Archive for the ‘for the table’ Category

Retro Kanda kissaten with “nori toast”: Ace

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Ace exterior new

The area around Kanda station is a hive of activity—crowded, jumbled, and thoroughly “shitamachi.” And Kanda’s Coffee shop Ace is my new favorite Tokyo kissaten. About 42 years ago, two brothers took over their father’s role as Ace master. And over the years, they’ve kept things pretty much the same. Coffee is crafted here using the siphon method, once a technique common in many kissa, but now as rare as an honest banker.

Ace interior1The brothers have put together a menu of over 40 straight bean coffees and “coffee variations,” some of which you’ll find nowhere else.

These are not Starbuck’s-like milk confections, but sturdy coffee-grounded originals. Consider: Mexican Butter Coffee with a dab of real butter afloat in the cup. Pontier Beruga Coffee with real whipped cream and meringue (550 yen). Café Alexsandra with thick cream, cocoa liqueur and brandy (550 yen).

Or my favorite Pontier de Café con Leche with whipped cream, sherry, and walnuts (550 yen).

The brothers also carefully brew a wide selection of teas, if you are so inclined. Ace coffee menu

The prices here haven’t changed much either over the decades. A cup of straight Blue Mountain bean coffee is 570 yen and Kilimanjaro is only 480 yen. These prices are almost half of comparable cups elsewhere. And if you’re an early bird, you can have a bottomless cup of “blendo” if you order between 7a.m. and noon.

Ace is probably most renowned for its innovative “Nori Toast.” They take a slice of white sandwich bread, split it down the middle into two very thin half-slices, butter them, slip in a large wafer of nori, dried seaweed, then toast the whole thing to perfection. At 140 yen, it’s a classic. And if you get lost, as I’ve done a few times trying to find Ace, ask a local where the “nori toast” place is.Ace nori toast

If seaweed on bread is not your style, try the “choco toast,” a whipped cream, chocolate sauce concoction that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

A small library of coffee-related books and magazines is on a shelf for browsing. Above that little library, hanging on the wall, is a portrait of the two brothers done entirely in glued coffee grounds.

The clientele at Ace have been regulars for decades. Salarymen and office ladies, old couples and youngish couples.

It is not unusual to lean one’s weary head back against the wall and sneak 4o winks.

Ace is open 7a.m. to 7p.m Monday to Friday. Saturdays the are open until only 2p.m. Ace: 3-10-6 Uchi-kanda, Chiyoda ward. Tel: 03.3256.3941. Ace can be found, if you are lucky, in a 2-minute walk from the west exit of Kanda JR station, or in a 3-minute stroll from the Kanda Ginza line subway station.

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008


Here it is New Year’s Eve and I’m excited by toothpicks.

 The supermarkets are jammed with folks buying osechi, traditional New Year’s delicacies, but a toothpick display at Isetan, my favorite department store in Shinjuku, stole my attention.

 Set out next to a gleaming array of sleek Alessi accessories was a modest collection of products from Saruya, one of Tokyo’s oldest shops.

 Since Edo times, Saruya has been a purveyor of handcrafted toothpicks. How could I pass up a pack of 500 shirakaba, white birch, picks priced at only ¥105? The smiling sales woman recommended the more expensive utsugi wood picks, cut from stems of the deutzia crenata bush, as being stronger, thinner, and more flexible, so I bought 250 of those. And I had to have a cordwood-like bundle of the larger, thicker spicewood kashi-yoji, cut with a thin strip of bark still attached. A kashi-yoji is used as a fork when eating Japanese sweets.

 Neanderthals used toothpicks. One of my favorite writers, Henry Petroski, has written a fascinating 464-page book on toothpick technology and culture. Who knew there was so much to say about toothpicks?

 Using a toothpick means I’ve sunk my teeth into something. Not such as easy thing during these lean times.

 Using a toothpick also means I’ve got time to poke around in corners—that I don’t need to rush off to some other task.

 And now that I’ve stocked up, I can look forward to tonight’s soba, and tomorrow’s ozoni soup, and osechi food knowing that I can spend a few quiet moments, like my Neanderthal cousins did, intently probing the gaps, digging out bits, pondering what’s been left behind.