Hidden in the depths of the congested Tokyo concrete metropolis is a little known oasis. A place of tranquility and purity where people come for rest and rejuvenation…L’oasina.
‘L’oasina’ is Italian for oasis, and this restaurant was born out of a deep respect for the gifts that mother nature intended for us to enjoy. Its philosophy returns to the basics of how people used to live, growing fresh vegetables on untainted rich soil and raising free-range livestock on well tended land. The introduction of pesticides, hormones and steroids have disrupted the natural balance of life on this planet, and it has been at the root of many diseases. It is a sad reality that clean and healthy food has to be labeled ‘organic’ or ‘antibiotic-free’ for us to know that it’s safe for us to eat. If it’s not labeled, then who knows what synthetic chemicals hide within the fibers and cells of the fruits of our earth. Modern demand for year-long availability of produce wastes valuable land and resources by forcing vegetables to grow out of season under unnatural conditions. There is no arguing that organic fruits at the peak of their true season are at their best and most delicious state, and that eggs from free-range healthy chickens are superior to those raised in dark tiny coops.
L’oasina is a quaint café/restaurant that honors the spirit of pure unprocessed delicious food. They understand that the natural balance between nature and man can only be maintained through mutual respect and care. They also know that organic food is the best form of medicine to sustain a healthy body, and the best nourishment to satisfy the palate. One of my good friends, a floral designer, introduced me to this haven when we met up for lunch one afternoon in Tokyo. Although we were in the middle of Gaien-mae, in a small street just off of the busy Aoyama-dori boulevard, the inside of the restaurant was quiet and peaceful. She reserved the best table for our lunch, a small semi-private alcove framed with draping white curtains and decorated with a crystal chandelier and a Matisse-esque fresco. The rest of the dining room in the back, with antique lamps, leatherbound books and a cabinet full of decorative cups, was reminiscent of a comfortable sitting area in a countryside English mansion.
The cozy space is run by Chef Mariko Nakayamada, who trained at the Professional Culinary Institute in California. After gaining professional experience working in a restaurant in America, she returned to her native country to open a place where she could honor her farm-to-table philosophy. She works closely with farmers and artisans who share the same philosophy, and she only incorporates ingredients that she feels are safe and healthy. Every menu item is followed by a description of where it was grown and who farmed it. Vegetables are delivered from Kudo-farms in Nagano, Eiza-farms in Nara, and Oowada-farms in Ibaraki. Featured meats may include herb pork from Yabuta-farms in Hokkaido, Date red pork from Izunuma-Nohsan, Jidori chicken from Miyazaki, or free-range Hokkaido beef. Every product is guaranteed to be pure, natural, nutritious and delicious.
L’oasina is affiliated with Keizanso, a natural hot springs ryokan in Shiogawara-Onsen in Gunma prefecture. Here, in addition to eating healthy organic food, one can also soak their bodies in the therapeutic mineral waters. Keizanso promotes local agricultural projects in addition to growing their own vegetables. They even serve unpasteurized milk, distributed by a local farmer, that is said to be healthy and safe. At L’oasina in Tokyo, they sell vegetables and homemade miso that are made in Keizanso. They also sell the savory Bolivian pink salt that they use in all of their cooking.
Organic vegetable salad 自然農法のサラダ, ボリビアの岩塩, アルメリア砂漠のエキストラバージンオリーブオイル
For lunch, you can choose 3 courses ranging from 1,500 yen to 3,800 yen, depending on how many entrées you want to have. We opted for the mid-range 2,500 yen course with 2 entrées. The salad, made with various leafy greens, red cabbage, apples, dates and carrots, was served with a bottle of Castillo de Tabernas olive oil and some pink Bolivian rock salt. They wanted us to enjoy and savor the inherent sweetness of the organic vegetables, so a minimal drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt was all that was needed.
Home baked bread with olive oil パン、アルメリア砂漠のエキストラバージンオリーブオイル
Freshly baked bread came out warm and toasty, and again we enjoyed this with a simple dip in the green olive oil that had an immense sweet and fruity flavor. This olive oil is produced near the desert village of Tabernas in Spain, a region that is said to receive the most sunlight per year in Europe. Ideal climates and stable temperatures produce a smooth oil that is rich in aroma and flavor. I’ve been using this oil for many years in my kitchen after discovering it during a taste test at Surfas.
Kabocha gratin カボチャのグラタン
A small but filling serving of kabocha Japanese pumpkin gratin was creamy and luscious. The dish was perfectly prepared- it was all about the naturally sweet flavors of the organic kabocha with only a hint of cream and cheese to enhance, not overpower, the vegetable.
Momotaro tomato juice 桃太郎トマトのジュース
Drink choices included this refreshing Momotaro tomato juice, Unshū mikan juice and apple juice from Keizanso. Momotaro tomatoes are perhaps the most popular tomatoes in Japan for its subtle sugar and acid flavors. Named after Momotaro, a popular hero from an ancient Japanese folklore, these medium sized pink tomatoes have a wonderful rich flavor that is best enjoyed raw. I fell in love with my glass of fruity tomato juice, and for a second I contemplated moving back to Tokyo just to have this every day.
Lentil and vegetable soup レンズ豆と野菜のスープ
The soup was simple but comforting and warm. It was packed with celery, onions and carrots and made with a simple bouillon. I loved the simplicity of this dish- often times we think more is better. More seasoning, more zest, more ingredients, more garnish and more color. And what for? A bigger price tag without added nutritional value.
Yabuta Farm roast pork with soy-based sauce やぶ田ファームのハーブ豚のロースト 和風醤油ソース
A succulent slice of Yabuta Farm roasted herb pork was dressed with a refreshing soy and grated daikon radish sauce. It was served with simple roasted farm vegetables of sweet potato and swiss chard. The chef let the superb quality of the products speak for themselves by preparing them in a simple and minimal fashion.
Assorted organic vegetable plate ベジタブルプレート
The remaining entrée choices for lunch that day were an assorted vegetable plate and a Japanese seabass with garlic cream sauce, but given the restaurant’s dedication and statement to serving fresh organic vegetables, I opted for the vegetable dish. The colorful assortment included onions, purple potatoes, leeks, carrots, sweet potatoes, chard and maitake mushrooms. These roasted vegetables were served naked but for a dash of Bolivian rock salt, and that was all that they needed. Everything tasted fresh, sweet and vibrant. I felt like I was discovering their true taste for the first time in my life.
Apple tiramisu リンゴのティラミス
Desserts were an extra 500 yen each, and they were worth every extra bit that we paid. The apple tiramisu was rich and decadent.
Goat cheese tiramisu 山羊のチーズのティラミス
I loved the contrast of the light and fluffy goat cheese zabaglione against the bitterness of the espresso soaked ladyfingers. Other dessert choices that day included an apple and hazelnut pound cake and several flavors of home made gelato (orange, brown sugar, sweet potato, maple walnut, Dainagon azuki, rare cheesecake and strawberry). I wish I could have tried them all.
I loved the way that L’oasina’s food made me feel both emotionally and physically. I felt full from our wonderful lunch, but I didn’t feel heavy. I felt happy that I was feeding my body with healthy natural food that tasted amazing. Chef Nakayamada is so dedicated to her cause that she conducts cooking classes, lectures and seminars in both English and Japanese. L’oasina is a true urban oasis- we felt so peaceful in our secret little alcove, sheltered and protected from the crowded streets, that before we realized it we had been there for 3 hours. If your body and soul ever feel weighed down by the stress of city life, take a journey into this tiny oasis by Aoyama station and remove all of those free radicals and toxins with mother nature’s gifts. Enter this place of rejuvenation where time seems to slow down to a perfect pace.
Minimi-Aoyama Compound 1st floor
Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0062
Random trivia: Did you know that purple potatoes get their purple color from the same antioxidants that are found in blueberries and açaí? Anthocyanin is what gives these products their characteristic deep purple hue.