A familiar face peered from inside the aromatic open kitchen of Stefano, a charming new restaurant we'd been advised to visit in Kagurazaka. It was a pleasant surprise for us because that face belonged to Stefano Faustro, one of Tokyo's leading Italian chefs who formerly manned the many kitchens of Carmine Cozzolino's area eateries. We soon learned that Faustro had opened Stefano, his first solo endeavor, to bring his native Veneto cuisine out in the open, and we took our seats in a quiet corner in eager anticipation of the menu.
Stefano's interior is reassuringly cozy and homey, with yolk-colored tablecloths matching the walls, a petite bar featuring an aging espresso machine, beams of hardwood supporting a dove-white ceiling and strangely Japanese-looking glazed windows that seem to keep the glowing warmth inside. As we sipped our Limoncello aperitif (¥740) and a Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut (¥2,200/bottle), another foreign couple and a group of locals seemed to enjoy the environs as much as we did.
Almost immediately after we were seated, a waiter dressed in classic black apron attire handed us the menus as Faustro himself delivered delectable slivers of marinated seafood lying on crackers seasoned with pesto and greens. After some pondering, we chose the San Daniele ham with buffalo mozzarella and salad (¥1,890) as our starter, followed by pumpkin and gorgonzola cheese-filled potato gnocchi with walnuts (¥1,680), and spaghetti with homemade sausage and mushrooms (¥1,575).
Our first stab at buffalo cheese proved immensely rewarding, as the fresh, juicy and chewy mozzarella tasting strongly of milk perfectly complemented the salty imported prosciutto. We helped the appetizers down with exquisite morsels of homemade foccaccia that gave off a pleasingly strong aroma of olive oil. The pasta dishes had similarly appealing contrasts, with the stuffed gnocchi oozing the sweet flavor of pumpkin paste and the gorgonzola adding a touch of tang, and the spaghetti cooked lightly al dente and served in a moderately spicy tomato cream sauce.
While waiting on our main fare, we struggled to keep from stuffing ourselves with the bottomless basket of homemade bread. It proved a worthwhile battle, since the portions of the secondi were larger than we had anticipated. The pork fillet sautéed with white asparagus sauce (¥2,210) sat on a bountiful bed of spinach with a big helping of potatoes on the side, while the cod milk stew with grilled polenta (¥2,300) appeared equally filling. Having a penchant for seafood as much as meat, we delighted in the firmness of the cod meat, while its sauce made a fine condiment for the crunchy polenta. The pork, a quintessential ingredient in the Veneto region's meat-based cuisine, more than lived up to our expectations, with its soft meat infused by the organic aroma of spinach, cheese and asparagus.
Polishing off our plates left us stuffed to profusion, and we decided an espresso (¥400) would be the ideal item of closure. But the final surprise of the evening lay in a shot of Faustro's homemade digestif, a creamy concoction made from Marsala wine, eggnog and secret spices, which the man himself poured for us in small, dainty goblets. We agreed that it alone merited Stefano another visit, and we knew we would soon be in the mood for another trip to Kagurazaka.