Al Fresco in Tokyo

May 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Food

It’s spring and Tokyo-ites from across the city turn their thoughts to eating…outside.  Places everywhere make their restaurants into outdoor venues even if they were not meant to be.  Windows come off of storefronts or fold back into the wall.  Some places put tables right out on the street in front of the eatery. A few restaurants are concerned with privacy and have their customers eating on the street but surrounded by high plants rather than risk exposure to the surrounding concrete jungle.  It gives privacy and a feeling of nature, even if just for that moment.

AW outdoor dining tokyo japan AW outdoor dining 1 tokyo japan

Passers-by can often ogle what the patrons have on their plates and sometimes the odors of the delectable treats waft from the kitchen right out of the open front of the restaurant.  Right on Roppongi Dori, situated under the Shuto expressway, there are restaurants with open fronts for al fresco dining.  Such places are located all over the city – including in some of the large office buildings in Shinjuku.  Restaurants that have a window on the courtyard open it all the way and allow in as much fresh air as possible.  Diners take off their ever-present allergy-barring masks and have the experience of eating in the best nature that a city like Tokyo can provide.

Len Petite Tonneau French Restaurant Tokyo

One of my favorite venues of this sort is Le Petit Tonneau right in the heart of Azabu Juban (map), with two other locations in Toranomon (map) and Kudankita (map).  The food is French and authentically so.  The Steak Fritte melts in the mouth, the Poisson de vie is cooked lightly in oil.  There is always crème caramel or crème brulee for dessert.  And the best part of the Azabu Juban location is the fact that the entire front window is removed in the spring so that diners spill out onto the street and the atmosphere is like a bistro or café right on the Champs Elysee in Paris.

Patrons sip wine with their lunch and enjoy the shoppers and families enjoying the day.  Lunch sets begin with cold cream soups thickened with a rich béchamel sauce. Choices for the main courses on the lunch set include quiche, risotto, Poisson, or beef. There is often a large, main-course sized salad with cheese and meat sprinkled liberally within.

The charge for such indulgences, including a small glass of wine and coffee or tea to finish is a mere 1800 JPY.  Dinner is considerably more expensive and does not come in such sets, but is still a good value for the money considering the delectable food.  The staff is omnipresent without being pushy and somehow the manager, who comes to Tokyo via New York and Paris, remembers every face that he sees and inquires politely after one’s children.  It’s an experience that visitors and locals alike can enjoy.

Outdoor dining is a staple of the restaurant experience of Tokyo throughout the spring and summer months.  Diners enjoy the atmosphere of nature without leaving the city.

This article is by our newest contributor, writer and writing professor, Aimee Weinstein.  You can read more from Aimee on her website The Weekly Weinstein: Tales of Tokyo Life where she blogs about Tokyo, parenting and the intersection of the two.

Image Credit: Aimee Weinstein Personal Collection – Used with Permission

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