Saturday, January 27, 2007

9. Cafe/Bar Review: Yasai Sakaba

Up the hill from Shimokitazawa Station's north exit, across from the 'Waffle Cafe' and the 'North Side Cafe', is the 'Yasai sakaba.' It is a long, slender cafe with a covered patio, open on the front. Unless you can read hiragana, you won't be able identify the cafe by its name. No problem, just look for a cluster of large barrels covered by a dark green umbrella. On the barrels is a display of delicious lunch specials. This is THE place to eat in Shimokitazawa if you want an inexpensive, low calorie, super healthy, Japanese style lunch. In fact, 'Yasai' means vegetable and 'saka' ,is the alcohol - sake, and 'ba' is place.

The best deal is their vegetable plate. A large white plate, divided into sections, is full of interesting things to eat. Miso soup and rice are included, all for just 700 yen. If you are worried about what you might get, be sure to take a close look at the display in front before you order. In fact, figure out what you want before entering the cafe. The menu is entirely in Japanese, and there are lots of kanji.

I've eaten the vegetable plate before, it was excellent. This visit I had lightly breaded pieces of maguro (tuna), rice, salad, and miso soup, for 800 yen. I added a decent sized glass of red wine for 350 yen. Happily, the wine was served room temperature. I will be back to eat the maguro again someday, it was very tasty.
On the patio of 'Yasai sakaba' are two tables for four, and five tables for two. Definitely try to sit at one of these if you can. Inside are two long wood counters with lots of stools, and in the very back, a couple of regular tables. Hip, but mellow 'J-Pop' was playing in the background (UA, Hikaru Utada, Bonnie Pink,...). Service was very fast, and the staff was friendly.

Lunch is served from 11:30 to 15:00 during the week, and until 3:30 on weekends and holidays. Dinner is served from 17:00 to 23:30, seven days a week. They are closed on Wednesdays.

Address: Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-25-10.
Phone number: 03-5454-0005.

I definitely recommend eating here, especially if you are in the mood for lunch and dessert. When I eat lunch here, I follow with some shopping, and then stop somewhere else later for sweet snack. I don't feel guilty, and I get to really enjoy what Shimokitazawa has to offer!

8. Cafe Review: North Side Cafe

The North Side Cafe is less than 5 minutes walk from the North exit of Shimokitazawa Station, close to Starbucks.

2-26-21 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku
Tel: 03-5738-3636

Open: 11am to Midnight

You can't miss this cafe. Most of the front wall is made of glass doors that can be opened completely when the weather is nice. The front 3 tables end up outside. Every time I walk by, it is full of people. The atmosphere is chic, and there is usually pulsating dance music playing in the background.

The menu is extensive; Asian, Italian, Mexican,... The lunch specials are all under 1000 yen, and they include a large drink. An example of the lunch specials are displayed right outside, so you can see exactly what you are going to get.

My lunch was very tasty, but it was a strange combination. Carbonara spaghetti (creamy with large bacon chunks), a sausage on a stick, rice, a slice of cucumber, and a slice of avocado tucked inside half a tortilla and topped with salsa. I guess I can't blame them, I had seen the display outside before I ordered.

This might not be the best place for a deep conversation, the music and crowd will be a hindrance. But it is a fun, reasonably priced place to have a tasty lunch.

7. Restaurant Review: Village Vanguard Diner

Daita 6-3-1, Riverview Shimokitazawa B1F
Tel: 03-3481-5620

Open from 11:30am to midnight
Eat in or take out.

The Village Vanguard Diner is very close to the west exit of Shimokitazawa Station, right next to 7-11. They specialize in hamburgers, and they have a large collection of beer from around the world.

Inside, there are a number of booths/tables and a bar counter with 5 stools. The atmosphere is pretty cool. Tin covered walls, with lots of nostalgic American decorations.

Lunch and dinner menus are the same, except at lunch you can add a salad and drink for a little extra. The drink was American sized, in a large glass with ice. The salad was just some lettuce, but the dressing was ranch. I had the BLTE sandwich. It was tasty, but don't order it. The egg yolk comes runny, and your sandwich becomes very, very difficult to eat. The bacon wasn't bacon, it was a thick slice of spam.

The guy next to me was eating a burger, it looked delicious. Considering how quickly he ate it, it must have been good! All sandwiches and burgers come with thin fries.

There were some lunch specials: Jambalaya, taco-rice, and a soup and salad plate. The menu was almost all burgers and sandwiches, but there were a few salads, nachos, and a couple of other items.

6. Restaurant Review: Balboa Cafe

Balboa Cafe is about a 5 minute walk from Shimokitazawa's South exit.

At lunchtime, there are 3 lunches to choose from, no other menu. The day I was there the choices were: Spaghetti with 'nama' ham and mushrooms, Penne with Parmesan and herbs (and onions), and some type of fish/seafood pasta.

Lunch set A (with bread and coffee) was 950 yen
Lunch set B (with bread, coffee, and salad or dessert) was 1240 yen

The atmosphere was nothing special. With just a little work, it could look like a real Italian cafe. But, it was just too plain, there was little 'atmosphere'.

Salad choices were 'green' or 'tomato'. The green salad was a good size and there was a variety of ingredients. They also offered to top it with grated cheese. The tomato salad was smaller, but the tomatoes were soaked in an olive oil/vinegar dressing - they were fantastic.

For our lunches, we didn't try the Pescatore, but the other two pasta dishes were delicious! Although, I would not recommend this Penne if you dislike onions, it was full of them.

The food was extremely good, I didn't leave feeling like I wanted to visit again. The staff was not that friendly, and as I mentioned above, the atmosphere left something to be desired.

5. Restaurant Review: Ms. Claudia

Ms. Claudia - La Cucina Nobile & BarSetagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-34-5 150-0031
Tel. 03-3460-4746 Fax. 03-3460-9532

Ms. Claudia is a short walk from the North exit of Shimokitazawa Station. It is located in a basement, but the restaurant has an open-air patio that lets in natural light. On the patio are two outdoor tables (2 chairs at each table) with an umbrella.

Inside, Ms. Claudia is simple, yet elegant. The interior walls are concrete gray, accented with black, forest green, and cream. The largest wall has a huge display of liquor bottles, lit from behind. There was soothing English music in the background, although I did find the dish washing in the kitchen to be a little noisy.

The front of the restaurant has 3 '4-tops', 1 '3-top', and 1 '6-top'. There is a bar counter with 6 chairs, and against the opposite wall is a long bench lined with about 7 tables (with 7 more chairs). The restaurant was quite busy, most of the clientele were older, well-dressed women.

When I entered, my coat was taken and hung in a closet. I had the 'Claudia Lunch Set' for 990 yen and a side of bread for 100 yen. The set came with a salad, your choice of pasta or a pizza, and a drink. There are more expensive sets available, they include dessert and/or anti pasta,...

The salad was a very good one, there were different types of lettuce, tomato slices, corn, and some herb leaves, in a light vinaigrette. The side of bread was impressive for 100 yen. I was given two thick slices of baguette, with olive oil and Parmesan cheese for dipping. My meal choice was an eggplant and bacon pasta in tomato sauce. It was tasty and filling.

So far, this is the best Italian restaurant I have found in Shimokitazawa, I would definitely recommend it.

4. Shop Review: Robber Gabriera

Robber Gabriera is located just 2 minutes walk from the north exit of Shimokitazawa Station. It is very close to "Lush".

Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-34-10 Michiru Bld. 1F Phone: 03-3481-6877
Hours of Operation: 11a.m. - 8:30p.m. (weekdays) 11a.m. - 9p.m. (weekdays)

Many of the clothing stores in Shimokitazawa are of no interest to foreigners, mainly because everything is in small sizes and many stores sell only cheap used clothing.

Robber Gabriera is different, there is an interesting combination of goods for sale. Some clothing, some jewelry, some pocketbooks, and some odds and ends. If you are looking for cool t-shirts and jeans with a Japanese flavor, this is the place. They have large size t-shirts and excellent designs. The clothing here would be a huge hit with teens and college kids back home.

I bought a round purse/makeup case made from a pair of used blue jeans for only 1000 yen. I also bought a stylish men's necklace for 1500 yen.

Before visiting home, I plan to stop here again to pick up some t-shirts, they'll make great gifts.

3. Restaurant Review: Chicken Amrita


Chicken Amrita is a simple, yet cozy Asian cafe. There are only 3 tables (seating four each) and 5 seats at the counter. There is also a very limited menu, but everything is fabulous!

There are three main choices on the menu:
1) Gaomangai (Thai chicken over rice) - served boiled (780 yen) or grilled (880 yen), or a combination of both for 900 yen
2) Thai noodle soup (Similar to Vietnamese Pho) 750 yen
3) A combination of the above - around 1000 yen

There are a few other items, but mostly just sides that you can add on.

Whenever I have a taste for something simple, inexpensive, delicious, and healthy, I visit Chicken Amrita. I usually order #3. For an extra 200 yen, customers can get a salad - different each day (ex. daikon and cucumber in Thai dressing) and drink (ex. iced chai tea). And, for an extra 80 yen on top of that, customers get dessert - also different each day (ex. coconut ice cream).

Water is served in really cold metal glasses. It tastes really good that way!

A limited selection of alcohol is available. Draft beer (530 yen), bottled Thai beer (630 yen), Glass of wine (400 yen), or Cassis flavored drinks.There is also Vietnamese or Balinese coffee for 500 yen. Mango, Basil Seed, Grape, or Apple juice for 550 yen. And, a few types of tea (Chai, Oolong,...)

The staff is friendly and attentive. The menu is only in Japanese, but with so few items, I'm sure the staff can help explain things. Portion sizes are just right for most, especially if you get the salad/drink/dessert combination. Big eaters should have a few beers first, or order a little something extra.

Address: Daizawa 5-29-8, 5 minutes walk from the south exit of Shimokita Station, very close to the famous corner flower shop.

Hours of Operation: noon to 10pm, closed weekdays from 3pm to 5pm

Telephone: 03-3411-0141

2. Cafe Review: Deli & Baking Co.

Deli & Baking Co. 1F, 2-29-2 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 03-5453-1313

A five minute walk from the North Exit of Shimokitazawa Station.

Soothing jazz and Christmas tunes (it was December) were playing in the background. Walls are smooth gray concrete, with large picture windows overlooking the street. Nostalgic advertising posters (in English), decorate those walls. There are white counter tables and stools (about 30) and silver circular tables for 2 (about 12). The atmosphere is clean, airy, and not at all Japanese.

As you enter, incredible desserts are displayed in and on the deli counter - huge, amazing popovers, french toast, muffins, and scones. There is also a selection of regular cakes and pies. Everything is baked fresh each morning, on site. All desserts are available for 'take-out'.

There is also a stylish "Beer Bar" in one corner, but it was not open - possibly just a decoration.

For lunch, I had the "Deli Plate Set". Customers choose 1 of each from A (a vegetable), B (a meat or fish dish), C (a hot item) + rice or bread + drink 980 yen.

I chose: A (tomato and mozzarella cheese), B (lasagna), C (Oriental chicken). A strange combination, I know, but I couldn't read what type of chicken it was, it just looked delicious.

Everything was delicious and the portion size was just perfect for an average female (but not enough for most men, or anyone used to American sized portions). If you still have room in your stomach, I would strongly recommend having dessert, they are definitely 'American-sized'!

They also have a 'Soup Set': Choice of soup + choice of salad + rice or bread + drink (800 yen). And a 'Sweets Set': Choice of dessert inside the deli counter (regular cakes and pie slices, not the popovers, french toast, muffins, or scones) and drink for 700 yen.
Customers can also order a la carte.
Other menu items include:
*Sandwiches: BLT & Egg, Caribbean Chicken, Avocado/Bacon/Cheese,... (all around 700 yen)*Rice Bowl Dishes: Spicy Chicken Curry, Taco Rice, and 2 types of Loco Moco (all 800 yen)*Soup: Tomato Clam Chowder, Corn Cream Soup, + 2 soups of the day (all around 400 yen)

Lots of drinks to choose from, including draft beer and a variety of coffees/teas.

I choose a stool at a counter at the window, facing outside. Just in front is a lovely flower shop/clothing store (same owner as the deli) and a narrow, pedestrian only street. The spot is perfect for watching the parade of 'Shimokitazawa fashion' walking by.

The deli has been open for over 15 years. It is owned by a lovely lady named Etsuko Ueda, who owns a number of other cafes in Shimokitazawa and around Tokyo. Ms. Ueda speaks great English. If she is around, she can answer any questions that you might have. The staff, while not fluent, also did their best to help explain the set system and choices. Labels for the choices of the lunch set are only in Japanese, but most are easily identifiable just by looking.

I do not know if the sets are available in the evening, this was the one question that I forgot to ask.I would strongly recommend visiting the Deli & Baking Co. It is best for ladies having lunch, or for anyone who wants an incredible dessert!

1. Cafe/Bar Review: Kamera

When I go out to lunch by myself, I usually try to choose somewhere I have never eaten. Although I like to eat at the cool outdoor cafes and other obvious choices, I also like to try those places most foreigners are afraid to enter. From the outside, something tempts you, but fear of what lies inside stops most from entering. Kamera is one of those places.

Kamera is located on the north side of Shimokitazawa Station, on the 2nd floor of a busy corner. It has large windows on two sides, both of which look out over the people in the alleys below. I chose it because I wanted to relax, have a snack, and people watch. They had a square green sign outside with photos of their lunch specials, a list of drinks offered, and a cake set. The signs are in Japanese, but a smaller menu hangs there, and it is completely translated into English.

Inside the decor is 'hippy-clutter', with a large peace flag and Bob Marley/Jimmy Hendrix posters decorating the walls. There is a tatami area with a table for four and two smaller tables for two. You have to sit on the floor, but there is a good view of the street. There is also an 'L' shaped bar with about 10 stools. And, against the other window, there is a long counter. There were no stools here, but since the place was pretty empty, I asked if I could move a stool and sit watching the street. It wasn't a problem.
Creating some ambiance was a big screen TV playing music videos. Jamie Cullum was on at the time. The two staff members were young men dressed in knit caps and leather/bead jewelery. One of them spoke a little English.

I think the 2 lunch specials are the same each day, green chicken curry and a Thai rice dish with ground meat and basil. Both come with salad and soup for 680 yen. Add hot coffee or hot tea for another 100 yen. I didn't have either, but they looked good.

The dessert set gave you a choice of 'rare' cheesecake with raspberry sauce or chocolate cake. And, hot coffee or tea for 750 yen. if you don't want lunch or the dessert set, there are a lot of drinks to choose from, including a bunch of cocktails.

Kamera is cluttered and not so special, but since it is on the 2nd floor, it is quieter than most places that have a view of the Shimokita crowds. The music was good and so was my cheesecake. I plan to try one of the lunch specials someday.