Living on Tokyo's eastern tip can at times be a thoroughly unfashionable experience. Unlike our counterparts on the west side, we easterners seem to have gotten a raw deal-and nowhere is this more apparent than in a gastronomic sense. The search for international cuisine is one that often ends with a trip to the local chain izakaya.
All deserts, however, have their oases. Located in Kasai (a place where ramen and curry rice reign supreme on most lunch menus), Tokyo Soul Diner is one such haven. This low-key restaurant attracts mostly young professionals looking for a taste of something different. Its music and lighting are toned down, with the needle pointing more towards modern than retro on the design-o-meter, while the interior's simple lines and white walls provide the perfect backdrop for TSD's colorful and flamboyant food.
The overall feeling here is one of informality: a place to drop into, meet for a drink or "do lunch" with a friend. We opted for dinner on a recent Friday evening. After enjoying a few glugs of wonderfully frothy cherry beer (Bellevue, ¥650) and a glass of the house white wine (¥500), we kicked things off with a Caesar salad complete with oversized croutons and an onsen tamago perched daintily on top. The result was a crisp and colorful salad, thankfully not drowned in dressing. Maguro carpaccio also hit the spot, with its light lime-juice sauce and fat shavings of spicy parmesan (¥880).
Fresh egg fettuccine with baby asparagus in a rich orangey ebi cream sauce was next-nicely al dente, if a little heavy on the seasoning-but the main event was still to come. Lightly seared tuna served on fluffy mashed potatoes topped with baby greens, deep-fried onion and toasted sesame, all drizzled in a wonderfully distinctive sweet/spicy kochujan sauce, was a fine example of how contrasting tastes and textures can surprise and delight the palate (¥1,200).
Indeed, fun, creativity and indulgence seem to be the common ingredients in TSD's dishes. Dessert, we're happy to report, was no exception. After consulting our reluctant host for inspiration, pan pudding and French toast (¥600) soon appeared. The first was a surprisingly light variation of crme caramel, with thin slices of ripe banana contrasting with a bitter caramel sauce. Next, small circles of French toast formed the foundation for a pyramid of whipped cream and frozen raspberries, with a dark berry sauce dotted around its base-easy on the eye, even better on the taste buds.