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 The Dojunkai Apartments have been been replaced by a sterile shopping mall, and Omotesando is chock-a-block with sleek high-end designer architectural confections of glass and textured steel that conspire to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.

 

Takahashi-san: Wine and vegetables at a yatai

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Takahashi-san, a hip winebar yatai a few minutes from Ebisu station, serves only vegetables—exquisitely fresh, pristine vegetables prepared with only a gentle steaming, or perhaps grilled for an interval over embers of charcoal.

Season by season, the vegetables will change. Spring brings fava beans or asparagus: white, green, purple. Summer means sweet corn—long slender cobs of baby corn which Takahashi-san  steams so expertly that you can eat the long twist of corn silk still attached. Summer also means lily flower bulbs or bamboo shoots. The tender bamboo shoots, which Takahashi grills in their sheaths until they are charred black, are gathered by yamabushi monks from the hills surrounding Kyoto. He’ll also have eggplant so fruity you eat it raw as dessert.

Pairing vegetables with wine is decadently healthy. Descriptions and prices of ten to fifteen different seasonal vegetables are tacked up on the wall behind the counter. No fat or oils are used, except for the olive-oil based bagna cauda which you can order if you like.

As you make your choices, Takahashi-san will suggest a wine pairing for you. All the wines—Old World and New—are available by the glass. He keeps an impressive collection of bottles chilled behind his counter.

Some of my favorite are the steamed kabu, turnips; luscious potatoes, kabocha pumpkin, grilled brussel sprouts, green pepper with freshly shaved katsuo flakes, and the garlic gloves which turn a soft golden brown after thirty minutes in the steamer. Most of the items cost from ¥300-500.

Not to be missed is one of Takahashi-san’s specialities: the steamed shiitake mushroom caps filled with a spoonful of freshly squeezed sudachi juice. He says you’ve got to take the whole thing in one mouthful for the best effect. Delicious.

Takahashi-san’s winebar counter is among a dozen yatai in an enclosed mura. So if you absolutely need some meat, gyoza, or grilled fish to go with your wine, stroll over a neighboring yatai, order some up, and bring it back to Takahashi’s counter. It’s one big party.

Some evenings a nagashi, a wandering guitar-strumming minstrel, makes his rounds yatai to yatai. For ¥500 you can choose a song or two. You can sing, or just let him entertain you with his original songs.

Takahashi-san stays open until the wee hours.

Wine & Vegetable Takahashi-san: 1-7-10 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 080.5527.1117. Reservations recommended.