Last week, while visiting the in-laws in northern Japan, I was able to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes — Japanese retro dining.
Over the years, lunch at Hotel Kazuno has become a regular fixture on the itinerary of trips to its namesake town. In fact, it’s almost become an obsession, and in true obsessive style, I order the steak lunch set (thin-sliced sirloin, demi-glace sauce, bite-size hash brown) every time. The real drawcard, though, is the soup and salad bar — all-you-can-eat cherry tomatoes, cabbage, iceberg lettuce, croutons, potato salad, tinned fruit salad, yoghurt and consomme. This ensemble makes for such a classic Japanese interpretation of Western food that it could be considered a cuisine in its own right. And I love it. I can’t get enough of the random combinations, the kitschiness, the feeling that nothing has changed in at least 20 years. The whole place is like this — from the decor to the service to the outfits worn by staff. Lunch at Hotel Kazuno is like stepping back to a slower time of simple pleasures, and with a view of snow falling and mountains in the background, the Big Toke seems worlds away.
Back in Tokyo, I make mini escapes by visiting some of the city’s many old school restaurants and cafes. I bundle these places together under the heading “Showa style” in reference to the Showa period of Japanese history which lasted from 1926 through 1989. But, this is an umbrella term I use to describe any place or thing that’s a little faded and sentimental; I’m not strict on the particulars. Anyway, here are my three top picks.
Fugestudo is a cake shop and cafe located off Ginza’s main strip but still close enough for great people watching from one of the cafe’s window seats. Apparently the shop was founded in 1872 and is famous for its “Gaufres” (butter cream wafers). I go for the marble tabletops and floors, wood panelling, mixed sandwich and banana juice. And, of course, the clientele.
Hashiya is a small chain of spaghetti restaurants in and around the Yoyogi area that have been operating since the early 80s. The Hashiya menu is strictly spaghetti and salads, and the house specialty is salted fish roe (tarako), sea urchin (uni) and squid (ika) spaghetti. I’m not a huge fan of sea urchin but I luurrrvvve salted fish roe and squid so usually opt for this combination. Salty fish roe, creamy butter and crunchy al-dente spaghetti are a match made in heaven, and the friendly, warm atmosphere at the Hatagaya branch (my local) seals the deal.
Chaco Amemiya (Sendagaya)
Chaco Amemiya is a dark, smoky, underground steakhouse near Sendagaya station. People come for the steaks and have been doing so since 1979. Except for me, that is — I’m far more interested in the dated decor (I think there’s a palm tree somewhere in there) and other quaint touches (e.g., bright orange sorbet). Good food and great opportunities for time travel.
Where do you go to escape the present and/or take a trip back in time?
6-6-1 Ginza, Chuo Ward, Tokyo
2-49-2 Hatagaya, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo
B1F 1-7-12 Sendagaya, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo