Today, my friend Friday ditched work to hang out with me on a sunny, albeit still too chilly for my taste, day. Usually, on my day off, I sleep until late, wake up, snooze for three more hours, then rise to meet a friend or two for dinner and drinks. Typically, day off activities begin at 7p.m. However, since Friday was taking off work, he set up a meeting time of 10:30am. I haven’t woken up early for a day that I don’t get paid in a very long time. There were the usual wake-up grumbles, but the minute I stepped outside, and the sun hit my face, I made a promise to myself to wake up early every Thursday and Friday. Really.
We met in Daikanyama, an area of Tokyo that I still hadn’t been to. It’s a bit disgraceful that in six months, only the same five or six neighborhoods have been explored, when there’s so much on offer. Daikanyama was stock full of cafes, boutiques, vintage stores, restaurants, babies in strollers and poodles on leashes.
Upon exiting the train station, you’ll find a number of chalkboards advertising various restaurants with every cuisine imaginable ready for consumption. As my friends here know, I’ve been pining for a traditional American breakfast of eggs, pancakes and bacon. Two days ago, my friend B said something outrageous to me– “Why don’t you just make it all yourself?” Pancakes are serious business to me, so I wouldn’t attempt to make them. (I tried once and the experience wasn’t good, plus half the pancakes wound up burned). So, imagine my delight when we stumbled across The Pancake Cafe. They weren’t open for another hour, so Friday and I wandered into a hat shop, over a bridge, and past several bakeries until they were. (No pancakes for breakfast, just lunch, should’ve been the first clue that this place wouldn’t understand the concept of “breakfast”).
It was exciting to see exactly what I wanted on the menu: eggs, bacon, pancakes… and soup and salad? We ordered our omelette specials and it was with eager anticipation that I waited for the pancakes. First, a delicious onion broth was served (weird, I know, but soup comes with everything in Tokyo). Then, the main attraction was placed on the table. The pancakes were perfectly round, too cookie-cutter. Tasty, but not perfect for me, and they weren’t crisp on the edges (a preference). The eggs were super runny and thus I was unable to finish them; plus, they were unstuffed (no cheese, onions, nada). The salad remained untouched, because I was confused about why I’d eat a green salad with pancakes. Poor Friday, as French as he is, couldn’t understand why these different elements were being served together and he didn’t even try the maple syrup until the last bite of pancake. I think he mentioned crepes six or seven times.
Daikanyama is charming and there are touches of whimsy and surprise in unexpected places:
* Graffiti, which is prevalent in France, is pretty rare in Japan, so Friday got excited about this little bit of graffiti by the train tracks. If I recollect his exact words were, “Graffiti in Tokyo isn’t good.”
We left Daikanyama and walked to Harajuku. The day had warmed up a bit and the walk was easy and carefree. We stepped into many boutiques in Daikanyama on our exit and I tried on dresses, spring sweaters and necklaces that I lusted after, all of which I walked away from. Friday peeped into a skateboard shop, and … ok, that was it. The shopping in Tokyo… ahhh, and, the names of the shops, even better:
In Harajuku, we met up with Miss EW and the three of us walked over to a Jamaican restaurant that my brother recommended I try, even before I arrived in Tokyo. He had sent me a link to a write up in Time Out Tokyo of the Jam Rock Cafe and though I’d been meaning to go, I never made it. When we arrived there, it was closed until 5p.m, so Miss EW suggested that we go for okonominyaki at Design Festa Gallery, a very artistic space- part stand up eatery, part restaurant and part art gallery. Okonominyaki are Japanese pancakes which can be filled with a manner of things: seafood, pork, beef, etc, as well as cabbage. At the restaurant one sits in front of a grill, and is given the batter and ingredients in separate bowls, as well as step by step instructions on how to prepare them. I’d never been to one of these restaurants, because I could never for the life of me figure out why I was paying to cook my own food. (Still can’t– and didn’t).
* The okoniminyaki was good, but the best thing about this restaurant for me was the sign in the ladies room:
After we had our fill of cabbage pancakes, salmon and avocado salad, beer and sake, we decided to give the Jamaican restaurant another go round. Gluttonous, I know. Friday and Miss EW had never had Jamaican food before and I didn’t want us to leave Harajuku without having at least a nibble on an appetizer.
The experience at Jam Rock Cafe was disappointing at best, and I apologized to both Friday and Miss EW numerous times about the bland, non-spicy food and the non-smiling waiter. They’d never tried Jamaican food before, and the taste-less stamp-and-go (codfish fritters) served with ketchup, the soggy, unseasoned beef patties, and the salt-less fried green plantains would give them no reason to ever want to try it again. I kept saying, “Jamaican food is better than this, I swear.” As we walked out, we weren’t thanked, a really unusual occurrence in Tokyo, where even at convenience stores the customer is thanked to the point of excess. Miss EW remarked, “That was the first time in Tokyo, that I’ve walked out of a restaurant in silence.” She beat me to it, I was thinking and about to say the same thing. The Jamaicans at Jam Rock Cafe, while in Japan should do as the Japanese do and learn some grace. They were embarrassing. Notice, no photos of the food were taken; what would’ve been the point?
Addendum: As mentioned to a friend in a comment, it’d would have been better if we’d simply eaten the Jamaican food on offer at the stand up eatery in the front of the Design Festa Art Gallery. Next time.
All in all, this Friday, encouraged by Friday and aided by Miss EW, was fantastic. Who knew this much could happen if one wakes up before 1pm?
See you soon,