Kanae Hasegawa -- Interior Design, 9/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Dining out is a serious affair in Tokyo. Unlike European city dwellers, who make a common practice of inviting friends and family over to dinner at home, Japan's cramped urban dwellers frequently opt for entertaining at restaurants. To cater to those appetites, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, and Gordon Ramsay have all recently opened establishments in the heart of Tokyo. Which means that, more than ever, restaurants must rely on distinctive features to court discriminating diners.
When Yoshihiro Shinkawa decided to open Dazzle restaurant in Tokyo's fashionable Ginza district, he came up with a unique way to make his mark: Have diners walk through the kitchen en route to their tables. "My favorite restaurants, the ones that have always been most memorable for me, are places with an open kitchen where you can share the ambience of chefs preparing the food," Shinkawa says. Think of it as a glamorous twist on entertaining at home, where guests hang out while their host is still at the stove.
ATTA principal Akihide Toida, who has worked with Shinkawa on many previous projects, was entrusted with the task of realizing this new vision in 4,000 square feet split between the top two floors of the building that Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects, recently completed to house a six-story Mikimoto boutique. The experience begins when diners arrive on the eighth floor at the start of their $100-per-head evening—and encounter not a sleek maître d' station but a frenetic kitchen. "My intention was to make guests perplexed that they may have taken the wrong elevator and arrived at the wrong place," Toida says.
As diners wend their way through the 620-square-foot kitchen, past a long stainless-steel worktable, they can greet chefs personally while watching them prepare crab cakes or sprinkle the final seasoning over sautéed scallops. Making the kitchen the first point of contact not only creates a visual impact but also affects the culinary experience. After seeing and smelling some of the tantalizing dishes on the menu, patrons are likely to become pleasantly hungry for what's on offer—just like at a home dinner party.
However, the drama of the upstairs dining room, reached via a second elevator ride, indicates that this is definitely not home. Cutting a dashing swath at one end of the 90-seat room, an extraordinary 26-foot-tall glass wine rack angles out from the floor to the sky-high ceiling, and a constellation of crystal-studded LED-lit pendant globes twinkles overhead. Theatrical sheer curtains drape the exterior walls, defined by Toyo Ito's blobby windows. The effect is at once intimate and bold, a fitting combination for guests who yearn both for the coziness of home and for the luxury of a fancy restaurant.