Originally it was supposed to be me and my friend Henrik heading out to dinner. Then it was me, him, and Henrik's girlfriend Maj. Great. But then when we finally met in the lobby it became 3 more people.
And I made my disclaimers. I did. I said I had no idea if this was going to work out, that people would just have to follow me. That it was Italian food. But I had to go. The review was too fanatical to miss -- this was the only concrete recommendation I found for Sapporo. People complained and hemmed and hawed and tried to avoid committing but I just said I had to go. And our party of 2 became a caravan of 6, following me out of the hotel.
I had had the prescience (perhaps from a previous trip to .jp) to attain directions from the hotel desk but was not exactly confident. Flashbacks of menu items featuring "live chicken liver w/ hearts" came to mind. One block down, 5 more before we had to turn left for another 5 blocks, but the Japanese don't really use street addresses, so what did it matter? I lost count but guessed that we had to go through the pedestrian mall.
When we finally ended up at the block it was as if we were in ex-urban Sapporo. No more street attractions or well lit alleys. Loud bars that smelled of the horrible cigarettes which everyone smokes in Japan.
I start frantically looking around; one of those "mini" blocks that cuts the block in half and suddenly multiplies the number of corners I have to worry about.
Henrik says "I usually don't see Fred this confident, so its OK." I ponder what happens when we can't find the place and we're 2 miles out from the hotel with no plan.
I turn the corner and its there. Picchu. Why would they have the 'h' if they have the double c? Anyway, its undoubtedly the place so we step in after cautiously asking if they're open. Who knows where the chef is.
When we get the wine menu it is surprisingly decent. I recognize the Chianti and the Barba D'alba and some other wines. They rank them in order of price; typically efficient Japan.
We order the D'Alba. Fine.
Then Juan-Carlos says he's from Italy, so he knows.
Somehow I dragged an Italian to eat the cuisine of his home country in some backwater Japanese restaurant in Sapporo.
So we get the first course. Seasonal spring pickles. Surprisingly good.
Then the second course of a pate on bread that no one can identify. I'm just happy that there are no vegetarians with us.
We are all impressed with the wine and the Europeans are more so -- the dollar is weak against the yen but the euro goes a long way. And that the dish we're having now is from Juan-Carlos' home town. Its a garlic paste with anchovies served with raw vegetables to dip.
After 10 minutes of hearing the sous-chef beat a whisk we're delivered "the best carbonara I've ever had" says our friend from Piedmont. The chef doesn't speak any Italian so we're totally spooked how he's pulling this off. But we keep eating. A little later we demand bread for scarpetti. And he spends 5 minutes grilling and toasting a dense mix between challah and focaccia to use to scoop up the rest of the fluffy carbonara sauce.
And the courses keep coming and we keep ordering more wine.
It was a spectacular evening and as we headed back to the karaoke and bars everyone who wasn't there was asking me "about this Italian place." I tried to explain to them that it was the Internet, that it was a lonely post on Chowhound that go us there, and nothing more. But somehow, despite this crowd, it doesn't register. And that's fine.