Japanese-owned restaurant wins over palates in Rome

December 30, 2013

By HIROSHI ISHIDA/ Correspondent

ROME--A Japanese company heard the scoffs and doubts when it planned to open a restaurant for the finicky palates in this Italian capital. And true to the criticism, Trattoria del Pacioccone struggled in its early days.

But since opening in late June 2012, the restaurant, about a 20-minute tram ride from downtown Rome, has won over gastronomers using a culinary finesse that Japan is known for worldwide.

“The place has a casual air, but every one of its dishes has a refined and luxurious feel,” said Carla, a local customer.

The Trattoria del Pacioccone has gained such popularity over the first year of its operations that it was reviewed in the 2014 Rome edition of the Gambero Rosso, Italy’s most prestigious gastronomical guide.

The review was interspersed with such phrases as “aggressive and passionate Japanese,” “products of quality” and “excellent culinary technique of the young Japanese chef.”

That young chef is Kouji Nakai, a 29-year-old from Kobe who runs the restaurant with his wife, Marisa, 31, a native of Rome, and Tomoko Kobayashi, 42, who hails from Osaka.

The menu includes a dish of handmade pasta with deep seafood flavor and a plate of fragrant venison sauté served with red wine sauce. They are all served in a beautiful layout.

The guide said the place has the “style of a Parisian bistro,” and the reviewer was apparently impressed by the careful presentation of the seasonal menu on a chalkboard, a scene not very common in Rome.

“I want the Romans to better perceive the refinement and luxuriousness, which are characteristic of the Japanese,” Nakai said.

The Trattoria del Pacioccone is operated by Quals Inc., which runs five Italian restaurants in Niigata Prefecture, Tokyo and Kawasaki.

Quals President Toshiyuki Takanami, a 45-year-old from Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture, had long dreamed of venturing into Italy since he opened his business in 1993.

However, skepticism was rife. One critic likened Takanami’s venture to an Italian chef setting up shop in Tokyo, convinced that he can serve better sushi than his Japanese rivals.

Despite the early difficulties attracting customers, the operators maintained their belief that the restaurant would prove a success if diners simply ate a morsel of what they served.

The restaurant gradually caught on with customers from the neighborhood, who learned about it by word of mouth.

Nowadays, all 30 seats in the restaurant, which serves the same seasonal menu as their sister outlets in Japan, are fully booked on weekends.

By HIROSHI ISHIDA/ Correspondent
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Kouji Nakai and his wife Marisa cook and serve Italian food at the Trattoria del Pacioccone restaurant in Rome. (Hiroshi Ishida)

Kouji Nakai and his wife Marisa cook and serve Italian food at the Trattoria del Pacioccone restaurant in Rome. (Hiroshi Ishida)

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  • Kouji Nakai and his wife Marisa cook and serve Italian food at the Trattoria del Pacioccone restaurant in Rome. (Hiroshi Ishida)
  • "Prosciutto with pears stuffed with mascarpone" and "Terrine of duck flavored with truffles" are served at the Trattoria del Pacioccone restaurant in Rome. (Hiroshi Ishida)

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