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June 20, 2023

Casa del cibo

Italian cuisine that conveys appeal of Hachinohe


  • Destination Restaurants 2023

The Italian restaurant Casa del Cibo is located in Hachinohe, a regional hub of about 220,000 that is second only to Aomori as the prefecture’s largest city. Hachinohe Station is two hours and 40 minutes from Tokyo on the Tohoku Shinkansen line. Despite its northeastern location, the area enjoys many hours of sunshine per year and has relatively little snowfall. It also has a thriving fishing industry, with Hachinohe’s port boasting the 12th-largest volume of landed fish in Japan as of 2021. Its direct-sales stalls and morning market, which focus on fresh seafood but also offer local produce, have become quite popular with tourists.

Casa del Cibo’s owner-chef, Ryohei Ikemi, was born in Kanagawa Prefecture and trained at restaurants including Enoteca Pinchiorri Tokyo, which was then located in Ginza. The abundance of high-quality local ingredients inspired him to open a restaurant in Hachinohe, the hometown of his wife, Etsuko (who was his classmate at the Tsuji Culinary Institute). Having worked in the world of Italian cuisine, which respects regional character, Ikemi also understood that “if you make delicious dishes, you can have a successful restaurant even in a lesser-known area.” Thus, he moved to Hachinohe to open Casa del Cibo.

Then came the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. In the immediate aftermath, there were many problems such as disruptions in information access due to power outages. The building housing Ikemi’s home and restaurant remained intact thanks to its elevated location, but an area on lower ground just a few minutes’ drive away suffered extensive damage from the tsunami. It was in these difficult circumstances that Casa del Cibo opened its doors at the end of April that year. As Ikemi explained, he was already in debt and “had no option but to open.” Though all of eastern Japan was enveloped in a dark mood, the launch of an Italian restaurant by a Tokyo-trained chef was greeted as encouraging news by people in the area. Offering lunch and dinner at ¥1,500 and ¥2,800 ($10 and $18), the restaurant got off to a promising start, drawing many customers in its first year. But this changed completely in year two, when business faltered to the point of near-bankruptcy.

At that time Casa del Cibo took part in an event organized to promote the recovery of the port, featuring around 20 of the city’s hotels and restaurants. During the two-month event period, Ikemi served bouillabaisse made with Hachinohe seafood, thus bringing his restaurant to the attention of many locals. Additionally, instead of serving whatever he liked, he included options that were more familiar to locals, such as pasta with Bolognese sauce. From that time on, the restaurant steadily gained fans, mainly from nearby areas, while simultaneously reinforcing its fine-dining side and gradually raising its prices. Two years ago, Casa del Cibo was remodeled and began offering lunch and dinner course menus for ¥14,300. As a result, visitors from other prefectures now account for about half of its clientele, which previously consisted mainly of locals. Recently there are even visitors from neighbors such as Singapore and Taiwan among the restaurant’s customers.

Guests are served by Etsuko — Casa del Cibo’s sommelier — and staff. Ikemi prepares all the dishes by himself. In autumn there are squid, salmon, horsehair crab, Ezo abalone and monkfish from Hachinohe. Regional food products, including boar and duck raised in Aomori and vegetables grown in the neighboring city of Towada, are used in abundance. Combined with house-made desserts prepared by Etsuko, who is also a pastry chef, the cuisine is truly refined and elegant.

In the Tohoku region, where dining out is still centered around izakaya pubs, Ryohei Ikemi wants to “help the fine dining food culture take root.” He continues to work toward this goal.

■Sustainable Japan Magazine (Sustainable Japan by The Japan Times)


Casa del cibo

  • 01


1-19-6, Minatotakadai, Hachinohei, Aomori

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