It’s hard being at the top. You’ve got to be charismatic, influential, perform up to a level above the standard, constantly develop new ideas, skillfully deal with even the pickiest folks out there, and live up to everyone’s expectations. But most importantly, you have to stay true to your roots and even manage to be humble about it — if you’re really all that, other people will be talking about you anyway.
I sit at the bar of Crista in Omotesando sipping my second cocktail for the night as these thoughts run through my mind. This is my second time here and I’m already jealous — how can a restaurant be all that?
So I start digging further for hints — I check the relaxing patio outside the restaurant, the dining, the bar (again), the food, the desserts, the service — and after a night at Crista, it all started to make sense.
“The House That Built Me”: A Touch of Home
It’s amazing to discover food as an expat in Japan, getting to taste all the yakitori and learning the difference between Osaka and Hiroshima style okonomiyaki, but after a while you start feeling like you want a taste of back home.
American at its heart and Japanese in its hospitality, Crista carefully incorporates the best of both worlds.
Re-opened in 2016 in its current look (after serving Tokyo customers as Beacon for a number of years), Crista, located in a hidden alley between Omotesando and Shibuya, was revamped as the “crest” of all Tysons & Company restaurants in Japan, serving as a model for everything else. Specializing in traditional American cuisine, the diner offers a classic, yet casual atmosphere. Surrounded by walls of pure wood, incorporating natural materials such as leather and greenery, the interior itself reminds of a luxury wooden cabin from back home.
You’re greeted by casual but respectful staff who will have you seated and chat about your day as if you had known each other for ages. You’re first guided into the bar area, a spacious, yet somewhat private space where you’re seated face to face with the fully bilingual bartender Jay. He doesn’t say much, but he smiles at you mysteriously as he reads your mind and mixes the perfect drink for you.
At the backside of the bar, there is a wall decorated with the head of a deer and other ornaments, again making you feel as if you’re relaxing in a private lodge in the woods.
Thirty minutes into the Crista experience, you’re already pleasantly feeling as if you’re back home, relaxed and slightly tipsy as you’re preparing to move to the main dining room, another spacious place decorated in wooden colors and green on the walls. Here’s where you’ll be served the restaurant’s signature foods — another taste of back home, but with a Japanese twist.
Exquisite grill, mac & cheese, and great Napa wine
For our ultimate Crista experience, we started with a serving of oysters (¥800 apiece) partnered with a glass of champagne. Brought to Crista from Iwate prefecture in Tohoku, an area known for its massive shells, these fresh delicacies slip down your throat like magic — despite being almost the same size as a steak. Next came the Kale salad (¥2,200) — a bowl of freshly chopped kale with avocado, papaya, hearts of palm, tomato, goat cheese and spicy pecans seasoned with honey lime dressing. Simple in look, despite the many colors, this creation was enough to turn a devoted meat aficionado into a full-time vegetarian — with no regrets whatsoever.
Already comfortably full, we opted for the main dish menu and ordered grilled swordfish with lemon risotto (¥3,200), leaving us just about the space for the best of the rest — Crista’s signature meat dishes. Grilled swordfish is not a typical meal you’d have even in the seafood paradise of Japan, so tasting it was a truly new experience. The large chunk of fish paired perfectly with the sweet-sour lemon risotto cooked al dente. Served with a glass of white wine straight from Napa, it was the ultimate culinary satisfaction.
Ah, wait, not quite — we were yet to taste the steaks. Served with another glass of wine, this time red, came the Cajun rib eye steak (¥5,200/300g) paired with a bowl of fresh creamed spinach (¥1,200) and a plate of mac and cheese (¥1,400) cooked with extra cheese to complete perfection. Though we didn’t have any more space to taste the rest, Crista’s other specialties also include T-bone steaks, lamb chops, the extra tender sirloin steak and a bomb Tomahawk beast when in the company of more than four people.
Saving the best for the last, we finished our meals with a taste of sweet America with “Baked Alaska,” a meringue cake with coconut and fresh pineapple semifreddo (¥1,200) and a Banana cream pie with toasted coconut and peanuts (¥1,200). Baked Alaska came with a special cooking demonstration at the table, a feast for the eyes and your Instagram account that’s worth the order even if that’s all you need it for — which you won’t.
One for each: Japanese-style hospitality
American at its heart and Japanese in its hospitality, Crista carefully incorporates the best of both worlds into its character. Carefully paying attention to each detail — from interior to food and everything in-between, it was obvious that Crista strives to perfection in all possible ways. Take tableware for example — you’ll be served different kinds of plates for each dish (preheated for warm food and chilled for desserts) and they were Kasama-yaki, a traditional Japanese craft wear from Ibaraki, made specifically for Crista.
But most importantly, the service at Crista was what truly stood out and, in our minds, deserved five full stars. Every guest there is treated like a VIP but without the pretentiousness — you are truly made to feel as if you were a private guest in someone’s house.
“It’s something I learned from working many years here in Japan,” says Brendhan Kelly, Crista’s manager.
“When I was younger I used to always be angry when things didn’t go well, but now (after living here for a while) I have learned to talk to people and pay attention to their needs. I do the same with my staff and I realize that if they’re happy, they can make customers happy.”
[A]fter a while you start feeling like you want a taste of back home.
Indeed, I think, finishing my last drink for the night. Being at the top isn’t easy. But if you learn to put all your love into what you do, have passion for the products you offer, provide an atmosphere to let people enjoy it on their own terms, and strive for excellent quality in all aspects of your work; that’s when you’ve earned the right to stay in this position.
As far as I’m concerned, Crista is my new crest and it won’t be long before I go back again.
Address: 1-2-5 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Business hours: (Weekday) Lunch: 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m., Dinner: 17:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Bar/Lounge until 12:30 a.m. (Saturdays) 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Bar/Lounge until 12:30 a.m., (Sun, Hol) 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Bar/Lounge until 10:30 p.m.
Other: Smoke-free (*Smoking room available on site). Barrier-free.
Average cost: ¥10,000 per person (dinner), ¥3,000 (Lunch). Weekend brunch plates from ¥2,200.
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