Nakameguro is a quiet but popular residential neighborhood in Tokyo, an oasis of calm compared to the hustle and bustle of other parts of the city. Situated along the Meguro River, it is also one of the best places in Tokyo to see cherry blossoms in the spring. A number of trendy restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops line the river and surrounding streets.
One of these restaurants is called N_1221. It may sound a bit like a World War II-era secret Japanese government project, but it’s actually a cozy eatery that utilizes fresh organic ingredients to create simple, delicious dishes with Mediterranean and Japanese influences. Although it is not a vegetarian restaurant, it does offer tasty seasonal vegetable dishes that makes it a good casual place for omnivores and herbivores alike. It’s one of three ambiguously named restaurants that emphasize organic ingredients, the other two being N_1155, also in Nakameguro, and N_7110 in Futakotamagawa.
N-1221 feels like a place you would find in San Francisco or Berkeley, with its California cuisine-style food and interior design. Everything appears designed to be comfortable and relaxed, from the wood decor and furnishings to the food itself. It conveys a intimacy that feels almost like dining at someone’s house (in fact, it’s located in a renovated home). Check out the photos taken by their interior designer, which do a great job of showcasing the ambiance of N_1221.
When my wife and I went to N_1221 late last summer for dinner, we started out with a single piece of sato imo, taro root, cut in half. It had a sweet and salty flavor, which my wife thought tasted like Jerusalem artichoke.
Next was a selection of four delicious tapas-style plates featuring seasonal vegetables. There were the lotus flower bulbs served with salt and lime, that had a light leek-like texture and slight bitter taste that was balanced with the lime juice. There was grilled zucchini served with raw miso paste that gave it a smokey taste. Italian eggplant with miso-soy glaze. And finally bell peppers with fried tofu skin (age tofu), with fried salted seaweed and raw ginger.
After that, we had gorgeous-looking grilled fried tofu stuffed with shrimp, topped with scallions and chili threads that looked similar to saffron, and served with yuzu paste on the side. The tofu was crispy on the outside, but the shrimp stuffing made it soft on the inside. My wife remarked that it had a vaguely Mexican/Latin-American taste, with the chili threads providing a spicy jalapeno-like flavor and the yuzu paste standing in for lime.
Next came the fried rice with a side of pickles. The rice was made with citrusy, numbing Chinese peppercorns like the kind you often find in Sichuan cuisine, along with broadbean, Japanese parsley, carrot, and pieces of eel that gave provided both smokiness and a nice fishy oiliness. There were many different layers of flavor, which made this one of the most unique fried rice dishes I have ever had.
Lastly, we had a simple grilled pork served with a side of roasted vegetables. The meat tasted thick and juicy, and was marbled with layers of fat. It reminded me of the pork used in the tonkatsu at Maru-ichi. I liked it but the fattiness may not be for everyone.
I should also mention that N_1221 has an interesting selection of Japanese wine. For example, we had a wonderful white wine from the southern island of Kyushu.
Overall, my wife and I really enjoyed the date we had at N_1221. If you’re looking for a cool, laid back, and unpretentious place to have a meal, give this place a look. I imagine that the view from the restaurant will be particularly nice when the cherry blossoms bloom in the spring.N_1221 Location: 1-22-1 Aobadai, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 〒153-0042 Business Hours: Open daily 11:00am-midnight Getting There: Take the Tokyo Metro (Hibiya line) or the Tokyu Toyoko line to Nakameguro station. The restaurant is about four blocks north of the station, along the Meguro River.