I have rotten luck. I never seem to win anything! The 2002 World Cup being case in point: I drew China and Saudi Arabia, in my company's sweepstake; teams that placed 31st and 32nd, respectively. Groan! So, it was an enormous surprise to receive a small windfall in the form of a ¥5,000 dining coupon, courtesy of Tokyo Midtown, to be redeemed at Francis Ford Coppela's Vinoteca restaurant. Brilliant! Okay, so it wasn't the the free course meal for two at Ten-Estu that I had actually entered the draw for - given my track record, I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
The 360 degree wine cabinet, which doubles as the entranceway, set the scene; we were departing from the shopping mall and arriving in Californian wine country. - Though I must say it did feel slightly sacrilegious to trod over such precious vessels.
We were greeted by the gregarious maitre d', Patrick. A man who is obviously so secure in himself that he sports a waxed moustache that would make Kaiser Wilhelm II blush. I was quite prepared to be fond of him until he indulged in a lengthy, and explicit, discourse on another diner's genitalia - don't ask! He shall be referred to from this point on as Mr Inappropriate-Trousers.
We were not seated at the elegant 'river' counter that winds serpentine like along the expansive windows, but rather at a linen dressed table in a quiet alcove off the main dining room. Mr Inappropriate-Trousers assured us that it was an upgrade, and given there were three in our party, I begrudgingly had to agree with him.
A selection of fresh bread was quickly served, with a ramekin of extra virgin olive oil, which gave us something to gnaw on as we perused the food and wine menus. Wine menu is a bit of a misnomer - it's more like an almanac. The list is dominated by wines from the Napa Valley area and Coppela' own winery - natch - as well as a comprehensive selection of Italian varieties which complement the Cali-Italian menu.
Given we had all chosen vegetable and fish dishes, we settled on an Italian Pinot Grigio - whose provenance I have completely forgotten - a crisp, light-bodied wine with the spritzy flavours that are characteristic of this variety.
I was a little miffed with the fact that MR I-T not only failed to present the bottle before pouring, but then went on to pour himself a generous quarter glass to taste from. It may have been over a decade since I worked as a sommelier, but surely dining etiquette hasn't regressed back to the days when it was assumed that madam knew nothing about wine.
I bit my tongue and turned my attention to the amuse bouche of salmon mousse, which proved to be rich, creamy and utterly divine.
The bagna cauda was an elegantly presented homage to the seasons, with the gobo and black daikon adding interest to an otherwise cliched restaurant offering. The accompanying anchovy sauce, however, was more of a cream dressing, and lacked any discernible relation to the salty fish that gave it its name.
Thankfully, sardines came to the rescue in the form of the pesce marinato, which was simply dressed with citrus, oil, and a peppery rocket. Yum!
A double order of Scampi al forno, jeweled with tobiko, soon followed. The meat was so juicy and sweet, that I dispensed with cutlery all together and sucked the little crustaceans clean.
As Vinoteca prides itself on its handmade pasta and artisanal olive oil, we were expecting great things from the carbohydrate portion of the meal. The pasta was indeed cooked to perfection, but sadly the anchovies in the Spaghetti con acciughe e cavolo had gone awol, which left the dish bland and under seasoned.
Mr I-T returned to tempt us with the dessert menu, but we were not swayed. It had been a patchy meal with equally patchy service, and at ¥5,000 per head, after our our coupon had been deducted, it definitely didn't win any points for cost performance.
Just my luck, eh?