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November 1, Harajuku
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A subterranean bar-cum-restaurant in Tokyo isn't the ideal spot to spend a hot afternoon, but when the food is this agreeable, we reckon it's worth the sweat. And at ¥1,300 for a starter, a main, a dessert and a soft drink, it's well worth the money, too. In fact, the only thing we'd change about Salsita is the brash, touristy interior, like a cartoon take on a Mexican restaurant. But such things aren't uncommon in Tokyo, so we resolved to keep our eyes down and concentrate on the food.
Our recent visit kicked off with a creamed daikon soup, jolted into life with a bright green sprig of radish leaf, as visually striking to the eye as it was to the taste buds. An odd start to a Mexican meal, certainly, but an excellent palate cleanser nonetheless. During other visits, the soup has had a more Latin flair; a cooling gazpacho, perhaps, or a similar memory from the chef's years in central America (the waiter wasn't sure how long his boss had spent there, but he assured us it was 'longer than one week').
Salsita isn't big, but it pulls a reasonable crowd even on a weekday lunchtime. A mix of salarymen, foreign businesspeople and girls from the local international school lounged at the tables, making light work of the reasonable lunch menu. Visitors during the evening have the added promise of a well-stocked bar (tequila to the fore, naturally). It's reasonably priced, too, with a bottle of Corona going for ¥700, Coralejdo Reposado for ¥900 and a classy Don Julio 1942 for ¥2,000. As you might expect, the evening food menu is pricier than its lunchtime equivalent, but it's certainly not exorbitant. Expect your enchiladas to clock in around the ¥1,200 mark.
Back around the lunch table, we took delivery of a wonderfully wholesome burrito, stuffed to bursting with tender chicken, topped off perfectly with the accompanying sour cream, salsa, guacamole and black bean dip. The latter was served with a lonely pair of tortilla chips, but there was nothing to pity about the rest of the plate. The perfect size for a large man's lunch, the burrito was filling without being too hefty, and the salsa gave just enough of a kick to keep us from drifting into a late lunch snooze. Non-carnivores should note that the vegetarian version is just as sturdy.
To round things off, we ordered a Mexican rice pudding seasoned with forest fruits and signed off with a generous sprinkling of brandy. Blindfolded, you might've convinced us we were eating a light but very British Christmas pudding. And all this on an early summer's afternoon in subterranean Hiroo. We can think of far worse ways to spend our time.