If exclusivity is a sure sign of success, then this Roppongi Hills restaurant is off to a roaring start. Tables at Il Mulino have been so hard to come by since its mid-December opening that it took us repeated attempts to secure even a late reservation on a weeknight. Founded by two Italian brothers, the original Il Mulino opened in New York's Greenwich Village in 1981. It has since been named by Zagat dining guide as the city's top Italian restaurant for 19 years for dishing out what Il Mulino describes as "gutsy and garlicky" cuisine.
Not long after taking our seats, a visibly wearied waitress arrived lugging a half-wheel of parmesan and scooped out some pieces for us to try. The mild parmesan was a nice complement to the fried zucchini, garlic toast and bruschetta that followed. But more than anything, the evening called for wine.
Il Mulino offers a wide range of Italian and California vintages, from which the manager helped us select a medium-bodied Chianti, Brancaia 2001 (¥11,300), from the middle of the price range. When it came to ordering our food, another waiter wisely suggested that we share three dishes-described as "manly" portions-and a salad between the two of us.
Our first dish, spaghettini alla vongole (¥2,900), which was plated at the dining-room prep station, lived up to Il Mulino's "gutsy" billing with a generous helping of garlic, oregano, chili and freshly ground pepper mixed with pleasantly al dente pasta and juicy clams. Next came a spinach salad (¥1,200) sprinkled with saut?d mushrooms, crispy bacon, hard-boiled eggs and a tangy oil-and-vinegar dressing. We followed it up with a thinly breaded veal chop (¥6,200) and broiled sirloin steak (¥6,500). The veal chop was dressed with spinach, red onion and tomatoes, which were tasty on their own but diminished the wonderful buttery crispiness of the veal. The sirloin also had an unusual marinated herb-like topping, but we preferred it plain and simple.
For dessert, the zabaglione (¥2,000), served with strawberries in a large wine glass, was sweet, creamy and completely indulgent. The tiramisu, presented on a large plate with cream, chocolate sauce, fresh berries and sliced kiwi, was a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. It was also one of the best we've tasted-oozing coffee and liqueur, and made with divinely rich chocolate.
Our desserts left little room for the complimentary grappa, a special blend of Venetian liqueur and white raisins served at the end of every meal by Il Mulino's "resident New Yorker"-an American pal of the Italian owners whose other duties seem to be patrolling the dining room and chatting up guests. But we knew to savor the experience while it lasted. It will probably be a long time before we can get another reservation, not to mention work up the appetite, for such a phenomenal dinner.