Every time the coffee machine at Da Gino whirs into action, it sends a cloud of pure pleasure wafting through the room. There’s no pussyfooting around here: the chrome monster dispensing caffeine hits behind the counter is a La Cimbali, the kind of thing most Japanese baristas could only dream about getting their hands on. It delivers an espresso (¥480) that’s good enough to induce giddy little shivers of pleasure: rich and brimming with complex flavors that recede to leave a trace of bitterness on the tongue. Starbucks will never pass muster again.
Da Gino occupies some decidedly cozy premises on a street lined with standing bars and izakaya that runs parallel to the main drag in Ebisu. It’s stool-seating only, and when we visited for the first time on a Friday night, we were lucky to snag the last available berth amongst a well-lubricated post-work crowd. Things were quieter when we returned on a Sunday evening, when the space was given over to regulars and couples on dates.
Both times, Kyohisa “Gino” Fugino was there, looking dapper in spectacles and blazer as he surveyed the action. A licensed Q Grader and SCAA Cupping Judge—two of the highest accolades in the coffee world—Fugino is also a certified sommelier. His wine list, exclusively Italian, is well chosen and reasonably priced.
We started with a couple of reds: a fruity Riofavara San Basilio (¥750 glass/¥3,800 bottle) and a subtle Perrini Salento 2005 (¥700/¥3,600). Later, we tried two quite different whites from the Colli Piacentini region: a Quattro Valli Chardonnay Frizzante that was dry and deliciously crisp (¥600/¥2,980), and a less showy Ferrari & Perini Ortugo (¥600/¥2,980). Bottles run up to ¥29,800 for a Brezza Barolo Surmasa 2003, which is probably best saved for a very special occasion.
Food comes mostly in tapas-size portions, and it was hard to fault the dishes we ordered on anything except volume. The spinach, ricotta, roast ham and tomato-cream sauce spaghetti (¥980) was perfectly al dente, while the vegetable oven roast—mushrooms, peppers, eggplant and zucchini flavored with rosemary, parsley and salt—was succulent and beautifully fragrant (¥780). The light, fluffy zucchini fritters (¥680) and garlic and mushroom sauté (¥680) also hit the spot.
A note at the bottom of the menu informs customers that there’s also grappa available, and as we grew increasingly merry, it started to sound mighty tempting. I couldn’t tell you the name of the variety we were served, or how much it cost (based on the bill at the end of the night, I’m guessing nearly ¥1,000 a glass) but, reader, it was superb. Were it not for the head rush that kicked in after the fifth sip, we might have been forgiven for thinking we were drinking a far less potent tipple. After that and the obligatory espresso, stepping out into the midwinter cold felt a lot more bearable.