When you come to Japan, you do not want to eat Italian you think? This is until you have checked out Al-che-cciano, an Italian restaurant in Tsuruoka City.
Al-che-cciano is the prime example and a role model for "Yamagata-style Italian cuisine"! Think "slow food" and Yamagata heirloom vegetables served with an Italian twist.
Luckily enough, I was invited by a member of staff of the Haguro Tourist Association who managed to make a booking for lunch at Al-che-cciano.
We arrived at the restaurant, located near the Tsuruoka Minami by-pass, on a snowy day but the bright colors at the entrance announcing delicious food already warmed me up. What more can you wish for on a cold winter day than some nice spaghetti followed by an dolci italiani and a cappuccino.
The chef, Mr. Masayuki Okuda, has created a unique blend of Italian cuisine based on local ingredients. Only Shonai vegetables and produce are in his world-class creations.
Some of the vegetables are so-called heirloom vegetables. They have been grown for centuries in the Yamagata area. However, over the last decades, about 30 varieties have already become extinct.
Mr. Okuda is a sought-after chef not only at his restaurant but also as a speaker. He has published eight books and a recent documentary, entitled "Reviving Recipes", has also featured him and his restaurant.
This documentary shows "a quest to find future possibilities of farming, food and community by capturing the situation around Yamagata's indigenous crops and the people who are working hard to preserve them". Mr. Okuda is definitely one of them. See the trailer here.
Lunch or dinner at Al-che-cciano does not come cheap. There are 3 courses (A, B, C) which cost yen 3,500, yen 7,350 and yen 10,000 respectively.
If you choose course A, then you will receive some starters that consist of fish from the Shonai Sea, meat from the Shonai Plain and risotto made from Shonai rice. Of course, all vegetables are from the Shonai area too. The main dish is a pasta dish, which is followed by dessert and a drink. This comes with an assortment of bred.
I have to admit that all dishes were very well presented and they tasted excellent. You can expect some high-class cuisine here and not your average Italian fare.
The meals served go with the season. Hence, you will find different dishes on the menu depending on what time of the year you come here.
In winter, for example, the chef is using Shonai's "winter vegetables". These are plants that grow under the snow, like "yukina" (雪菜), literally "snow vegetable".
For those who do not want to splash out so much money, there is Il-che-cciano next door, which is a cafe that serves Italian sweets, all home-made.
Al-che-cciano has become a "destination restaurant" where Japanese people from all around the country want to go to.
Yamagata is a food paradise indeed. Not only is there the Dewa Sanzan Shojin Ryori but also this unique Italian-style cuisine.
For a taster of Al-che-cciano in Tokyo, check out San-Dan-Delo, Okuda's Italian restaurant in Ginza.
It might be easier to to make a booking at San-Dan-Delo in Tokyo than to venture out to Tsuruoka, not because of the distance but due to the popularity of Al-che-cciano - it is often fully booked.