Archive for the ‘Omotesando’ 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.

Anniversaire Café: Omotesando‘s last outdoor café

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012


The street running from the top of the Omotesando slope down to Harajuku station has often been called the Champs-Elysées of Tokyo. It once had some of the energy and diversity of that famed Parisien boulevard, but that was then.

Both sides of the street were alive with small shops. The venerable 80-year old Dojunkai Apartment complex— a warren of tiny apartments and tinier boutiques—gave the street a synergistic mix of shabby and cool. Paris sent an ambassador, a small branch outpost of Café de Flore where you could sip coffee outside and watch the passing Tokyo street life. Café Des Pres also had a lively street presence as did the magnificent Aux Bacchanales in Harajuku.

Those cafés are long gone. The Dojunkai Apartments have been been replaced by a sterile shopping mall, and Omotesando is chock-a-block with sleek high-end designer architectural confections of glass and textured steel that conspire to create perhaps the world‘s most expensive wind tunnel.

Yet, one bright spot remains. Anniversaire Café. Near the top of Omotesando street, this lively café serves superb onion gratin soup in winter and fruit sorbets in summer. Sandwiches are good. Salads are fresh. Customers even brave winter rain to sit outside under the awning, warmed  by blankets and the blast of space heaters.

The café is part of a wedding factory, including a faux chapel situated beyond an arched passageway. On certain days, once every hour, newlywed couples pop out of the chapel and promenade through the archway heralded by the café trumpeter and his female accompaniest on the electric organ. Customers at the outside tables are given handbells to ring congratulations to the passing couple.

A sincere kind of phoniness, of course, but the smiles on the newlyweds are real.

Anniversaire Café is real too. You can lounge at an outside table, with a newspaper, a book, or an iPad, and nurse a café creme or a glass of Chardonnay for as long as you as you care to.

You can find Anniversaire Café about a hundred meters down the slope from Omotesando crossing on the police koban side of the street. The café is open everyday.