Ebisu: International
Cascina (Ebisu: International)
Open 11:30-2, 5:30-10pm (LO) daily.
Sun: Open Sundays

Standing out from the ever-growing crowd of Tokyo cheese-specialty restaurants, Cheese Tavern Cascina takes a more sophisticated approach than average, supplementing the usual fondue and raclette dishes with creative starters that showcase their impressive cheese selection. The menu also features cheese-enhanced fresh pasta dishes and a serious main-dish section that focuses on premium-grade grilled meats.

The cheese-themed starters are all very appealing, with the various cheeses acting in supporting roles rather than appearing as main ingredients. They're organized according to wine pairing suggestions - dishes like "Mimolette with Marinated Salmon, Orange and Cumin" and "Pecorino with Fresh Mushroom Salad" for white-wine drinkers and "Gorgonzola with Roasted Figs and Proscuitto" and "Feta with Roast Beets, Radish and Pomegranate" to go with reds.

Our feta and beet combination was particularly effective, but all our starters served to properly whet the appetite and prepare the way for more cheeses to come. The fondue pot was next to arrive - a captivating black truffle cheese fondue with seasonal vegetables, chicken and ham. It turns out that adding truffle flavoring to a fondue is a fantastic idea, and it really sets Cascina's version apart from the many other fondues around town.

Our followup meat course of grilled Yonezawa pork was well prepared and quite tasty, but it seemed somewhat subdued in comparison after all that cheese - it felt like it could have used a few mounds of rock salt for dipping. The cheese platter finale was good but not as exceptional as the Y2800 price tag might lead you to expect. (This was surprising, since most of the other dishes here are more normally priced.)

Cascina's rather interesting wine list covers the map, with some unexpected bottles from Bulgaria, Hungary and Greece as well as the more typical options. There are several decent choices under Y6000, and plenty more if you want to splurge.

The dining room is tastefully casual, with lots of butcher's-block wood, brick, and unfinished concrete evoking a pleasant artisanal urban aesthetic. It can get rather noisy though when the room is full. Budget around Y7,000-9,000 for dinner with drinks.

Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Minami 1-11-2.

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Venue listing from Bento.com5 Star Rating: highly recommended