as Dominus Estate, Opus One, and even the legendary Peter Michael. At the top end of the French selection, you can even find big names like Chateau Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, and Margaux. (By the way, their whole wine list is on their website if I got you interested).

Although there is no official wine pairing set on offer at the moment (which I think would be a great idea for them to do), executive sommelier Tomotaka Watanabe was very helpful in selecting the perfect glass to go with each course. The Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Barbara) that I had with my appetizer, “Layer-cake of tuna with soya onion, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, yuzu granite (P),” was crisp and aromatic, a refreshing glass full of wild thyme and apples. Some wines not on the list are available by the glass too, so do ask the sommelier. For example, I next had the Calera Chardonnay (Central Coast), which had an intense tropical and vanilla bouquet that was perfect with the mango sauce on the hot appetizer of seared foie gras. I also had the Calera Pinot Noir, and its lively red berry notes and slight gaminess did wonders for my fish course of branzino wrapped in pancetta. With my meat course, the “2013 ‘Emmy Awards’ filet of beef and short rib (P),” I had the Joel Gott ‘815’ Cabernet Sauvignon. The concentrated body, intense blackberry jam and vanilla flavors, was pure California.

So thoroughly did I enjoy the wines that I asked for a final glass to go with my dessert, an apple en croute with apple celery gelato. The surprise selection by Sommelier Watanabe was a Syrah by Cazar, second label of the boutique Chasseur winery, which I don’t think one comes across too often stateside, let alone in Tokyo. An elegant example of the usually powerful Syrah, the wine’s distinct licorice and pepper notes echoed the celery of the gelato, proving to be a very enjoyable, interesting match.

PATINASTELLA also does lunch, featuring pasta as well as some dishes from the dinner a la carte, so you might want to keep a mental note for the next time you catch a show or a museum exhibit at Bunkamura. Sommelier Watanabe mentioned that if you call in advance, they can preselect some special wines for group dinners. There’s also a private chef’s table that seats eight, hidden in the back right next to the kitchen; the next time you’re getting some oenophile friends together, how about a Californian wine night.

PATINASTELLA Kamiyamacho 11-15 Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Tel: 03-5738-7031

10 minutes on foot from Shibuya Station of JR, Tokyo Metro, Keio Inokashira and Tokyu Toyoko lines.

LUNCH 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. (last order 2 p.m.) DINNER 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. (last order 9 p.m.)

Closed for Sunday dinner

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Good food but it's a bit off the beaten track.

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