Archive for the ‘kissaten’ Category

Nelken: kissaten with old-world charm in Koenji

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

nelken table

For sixty years, with charm and grace, Fumiko Suzuki has been serving “classics,” “coffee,” and “paintings”  in her restful kissaten, Nelken, in Koenji.

“Nelken” is the German word for the carnation flowers, fresh sprigs of which fill a vase on each plain wooden table. They are her favorite flower, explains Madame Suzuki, who looks nowhere near her 80s. She is carefully coiffured, stylishly dressed and wearing a simple pearl necklace. She smiles shyly, and politely thanks me in Japanese for speaking Japanese to her.

nelken interior 3Then she apologizes for being sold out of cake today, but she has some nice cookies to go with coffee.

Her “classics” are composers such as Brahms, Chopin, or Dvorak. A vinyl LP version of Mr. Brahm’s fine Hungarian Dances is playing, with crackles and pops, through the wall-mounted speakers.

Her coffee is single bean selections such as Kilimanjaro, Brazil, or Colombia—each ¥650 the cup. Or the house blend  or a “brandy” coffee (¥500). Of course, teas such as Russian Tea (¥530) or Royal Milk Tea (¥580) can be ordered. In the evening, states the menu, cocktails such as “Nelken Fizz,” (¥680) or “Mizuwari” (¥900) are available.

The “paintings,” heavy gold-framed oil paintings of landscapes, fruit, dancers, vistas, and of course, carnations hang on every open wall space. Each crushed red velvet upholstered chair has a carefully ironed white lace doily across its back. The red velvet curtains are drawn aside to allow a milky blue light to filter through the pebbled glass panes.

Dark wooden posts, cherry wood, I believe, are positioned like rustic fences, creating a separate space for the ten small tables. A life-sized female nude sculpture stands next to one table. Sadly, over the years, she has lost one of her hands.

Nelken & Fumiko 3A small brick-bordered path winds the few meters toward the counter at the rear where Madame Suzuki prepares her coffees and teas. The high counter is so filled with CDs, magazines, and coffee paraphernalia that Madame Suzuki must keep the liftable countertop flap down. This means she must duck under it many times a day to get behind the counter or out again. This she does with considerable aplomb and verve.

Nelken is often filled. Young women, old men, couples, or a harried person who wants to relax and browse through a magazine while sipping coffee.

Nelken is a remnant of a Tokyo gone by, but which still hangs on in little kissatens throughout the city.

After the Brahms, Nelken was filled with the joyful, yet gentle longing of Claudio Arrau’s interpretation of Schumann’s Kinderszenen — the 7th piece, “Traumerei,” that Madame Suzuki had selected. The next day, I sought out my own copy of that CD so that I could keep some of the quiet calmness of Nelken with me whenever I heard it.

Nelken: Koenji 3-56-7, Suginami Ward

Tel: 03.3311.2637, Open everyday.

To Get to Nelken, exit Koenji Station from the South Exit and bear right along the station until you find the PAL shopping street. It is quite famous with a large PAL sign above it. Walk down the PAL shopping street for a few minutes until you get to Jeans Shop Nakaiya on your left. Turn right at the jeans shop and walk down that narrow road until you find a shrine, Chosenji. Just in front of the temple, nestled among greenery, is Nelken.

Kohii-sya Kura: Coffee, jazz, and art in Jimbocho

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Kura Vienna coffee

When it comes to kissaten, Jimbocho has an embarassment of riches. There are easily a dozen venerable kissaten clustered in the warren of small streets and alleyways surrounding Jimbocho station. These streets are lined with equally venerable used bookstores that for generations have guaranteed a daily influx of book lovers and students to the neighborhood.

Kura interior 2Kura calls itself a kohii-sya, which translates to “coffee house.” Sya, which is pronounced “sha,” means a house where people gather together for a special purpose. In this case to relax, listen to jazz, read, and enjoy the fresh flowers and the artwork on the walls.

The master, Suzuki-san, when he’s not carefully preparing a cup of paper-drip coffee, will take up his current book himself and sit behind the counter and read.

The coffee menu offers the standard kissaten selections of “blend,” “American,” “Vienna,” etc. The Vienna coffee (¥850) comes with a dollop of freshly whipped cream to add to your coffee at the pace you prefer.

I set the whole ball of cream on top at once so that when I sip, the rich warm coffee passes through the thick layer of cool floating cream.

Kura interior 3Kura also offers a selection of “straight” coffees: Brazil, Colombian, Mandheling, Kilimanjaro, and Mocha—each of which costs ¥800 per cup. These prices may seem steep, but if you order a second cup it will only cost ¥300.

Having a second cup is worth it to chill in this quiet, calm spot.

Be sure to try one of the freshly baked “house-made” cakes—cheese, chiffon, or a fruit tart—for an extra ¥300.

Kura entrance 3Kura is open 11am to 8pm daily Monday through Friday, and from 12pm to 5pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays and holidays.

Kura: 1-26 Jimbocho, Chiyoda Ward

Yazaki Bldg. 2F, Tel: 03.3291.3323.


Café Deux Oiseaux: Stylish old-school Asagaya kissaten

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Deux Oiseaux exterior

Thirty years ago, Café Deux Oiseaux was started in Asagaya by two birds of a feather, Takao Sou and his wife.

Deux Oiseaux interiorAnd for those regular neighborhood customers who flock together at Deux Oiseaux,  this old-school kissaten with its stylish airy interior, richly-grained oak counter, warm wood-plank floor, bentwood café chairs, fresh flowers, and Sou’s lovingly crafted felt-drip coffee, serves as a gathering spot, gossip center, art gallery, and quiet oasis from flurry and commotion.

Sou is a disciple of the 100-year old, yet spry and energetic, Ichiro Sekiguchi-san who still roasts his own beans daily at Café de L’Ambre in Ginza.

Decades ago at L’Ambre, Sou learned the craft and discipline of making neru drip coffee.

And the equipment of this craft laid out at Deux Oiseaux—the curve of the counter, the position of the grinder, the glass jars of roasted beans, two copper hot water kettles, the gas burners, and the small wooden-handled copper pot to receive the brew—is arranged just as it is at L’Ambre.

Deux Oiseaux Sou-sanA master of the neru, cotton felt-filter, brewing technique, Sou keeps the tilted hot water kettle motionless against his right side as he leans ever so slightly forward to allow a stream of water so thin it resembles a string of pearls to fall from its copper spout. His left hand moves the filter almost imperceptibly under the beads of water to completely wet and imbue the freshly ground coffee.

The aromatic liquid is caught in the small bright copper pot which Sou then briefly holds over a blue gas flame to regain the proper drinking temperature before pouring the coffee into a pre-warmed cup. The finished brew, a medium-roast Kilimanjaro AA, is richly flavored with a clean, bright finish (550 yen).

Deux Oiseaux Sou-san 2After finishing the brew, Sou takes a break to adjust and retie the crisp white chef’s apron he wears around his waist. His wife takes an ice pick and and a shallow wooden bucket with a large block of ice and starts deconstructing it into small glistening chunks for the glass of ice water one gets after ordering.

Sou is not sure if he’ll be able to continue serving coffee until he’s a century old. But his wife smiles and says they’ll give it a go.

Sou doesn’t worry about the corporate coffee company chains. “Almost all my customers are regulars,” he says. “Families come here. Even grandparents bring their grandchildren sometimes.”

Deux Oiseaux Sou-san wife iceA well-dressed matron at the counter looks up from her coffee. “I’ve been to Starbucks,” she says. “They are often near a station, and are a good place to meet someone. But I come here because I like the two people behind the counter.” Sou smiles in response. “And, of course, because the coffee is outstanding,” she adds. “Sou puts his heart into every cup.”


Café Deux Oiseaux (03-3338-8044), Asagaya Kita 4-6-28, Suginami Ward. The café is about 8 or 9 minutes from the north exit of Asagaya station. Exit the station and cross the bus zone toward Ito Yokado and the Tendon, Soba, Udon shop on the corner. Walk past that straight along  Nakasugi Street and the café will be on your left.

Jashumon: Ogikubo Coffee shop Time Slip

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Jashumon exterior passersby

As if by magic, time has stopped inside the coffee shop, Jashumon, just a short minute from Ogikubo station. This old kissaten started serving coffee, tea, and other drinks in 1955.

Jashumon upstairs 2If you are an intrepid wanderer of this vast city, you may discover in other backstreets of other languishing neighborhoods old kissaten bearing the same name, “Jashumon.”  These iterations resemble each other in their collections of antique clocks gracing the tinged walls, their abundance of lanterns and lamps lighting the heavy-framed oil paintings crowding the pendulum clocks, and their preservation of a venerated past.

The original Jushamon operated on a side street in Kunitachi for decades. (The small, leaning building still sits there locked up tight.)

The coffee shop owner and proprietor, Nawa-san, was also an accomplished magician who, more than half a century ago, had tutored a group of young people in the art of legermain. And in honor of their revered teacher, some pupils opened their own “Jushamon” kissaten in different parts of the city.

Jashumon stairs downNawa-san started his extended magical engagement in heaven in 2008, but the Ogikubo Jushamon, run by pupil Kazue Furota, a sprightly 83-year-young woman, still carries on.

Walking up and down the very steep stairs from the first floor kitchen to the second floor coffee room must be keeping Furota-san spry. (The photo shows the view from upstairs.)

She will arrive at your table with a pleasant smile and your carefully prepared cup of the day’s featured bean, or your cappucino, your  “Vienna” coffee—black coffee with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, or your sophisticated Italian coffee.

This Jashumon speciality comes with a cup of hot lemonade which you are to sip between sips of the dark Italian roast.

Jashumon muskersOn a recent visit, Furota-san commented on the collection of ancient muskets racked above a window. She says these weapons found their way into her family generations ago, and they were fired in three wars: the Spanish War of Independence, the American Civil War, and the  Satsuma Rebellion of the samurai.

Some people have commented that, at her age, Furota-san should retire and take it easy, but she says that as long as the joren (the regular customers) keep coming, she’ll keep going.

Sitting at second-floor table, looking at the defunct dusty reel-to-reel tape recorder, the stack of discolored manga, or the grafitti of names and dates scratched or inked onto the walls, one indeed is transported to an earlier, analog Tokyo.

Back in the day, Furota-san helped lay the bricks that support the walls that support the multitude of clocks which are now tick-tocking away the minutes.



1-6-11 Kami Ogi, Suginami Ward

Tel: 03-3398-6206

Open daily 2:30 pm to 9:30pm

Jashumon is just a minute walk from the north exit of Ogikubo station. Exit the station and bear right. You’ll soon see the overhead yellow sign of the “Ogikubo North Exit Shotengai.” Turn in there.




Monozuki: Nishi-Ogikubo outpost of old school coffee

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

monozuki interior 2

Time has stopped in Monozuki, a charming old school kissaten a few minutes from Nishi Ogikubo station. This phenomenon may be due to the fact that none of the pendulums are swinging inside the dozens of antique wall clocks gracing the rough walls or because since Monozuki opened 39 years ago nothing has changed except the lines on the faces of the longtime regular customers.

monozuki floorWell, one more change—the mastership passed from the previous owner to  Yamada Hiromasa decades ago. Yamada left everything the same, still brewing Monozuki’s delicious coffee, cup by cup, using the paper drip method.

Monozuki is an exemplar of the mountain-lodge style of kissaten that spread across Tokyo in the 60s and 70s. The interiors are all rough-hewn timbers, antique lamps, framed oil paintings, and vintage knickknacks.

Saboru and Ladorio in Jimbocho are other classic models of this nostalgic trend. For the younger generation of Japanese, who think coffee shops equal Starbucks or Tully’s, these old school kissaten are eye-openers.

Not surprisingly, though, some regulars are college students who know great coffee when they taste it, and who need a quiet place to study. The background music is jazz, and the large globe aquarium with the lone goldfish swimming in circles makes for a soothing ambiance.


monozuki plum cakeA recent cup of deeply-flavored Kilimanjaro (¥500) showed off this bean’s pleasant bitterness balanced by its subtle acidity.

The shop also offers house-made cakes. The summer’s plum pound cake (¥380) is superb.

Monozuki’s prices are very reasonable. Most coffee shops charge at least ¥700 for their straight brews. A cup of the Monozuki Blend is only ¥450.

For that price, you can sit as long as you care to writing your unfinished novel, planning your next business venture, chatting with old friends, or just watching the hands of the clocks paused at their particular moment.


3-12-10 Nishi-ogi Kita

Suginami Ward

Tel: 03.3395.9569

Open daily 12 noon to 9 pm. Monozuki is about a five-minute walk from the north exit of Nishi-ogikubo station.monozuki exterior




Donpa: Cold water Dutch drip coffee in Ginza

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Donpa exterior

Tokyo is awash with delicious hot coffee brewed drip by drip through paper filters, “neru” flannel filters, vacuum-powered drip filters, and even pressed through those French contraptions. But precious little coffee is produced by the time-consuming, cold water “drop-by-drop” technique known as the “Dutch” method here in Japan.

Donpa glass containersFor seven hours, cold water moves from the topmost bowling ball-sized glass globe, held secure in its four-post wooden frame and held aloft by a woven rope net, down into a smaller beer can-sized cylindrical vessel, then lower down into the bottommost baseball-sized chamber, which empties abruptly horizontally right and left through some metal plumbing and then vertically earthward again through two needle valves each regulated by a control knob to allow a certain number of drops per minute.

This cold fusion of water and ground coffee produces a soft brew free of aku, the scum or foam that forms when cooking a nabe pot, declares the explanation posted below the apparatus.

Unlike the short aggressive chemical reactions produced by scalding water and bean, the cool lengthy commingling of still water and bean produces a milder, less bitter, and less acid brew.

Donpa coffeeOf course, this concentrated coffee essence must be diluted and reheated before serving. And this year, Donpa celebrates 40 years of serving such mizu kohi, or water coffee, in Tokyo.

Besides the unusual Dutch drip method, Donpa adds another touch to their coffee experience: natural cinnamon essence which marries very successfully with their soft mellow brew.

The place is a comfortable oasis from crowds of the Ginza. The flooring is with well-worn black hardwood. The dark tables and chairs are chipped and smoothed by decades of use.

Customers of all persuasions and generations stop by Donpa. The menu offers uncinnamoned coffees as well in all styles, plus tea, milk, and juices. Cinnamon toast or cheese toast or jam toasts of various seasonal fruits are served, as are house-made cakes and cookies.

Unfortunately, smoking is allowed in the large open room. Nevertheless, the room is well ventilated and keeping your lungs and taste buds relatively smoke free is not an issue.

donpa customer sleeping

Napping seems to be allowed. Just order a coffee, put your head on the table, and catch forty winks.

Donpa also sells beans, ground coffee, and the cold-brewed coffee essence if you want to make some at home.

Donpa: 3-4-16 Ginza, Chuo Ward. Tel: 03.3567.3189.

Open daily 10am to 10:30pm. Saturdays 11am to 10:30 pm. Sundays and holidays 11am to 10pm.

You can fine Donpa two backstreets behind the Apple Store and Chanel.

A coffee tour of Tokyo: my favorite kissaten

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Dante siphons

Tokyo beats any other city in the world for variety and depth of the coffee drinking experience. Of course, the street corners are rife with slick Seattle-based coffee-drink emporiums. And the city boasts world-class baristas who can decorate a café creme with a Pikachu character, a rose, or a Valentine heart.

Caf´de L'Ambre brewingBut if you want to taste a demitasse brew of 30-year aged Cuban beans, plumb the day-to-day depths of Brazil Santos #2, or compare a Sumatra Mandheling bean prepared through a cotton flannel filter, a paper filter, or a glass siphon contraption while listening to Coltrane or Shubert on vintage vinyl records, then check out Tokyo’s kissaten.

The thing is, kissaten—the old-school Japanese name for coffee shop—are not easy to find. They don’t advertise. They close early, and are often closed on weekends. You’ve got to seek them out as on a pilgrimage.

If you’ve never tried neru-drippu (cotton-flannel filter) coffee, then you are in for a pleasant surprise. Cognoscenti claim the flannel filter renders the brew maruyaka, or “rounded and soft” with no “paper filter” taste.

The best place to start would be Café de L’Ambre, Tokyo’s mecca for coffee connoisseurs for 60 years. On a quiet side street in Ginza, this laid-back shop roasts its beans everyday 300 grams at a time. Small batches, they say, ensure freshness.

Over 30 types of fragrant beans fill the glass jars on the shelves behind the polished wood counter. Coffee beans, if properly warehoused, will age over decades like fine wine developing nuances of fuller, rounder flavor and aroma. The demitasse is the cup to try.

Tsuta masterTsuta, another neru temple can be found in Minami Aoyama. This ivy-covered kissaten, with its large bay window overlooking a Japanese garden, was started over 20 years ago by Koyama-san who learned the basics of roasting and brewing at Café de L’Ambre.

Koyama uses only Brazil Santos #2. One bean is enough for him, he says, because the taste of the coffee changes according to the humidity, the season, the time of day, and even the mood of the customer.

One more neru kissaten worth finding is Café Bechet in Ginza. Named after Sidney Bechet, the jazz clarinetist whose vinyl album covers and b/w photos grace the walls, this kissaten offers a respite from the crowds and prices of Ginza with old school jazz and old school coffee quality.

Uniquely at Bechet, after selecting the bean you prefer, say Mandheling, you can also choose a roasting style, lighter to darker: city roast, full city roast, or French roast.

With the neru drip, the coffee brew first dribbles into a small handled pot in which the coffee cools slightly. The brew must then be reheated slightly to bring it up to sipping temperature.

Dante entranceThe siphon method, the two-part contraption with its glass globe and detachable upper glass chamber, also produces an impeccable cup—and the coffee doesn’t need to be reheated.

The water in the lower glass bulb is heated. Steam then forces the hot water upwards into upper glass chamber where it infuses with the ground coffee. And when the heat source is removed from the glass bulb, the resulting vacuum draws the brewed coffee down through a flat flannel filter and back into the lower bulb.

Coffee Lodge Dante in Nishi Ogikubo is a fine example of this fading, yet still delicious, brewing technique. Dante is also one of the many rustic, old brick and dark wood decorated kissaten from the 1960s and ’70s which still survive across the city. Request a tune from the hundreds of vintage jazz albums crowded into old bookcases.

Holding out for nearly ninety years, Meikyoku Kissa Lion at the top of Dogenzaka in Shibuya, serves paper-filtered coffee.Lion front speaker area

But it is also a bastion for the musically pious and a refuge from the sordid world of love hotels outside.

Inside Lion it’s as quiet as a church.

Pale milky sunlight seeps in through glazed windows. Dark wood Doric columns support Moorish arches above very faded red plush chairs neatly arranged into rows like pews facing the soaring altar of the massive “3D Sound System” speakers mounted high in a tabernacle and illuminated by electric candelabra and a scintillating crystal chandelier. Order a coffee here and worship Bach, Beethoven, or Shostakovich.

The paper filter method offers several advantages over other types of brewing. First, one need not continually wash, mend and care for flannel filters. Plus, you don’t need to empty and wash out glass chambers filled with spent coffee grounds.

And the filter cognoscenti state that a superior, clean, brightly flavored brew is produced.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURENear Shibuya station, Café Satei Hatou has lifted the paper filter brew to an art form. The water is treated and filtered with an ion-alkaline process until it is as pure and tasty as mountain air. The beans are carefully weighed and ground fresh for each cup. Hatou prefers the Kalita brand filter holder with its three drip holes at the bottom for a faster drain. Other brands have only one drain hole, explained the master, resulting in a more leisurely drain. Such details are essential for coffee cognoscenti.

The cups at Hatou are of the finest porcelain and hundreds of different designs are on colorful display on shelves behind the counter which is twelve meters of dark hinoki. Seasonal flower arrangements, as large as the crown of a tree, dominate one corner table. Oil paintings in ornate frames hang on the wall alongside modern lithographs. A grandfather clock tick tocks soothingly beside an armoire displaying antique vases. Hatou is intimate enough for lovers and spacious enough for large thoughts and grand ideas.

At first glance the prices seem exorbitant—800 yen for a cup of coffee, 900 yen for a glass of juice. But if you order a second cup or glass—of anything on the menu—it will cost only 500 yen. A modest price to pay for perfection.

Café de L’Ambre: 8-10-15 Ginza, Chuo Ward. 03.3571.1551.

Tsuta: 5-11-20 Minami Aoyama, Minato Ward. 03.3498.6888.

Café Bechet: 2-2-19 Ginza, Chuo Ward. 03.3564.3176.

Coffee Lodge Dante: 3-10-2 Nishiogi Minami, Suginami Ward. 03.3333.2889.

Meikyoku Kissa Lion: 2-19-12 Dogenzaka, Shibuya Ward. 03.3461.6858.

Café Satei Hatou: 1-15-19 Shibuya, Shibuya Ward. 03.3400.9088.



Tokyo Tonkatsu Restaurants: My Favorite Five

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Sugita interior

A perfectly prepared tonkatsu—a thick, juicy pork cutlet enrobed in a golden crust of crisp breadcrumbs—is a thing of beauty. Achieving such perfection, though, is not easy. The cutlet must be properly sourced and sized. The oil must be fresh and kept at the exact scalding temperature. And the flake size of the crumb must be carefully considered.

The dredging in flour, beaten egg, and bread crumb must be done quickly and expertly. The chef must keep a wary eye and ear on the frying process watching the changing hue of the coating, the size and rate and sound of the rising steam-filled bubbles, and the buoyancy of the frying katsu.

Yamaichi picklesA tonkatsu meal will always include a small mound of finely shredded cabbage, and some type of tangy Worcestershire-based sauce handy on the table. If you order a teishoku set menu, you’ll get a bowl of rice, a bowl of miso or tonjiru (pork broth) soup, and a small dish of pickles.

In the restaurants that take pride in their work, the cabbage filaments are cut by hand, the pickles are house-made, and the soup is too.

If you’re looking for pork heaven, never mind that former bathhouse place that’s in all the guidebooks. Search out one or all of these establishments chosen from my favorite tonkatsu places across the city.

Yamaichi tonkatsuBairin in Ginza started serving tonkatsu in 1927. And their 200-gram kurobuta (Berkshire pig) cutlet is two centimeters of tender luscious goodness. This rosu cut includes a thin strip of tasty melt-in-your-mouth fat beneath the crisp breading. Unusually, and aesthetically pleasing, the mound of sweet cabbage includes dark green filaments from the outer leaves.

The handiwork at Bairin runs as smooth as a fine pocket watch. In a row behind the long counter stand four white uniformed cooks each precisely doing his appointed task: frying, cutting, preparing side orders, and ladling out soup and rice. Another cook in the kitchen provides a constant staccato of hocho knife chopping fresh cabbage.

Though a bit pricey, the 2,700-yen rosu katsu teishoku is very well worth it. The house-made sauce at Bairin is especially toothsome.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE A few minutes from JR Omori station, Maru-ichi is a tiny place with only a 7-seat counter and two tables each seating four. The menu is small too. All orders are teishoku sets. You can choose either the lean hire or the succulent rosu each at several weights: 170 grams (1300 yen), 250 grams (1700 yen), or for the genuine trencherman, the 300-gram plate.

All the ingredients at Maru-ichi are carefully sourced. The pearly pink cutlets come from Iwate. The red-orange carrots are grown in Chiba, and the surprisingly sweet cabbages are harvested in the Miura peninsula.

Compared to other tonkatsu joints, their rice is softer and more delicious; the carrots and cabbage sweeter; the meat more tender and flavorful. This is due to the great care that goes into everything at Maru-ichi. They go to the trouble, for example, of boiling the carrots, burdock, and onions separately to make sure they are evenly tender before adding them to pork-based miso soup to make their tonjiru.

Don’t mind the drab exterior of Maru-ichi. The interior is spotlessly clean and all efforts at beauty are focused on the plate.


marugo tonkatsuA few minutes walk from Akihabara station, Marugo is another tonkatsu connoisseur destination.

They feature sangenton pork from Yamagata prefecture. This crossbreed animal is a mix of Yorkshire, Landrace, and Duroc hogs which results in a fine balance of flavor and lacy marbling in the flesh.

The rosu is three centimeters thick, terrifically juicy and tender (1750 yen). They also boast a special dressing for the cabbage.

Sugita tonkatsuWorth a trip to Kuramae, one stop from Asakusa, is Sugita (pictured above). This nicely designed restaurant with its second-generation chef and gleaming copper pots serves a tonkatsu (2000 yen) with a bread crumb as fine as sand which makes an especially crispy crust. Of course, they also have their own specially blended sauce.

The folks at Yamaichi in Kanda Sudacho serve a tonkatsu that is thicker than at most other tonkatsu joints. It is expertly trimmed, weighed, and coated with a larger size of bread crumb too. The teishoku sets feature a reasonably-priced hire (1600 yen) or the rosu (1500 yen) with its strip of delicious fat nestled in unctuousness under the crust.

Yamaichi tonkatsuYamaichi believes in condiments. On the table are a panoply of 11 various additions to choose from such as Andes salt, yuzu kosho, shichimi, two kinds of shoyu, pickled scallions, mustard, two kinds of salad dressing, sesame, ponzu sauce, umeboshi, and bull-dog sauce.

Yamaichi is decorated with some style. The tables are dark, gleaming grainy wood. Framed modern lithographs hang on the wall. Don’t worry about the line that usually forms outside the restaurant. It moves quickly and you’ll soon be inside. Be sure to spot the little Shinto shrine tucked into corner near the ceiling.



Ginza Bairin: 7-8-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3571-0350. Open 7 days a week (except January 1.) 11:30 am – 8:45 pm. Cash only.

Maru-ichi: 1-7-2 Omori Kita, Ota-ku. Tel: 03-3762-2601. Lunch 11:30 to 1 pm. Dinner 5 pm to 7 pm. Closed Wednesdays, Sundays, and National Holidays. Maru-ichi is about a 2-minute walk from the East exit of Omori Station.

Yamaichi: 1-8-4 Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3253-3335. Open Monday to Friday 11am to 2:30pm. Dinner: 5pm to 8:30pm. Saturdays: 11am to 2pm (L.O. 1:30pm). Closed Sundays and holidays.

Marugo: 1-8-14 Soto Kanda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3255-6595. Lunch 11:30am to 2:50pm. Dinner 5pm to 8:20pm. Closed Mondays and third Tuesdays. About 4 minute walk from Akihabara station.

Sugita: 3-8-3 Kotobuki, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3844-5529. Lunch 11:30am to 2pm. Dinner 5pm to 8:30pm. Closed Thursdays. About one-minute walk from subway exit A5 of Kuramae station.

Meikyoku Kissa Lion: coffee and classical music since 1926

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Lion interior beethoven

Half a century ago, the hilltop at the summit of Dogenzaka in Shibuya was a family-oriented neighborhood with green grocers, a bowling alley, and restaurants. Several decades before that, the classical music coffee house, Lion, staked its claim as king of that hill.

Lion exteriorNowadays, surrounded by an array of love hotels and sex clubs, Lion is still there as solid as a cathedral with its grey plaster and stonework impervious to the indignities of time.

Inside the Lion it’s as quiet as a church. The pale milky sunlight seeps in through glazed windows. The dark wood Doric columns support Moorish arches in what must have been an architectural delight during the roaring twenties.

The wooden chairs have seat cushions of very faded red plush. The chair backs are protected by pressed white coverlets. These chairs are neatly arranged into rows like church pews facing the front, the soaring altar of  the massive “3D Sound System” speakers mounted high in the tabernacle and illuminated by electric candelabra and a scintillating crystal chandelier.Lion interior 2

Holding out 87 years so far, Lion has become a metaphor realized, a bastion for the religion of music and a refuge from the sordid world outside.

Patrons enter Lion with reverence, respect, and hope for solace and salvation. Their saviors are Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, Bruckner, Schumann, Fauré, Mendelssohn, Scriabin, Mussorgsky, and Rachmaninov.

At least they were for the March series of LP concerts held everyday at 3pm and 7pm. April will feature a new line up of musical messiahs.

Anytime in between those two concerts, worshipers can make musical requests to the staff. These requests, and the concert line up as well, are announced in soft whispered tones by an acolyte as he fits the needle into the groove. If one whispers too loudly, you are kindly asked by the staff to speak more quietly.

Lion coffee closeupCoffee, of course, is the sacrament here—blend kohi (500 yen), or milk (500 yen), or milk coffee (520 yen) or milk egg (670 yen), whatever that is.

No food is served, and no food is allowed. A Bach fugue, a Mozart concerto, a Beethoven sonata, a Chopin nocturne or a Fauré requiem are the nourishment here.

Meikyoku kissa translates to “great song” coffee shop. And with the thousands of vinyl LPs and CDs organized on sturdy shelves, any great song request can most likely be granted. No one seems to mind the scratches and hiss that accompany the vinyl selections.

Lion interior backdoorOn the monthly LP concert program, Lion proudly proclaims that it is air-conditioned—a certain draw back in the day. It also states that the American music magazine “Audio” wrote up the 3D Sound System in 1959.

Any music lover, or lover of Tokyo, ought to make the pilgrimage to the top of the hill on the Dogenzaka slope. Be sure to check out the second floor gallery seating. Notice the framed icons hanging on the dark walls—paintings of Bach or Beethoven and other composers shadowed with the patina of decades.

Check out the restroom. And as you make your way there in the dim light, pause for a timeless moment at the foyer of the back entrance.

Lion:  2-19-13 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03.3461.6858. Open daily 11a.m. to 10:30p.m.

Violon: Café et Musique. Classic kissaten on Asagaya backstreet

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Violon interior 1

Violon is a classic. Customers come here for classical music and coffee. That’s all Violon provides and that’s all the customers need.

Violon interior tubesAll seats face the massive array of speakers and horns that are built into a special pit that extends down below the floor. The ceiling behind the speakers gently arches forward for a better acoustic.

Music lovers come to Violon mostly solo to read, to sleep, or to make a request and listen to a vinyl LP. But the small tables also accommodate duos, trios, or even a quartet.

The place serves coffee, tea, milk, hot chocolate, orange juice or cola. All are the same price—350 yen.

But when the coffee arrives, you are offered the option of brandy in your brew. Should you accept, the young lady deftly shakes a small vial about six times over your cup sending in perhaps a teaspoon of the distilled grape into your coffee. It‘s not enough alcohol to give you a buzz, but if the music doesn’t mellow your mood, the brandy will.

Customers are known to nod off, head against the wall in slumber, while their coffee slowly cools.

Violon coffee 1Others sit, head in hands, staring at the speakers lost in reverie. Some have carved messages into the worn wooden tabletops.

The six tiny tables in the center are in a sort of orchestra pit planked with wood and one gets the feeling of sitting in the hold of an old sailing ship.

Thousands of vinyl LPs are stacked into shelfs. You can write up a request on the chalkboard near the miniscule kitchen should you prefer to listen to anything from Mussorgsky, Brahms, Dvorak, Chopin, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, or any other composer, including of course, the master, J. S. Bach.

When I arrived, a symphony that I couldn’t place was playing. A few moments later a trio of young people entered and ordered tea with one young man remarking, “Ah, Schumann’s ‘Spring Symphony’.” I climbed the three steps up to the register to check. He was right.

Violon loveThe sound system runs on vacuum tubes—RCA UY-227 Radiotron Amplifier Tubes—seemingly from the 1950s. The owner has laid in a large stock of these irreplaceable components.

Violon seems to host a live classical music concert almost every night, including solo pianists, string quartets, and even a theremin performer. Details are provided on the website.

Violon: Asagaya Kita 2-9-5. Tel: 03-3336-6414, Open 12pm to 11pm. LP Record Time is until 6pm on days with musical events. Closed on Tuesdays. A map on how to get there is on Violon’s website