Appetizer choices at La Lingua Ochiai include roasted lamb and bean salad with a poached egg, front, and caprese.

Appetizer choices at La Lingua Ochiai include roasted lamb and bean salad with a poached egg, front, and caprese. (Jonathan Tapp/Special to Stars and Stripes)

"This place looks awesome."

"Yeah, we should eat there sometime."

I have this conversation dozens of times a month. The narrow streets around Hardy Barracks are crammed with tiny, tempting eateries, and even a short walk in any direction reveals more dining options than I could try in a year. So my friends and I stumble across places, agree to try them, and then forget them.

But we didn’t forget La Lingua Ochiai. We spotted it, went back, went back again. And we’re glad we didn’t forget, because the food is so good we quickly ran out of adjectives to describe it.

For just under 5,000 yen, the dinner menu offers a three-course meal of appetizer, pasta and meat. In the upscale Akasaka neighborhood, that qualifies as a bargain.

There are freebies, too — homemade bread with olive oil; lemongrass tea after the meal; and amuses-bouche that make me want to go back every night just to see what I’ll get. On one visit, it was a miniature white asparagus quiche and smoked bonito; on our second trip, we got Parmesan ice cream (sounds weird, but trust me, it works) and Sicilian Rouge tomatoes in a fruit vinegar.

Each of the dinner courses offers around 10 options, plus daily specials, and can be ordered a la carte or as part of the course menu. I’ve had caprese both times; because the mozzarella and the seasoning are so delicious, I can’t NOT order it. Everyone at the table loved it, but we were also big fans of the beef carpaccio.

I fell into a happy dining rut again when it came time to choose pasta. One friend went for the special — wide noodles in butter sauce with black truffles — and another chose the hearty, filling potato gnocchi. They were both terrific, but I went back to a dish I’d fallen in love with at first bite: fig and ricotta ravioli, in a Gorgonzola sauce. I can’t shut up about this pasta (ask anyone in our newsroom). The rich flavors complement each other perfectly, creating a sophisticated version of comfort food.

We were so full that the meat course was almost an afterthought, but our appetites returned once we bit into the flavorful smoke-grilled Japanese pork and charcoal-grilled Japanese beef. And we couldn’t resist sharing a tiramisu, which was as wonderful as we’d expected.

In the crowded Tokyo dining scene, it’s easy to overlook La Lingua Ochiai, but you’d be missing out on a delightful dining experience.

Location: 9-5-26 Akasaka, Tokyo.

Hours: Lunch, noon to 2 p.m.; dinner, 6 to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays and the third Sunday of each month.

Prices: Dinner course menu 4,830 yen; sides 400-900 yen; a la carte appetizers, pastas and meats 1,600-2,800 yen; drinks, including good quality house wines, start at 400 yen.

Specialties: Italian

English menu: Yes

Dress: Dressy-casual

Clientele: Mostly Japanese

Directions: Chiyoda Line to Nogizaka station, exit 2. Turn right and walk about one minute; look for the Italian flag hanging by the door.

Web (Japanese only)

Phone: 03-5785-9245

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