Brunch at Locale, a Farm-To-Table Restaurant in Meguro | Culinary Backstreets
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“Can I have some wine? I’m a little sober now,” calls chef Katy Cole to sommelier and server Ben Ward-Perkins over the buzz of conversation and clinking cutlery. We’re two hours into the brunch service. He fills her glass, and she tips it back, taking a quick gulp.

“I didn’t know it was going to be that kind of morning,” she says, laughing. “I’m in a good place.”

It may be drab and drizzly outside in the backstreets of Meguro, but it is always warm and sunny inside Locale, Cole’s little farm-to-table restaurant. “Restaurant” is too generic a word for a space that’s like your best friend’s kitchen – at least, if your best friend happens to be a Californian chef who laughs like the party is happening, like, right now. It might be all the personal touches, like ceramic plates made by Cole herself. Or it might be that most people here are regulars – and if they aren’t, they will be soon. It’s that kind of place.

Since 2017, Cole has served dishes prepared with seasonal organic produce sourced from growers around Japan. Opening Locale was, according to her, “pretty charmed throughout.” Having first spent her twenties post-Cordon Bleu working in the Bay Area at restaurants like Fork, Scott Howard and State Bird Provisions, she’d first visited Japan on a whim for ten days, then followed her instincts to return for a longer stint six months later.

After several months building connections in the culinary community, she learned that Beard, the restaurant previously occupying Locale’s space, would be shutting down, and leapt at the chance to take over the lease.

“It feels like I’ve never not been here, in a good way,” Cole says of the last five years in Japan. “It feels like this has always been my life.”

Although she attributes being able to open Locale to luck and having the right friends, it’s evident that she makes her own luck. Open, friendly and direct, she has a near-magical ability to connect with people. The way she often finishes her sentences with, you know? makes you feel like, yeah, you do know.

“Making food for people and making them happy is great, but creating a community around it is the most special part of it, you know?” she says, spooning cashew cream sauce over poached eggs. “Especially in Tokyo. There’s a lot of places to eat, but not a lot of places that feel like home.”

Cole is a marvel to watch in action. Her movements are fluid, balletic, effortless. In what seems like no time at all, she has cracked eggs into simmering water, scrambled several eggs, pulled out several slices of toast and a rack of crispy bacon from the oven, sliced an avocado and fanned it over toast like an expert card dealer, cleaned up as she finishes plating banana pancakes – all the while holding at least two different conversations and all the orders in her head without a ticketing system.

“I’m pretty good at that,” says Cole, when I comment on her superhuman memory. “Maybe it’s just –” she gestures at her surroundings. “If I added one more dish, between not having tickets and remembering all the other things, one additional thing would be too much, you know? It’s kind of the max limit of everything I can do at once.”

But even then, she’s not infallible, she’s quick to add.

“Every once in a while I do acupuncture, and sometimes she pokes the needles in and I can’t remember anything,” she tells us. “You tell me what you’re having, and it’s gone. So I have to tell her, like, don’t erase my brain!” She laughs again, a bright, golden laugh.

Dinner is the main event at Locale, while brunch service is limited to weekends. The evening menu is ever-changing, as it depends on what’s in the daily shipments and Cole’s creativity.

She keeps it simple, to highlight the quality and freshness of the ingredients. You might see roasted vegetables with cashew cream, grilled Spanish mackerel with turnip puree and canola blossoms, or a pecan buttermilk cake with custard and apple. The one dish that doesn’t leave the menu is her signature avocado and French lentil starter with a shocking pink yoghurt sauce, its vivid colour courtesy of shibazuke (eggplant pickled in red perilla).

Where the evening menu is always in flux, the brunch menu has barely changed over the years. In brief: eggs “Commodore,” avocado tartine, scrambled eggs and bacon, banana pancakes, wagyu cheeseburger. Cole has struggled at times with its simplicity, but has learned to own it.

“I’ve grown comfortable with the idea that it’s ok to be simple,” she muses. “It’s just being confident and letting go of any ego, of trying to make my imprint on something.”

That simplicity works because everything is consistently great. She nails every single dish on the menu over and over again. The cheeseburger with its tangy, relish-like shibazuke ketchup could go head-to-head with any other five-star burger in town. (Why she doesn’t have a burger empire is a mystery.) Even a basic avocado toast is made sublime by the attention to detail, from the raw garlic rubbed on toasted campagne to the house-made dukkah and slug of olive oil on top.

Next to us, a woman in a grey-green blouse lets out a little sigh of bliss, and blushes when she catches me looking over at her plate. A waitress at vegan restaurant Newport in Tomigaya, she shares that she comes here just for the banana pancakes.

We end up trying them, despite having eaten far more than we intended. They’re as blissful as promised. Firm yet pillowy, sweet with a hint of salt and a whole lot of sunshine-y banana, these are probably what Jack Johnson had in mind when he wrote his hit single.

After almost two hours, we can no longer tarry, and step out of the warm kitchen into the rain. One minute out the door and we’re already planning our next visit, as have hundreds of customers before us. As many Tokyoites know, living in Tokyo can be a lonesome and alienating experience. It’s hard to make friends, strike up conversations with strangers, or feel like you’re part of a community. But a place like Locale, helmed by people like Cole, makes it easier to love this city.

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Published on November 23, 2022

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