Chaiya

I vaguely remember visiting this little curry restaurant when I first came to Okayama, and I remember that the food was good and the atmosphere pleasant. Nearly 20 years later and nothing has changed; it’s still one of the best curry restaurants in town.

Chaiya’s signature dishes are Indian-style curry and Indonesian-style fried rice, and chai and lassi drinks. You can also get a wide variety of side dishes, salads, and desserts; the menu is a full three pages. My favorite entree is the Coconut Shrimp Curry.

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Coconut & Shrimp Curry / Mango Lassi

All entrees come with a serving of yellow rice and a small side salad. The salad vegetables are super-fresh lettuce, a slice of tomato, sliced cucumber, parboiled carrot, and saffron-boiled potato; the dressing is a plain yogurt, which I admit sounds strange, but it actually very good in its simplicity.

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Oops! I ate the tomato…

The Indonesian-style Nasi Goreng (friend rice) looks like this:

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This dish is my friend’s favorite; I am in love with the Coconut Shrimp Curry, but I will have to try the Nasi Goreng sometime, because it does look really delicious.

For dessert we had a banana fritter and coconut pies, which we shared. Both were good but we agreed that the banana fritter was better.

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Banana fritter with yogurt

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Coconut pies

The restaurant is located on a backstreet near Okayama University; the interior is natural and cozy, and the wood floors and furniture give it a very welcoming feel. There is a good selection of magazines (in Japanese), which is nice for people who want to relax for a while. It was great to rediscover this place (thanks to my friend!) after so many years.

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In addition to having lunch / coffee ・chai / dessert, etc, Chaiya offers a small selection of teas, breads, and spices for sale.

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Chaiya was recently featured in this local publication, which highlights area restaurants and cafes that have been in business and have been popular / well-loved for more than 30 years (Chaiya has been in business for 36 years, since 1979, in case you were wondering).

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+ What I like about this place: Great food, inviting atmosphere, has a “hidey-hole” feel, loads of free parking, loads of menu selections–this makes me want to come back again and try something different next time.

What I don’t like about this place: no separate areas for smokers & non-smokers, staff could be a bit friendlier.

Homepage: n/a

Facebook: n/a

Address: 岡山市北区津島南1-6-17  /  Okayama-shi, Kita-ku Tsushima Minami 1-6-17

Tel: 086-255-1915

Hours: 9:00am~10:30pm; closed Fridays

Map:

https://goo.gl/maps/pfZyR

Dates visited: September 19, 2013 & February 16, 2015

Balloom

If you know me, you know that I really love donuts.  My business partner & I had a meeting today at a cafe that specializes in tofu donuts, and I confess that I was thinking, “Ah, tofu donuts…probably not so good.”  WRONG. These are the best tofu donuts I have ever had. In fact, they are some of the best donuts I’ve had.  Period.

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Balloom is a small cafe on the west side of JR Okayama station; it’s owned & run by two entrepreneuring sisters who grew up in a tofu-making family (hence the tofu-rich menu).  The cafe is small but elegantly stylish 2-storey building that is decorated with a SoHo feel: dark-wood antique furniture mixed with a few newer, artsy pieces, glittery lights, and rich jewel-toned walls make for a stimulating yet very relaxed atmosphere.

I absolutely adore this light fixture, which hangs in the stairwell between the first and second floors. It’s a wire fixture adorned with little colorful birds.

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As we were there at tea time, we just had a cup of tea and a donut each. What a treat! The tea was served in generously-sized footed cups. The tofu donuts look plain, but were oh-so-fabulous. Even though the donuts are made with no sugar, eggs, or milk, they were remarkably sweet, soft, and fluffy. I also ordered a few for take-out, because I knew my family would also enjoy them (they did!).

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The dishware is all from New York; it’s probably difficult to see in the photo, but the donut plate is adorned with a New York-themed design.

The lunch menu features selections such as a specially-made curry with rice, seasonal quiche, tofu ‘donburi’, tofu lasagna, a green smoothie made with soy milk from the family tofu shop, a fruit tart, and a few other select items. The cafe turns into a bar with a completely different menu at 6:00pm.

Next time I visit, I’m going to have the quiche lunch! With a tofu donut or two for dessert, of course.

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+ What I like about this cafe:   Elegant decor, menu featuring a few well-thought out & high quality items, friendly staff, owners that take pride in their product and enjoy sharing it with customers, easy access from the station.

What I don’t like about this cafe:   Not much! No dedicated parking but it’s in the city center so that can’t really be expected.

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/balloom.NY/timeline

Address:  〒700-0024 岡山市北区駅元町21-13 /  Okayama-shi, Kita-ku, Ekimoto-cho 21-13

Tel: 086-250-7363 / Mobile: 080-6263-7377

E-mail: yamamoto@otoufu.com

Date visited: January 15, 2015

Tereya Cafe

If you like antiques, great food, and arts & crafts, Tereya Cafe is the place for you. Located on the main road in Ushimado, Okayama, this cafe is exactly the kind of place I’d choose to open if I ever get my own cafe.

Tereya Cafe is operated by American-born Teresa Stockwell, and her Japanese husband.  The building is actually an antique Japanese house; the house has not been renoved, so it has a very homey, warm feel to it.

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The menu features curry and baked desserts.

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Note, the curry is really great handmade curry (not Japanese curry, but more authentic Thai-style curry).  Being a freak (yes, that’s right) for anything coconut, I opted for the Coconut Curry despite Teresa’s having warned me that it is quite spicy.

DSC_4248The portions were large; the curry was served accompanied with a fragrant, saffron rice. And yes, it was spicy. As the day was really chilly, spicy curry really hit the spot. My colleagues order the vegetable curry, which was probably considerably less spicy.

The curry was also served with a side salad.

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I confess, this looks like “just a salad”. But, the vegetables were super-fresh; the tomato was excellently sweet despite it currently being winter; and the potato salad was perfect. The whole thing was drizzled in olive oil with a sprinkling of sea salt–so very Ushimado.

After our meal, we couldn’t resist dessert–after all, it was Teresa’s baked goods that greeted us when we first arrived:

DSC_4254It’s hard to see from my poorly-taken photograph, but an array of handmade cakes and pies are lined up on the kitchen counter. The only problem was deciding what to get, because frankly, everything looked equally delicious.

In the end, I got the Apple Cinnamon cake:

DSC_4249Yum. Soft cake filled with chunks of cinnamoned apple, and topped with a light sugar glaze and sliced almonds.

My friend Judith got the Apple Pie with a dollop of whipped cream on the side:

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You just can’t go wrong with good ol’ apple pie.

Our colleague Kaz got the Ushimado Honey Cake:

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Even though the honey cake looks the plainest, it was my favorite (yes, we traded bites!). It had an earthly, whole-grain goodness that the honey accented nicely.

Teresa and her husband also display and sell an array of arts & crafts in their cafe, including handmade greeting cards and postcards, accessories, hand-blown glass, and pottery.  Additionally, they also host live music performances. For more information / updates on events, check out the Tereya Cafe blog and /or Facebook page (links below).

If you’re driving through Ushimado and need a great meal or just a place to relax, look for the Tereya Cafe signboard.

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Next time I visit, I’ll be sure to a) bring more money to buy crafts; and b) plan to spend more time there!

+ What I liked about this cafe:  Great food and desserts; large portions; eclectic mix of arts, crafts, antique / vintage Japanese and Western furniture make for a great atmosphere.

What I didn’t like about this cafe:  Nothing, absolutely nothing. My only regrets are that we didn’t have more time to enjoy coffee and conversation with the proprietors and that I didn’t bring more money to buy craft items.

Blog link: http://tere-ya.at.webry.info/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tereyacafe

Address:  〒701-4302  岡山県瀬戸内市牛窓町牛窓4178   /   Okayama-ken, Setouchi-shi, Ushimado-cho, Ushimado 4178

Tel: 0869-34-5397
Hours: 11:30~18:00 (Sat. & Sun. until 20:00); Closed on Tuesdays
E-mail address:  teresa@amethyst.memail.jp

Map: http://yahoo.jp/cfxNz7

Date visited: February 13, 2014

Neighbor Coffee Company

“Cool!” and “Yum!” sum up my experience at Neighbor Coffee Company, a sweet little cafe located just at the entrance to the up-and-coming “Jeans Street” designer shopping area of Kojima, Kurashiki-shi.

I first learned of Neighbor Coffee Company from Luc Gougeon’s blog.  You can read his review here: http://foodietopography.net/neighbor-coffee-company/   As a prelude, Luc’s photos of the shop are really nice–much nicer than mine, in fact, and he obviously knows much more about coffee than I do.

Neighbor Coffee Company is located in central Kojima, on the north side of the Shimin Koryu Center (which used to be the Seto Ohashi Bridge Museum).  It’s on the second floor of a corner building and is accessed by a really narrow circular staircase.  The cafe doesn’t really stand out when you’re looking at it from the street.

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Once you’re inside the cafe, it looks totally different.

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The cafe is bright, spacious, and modern but feels very relaxing and inviting.  I love the mix of concrete, glass, metal, and wood; the simple lines of everything blend well to great effect.  The concrete flooring has a “reclaimed” feel that is inviting.  The two main walls are made mostly of glass, and even though the view isn’t especially great, the effect still has that “wow” factor.

At the counter, I was greeted with this sight:

DSC_1963Look at those gorgeous doughnuts, arranged “just so” in their individual paper cups and sparkling like gems in the showcase.  I was visiting with a friend, who ordered a Wild Blueberry doughnut and a Mango juice.  I chose an Organic Sugar doughnut and a White Chocolate Iced Latte.

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I am a freak for white chocolate and forgot that I don’t really like sweetened coffee, and this was pretty sweet.  However, it was still really good because the underlying coffee was good–rich and smooth.  It had obviously been properly made.  The Mason jar-esque mugs were pretty cute too.

The doughnuts were AWESOME.  Yes, they were more expensive than the 100 Yen donuts from Mr. Donut or Krispy Kreme but they were really worth their price.  My friend and I traded bites, and even though the Organic Sugar doughnut was really great, the Wild Blueberry was even better!  If you go to Neighbor, you should definitely try the Wild Blueberry doughnut.

Here’s a photo of the full counter:

DSC_1968Unfortunately, the really cute guy who made my coffee was bending down when I snapped this shot.

Even though Neighbor Coffee Company markets their own coffee, they told me that they buy their beans already roasted from their supplier, who they did not want to reveal.

Even though we were in the cafe for a couple of hours, there was only one other customer on a late Sunday morning.  I’m surprised that such a great place isn’t busy all the time.

Outdoor seating is also available (see Luc’s blog, above, for a photo).

+ What I liked about this shop:  Awesome interior, nice service, fabulous doughnuts and coffee.

– What I didn’t like about this shop:  Not much.  No dedicated parking available, but there are two pay parking lots across the street.

Neighbor Coffee Company also offers sandwiches as well as a wide array of coffee and juice beverages, but it was impossible to get a shot of the menu without glare from the glass frame.  For menu information, etc. see the website and / or Facebook page, both listed below.  The website is minimal, but the Facebook page has nice some photos.

Website:  http://neighbor-coffee.com/index.html

Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/NeighborCoffeeCompany

Address:  岡山県倉敷市児島味野2-2-39 2F  Okayama-ken, Kurashiki-shi, Kojima, Ajino 2-2-39  2F

Tel:  086-472-5183

Hours:  8:00 – 20:00  Closed on Thursdays

Map:

(*NOTE* : This map shows that the coffee shop is mid-block, but actually it is on the corner)

Date visited:  July 28, 2013

Cafe di Espresso

Located *inside* the  combined book store and CD / DVD / comic rental shop TSUTAYA in Tamano-shi, this cafe appears to be a Starbucks-wannabe.  They have a similar style of decor, and similar menu offerings.  Still, since we’re unlikely to get a Starbucks in Tamano-shi anytime soon, Cafe di Espresso isn’t a bad runner-up.

The store can be accessed from inside the TSUTAYA shop or from the street.  Here’s what the entrance from the TSUTAYA side looks like:

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Since the cafe is connected to the shop, I understand that TSUTAYA has a real need to protect their merchandise from shoplifting, but the magnetic gates are really ugly and detract from the atmosphere.

You can see what the store looks like from the street side on the website (see link below).  It’s also not very attractive, but again I understand that they’re limited by the TSUTAYA building.

Once you’re past the ugly magnetic gates, the interior is actually nice.  Here are some shots of the counter and the main room:

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See what I mean about it being Starbuck-y?   Still, Cafe di Espresso has more open floor space than Starbucks does (at least the ones in Japan–they are so overstuffed with cushy chairs that it’s difficult to nagivate the room), and I like that they are attached to a book store.  The smoking section is completely walled off from the non-smoking section, which is also a big plus.  Cafe di Espresso also provides a nice selection of current magazines (in Japanese, of course), in case you didn’t buy anything at TSUTAYA.

Cafe di Espresso is a subsidary of the Kohikan chain of cafes.

Cafe di Espresso must do pretty decent business; everytime I pass by, there are always a good number of people inside, and the snack and dessert case is always nearly empty.  Unlike Starbucks, Cafe di Espresso usually only has 1 or 2 people on staff, so the person taking your order is the person who also makes your drink.   It’s not a chain-production kind of place, even though it does obviously fall into the “fast food” category.

They are currently running a Hawaiian Cafe Fair, which runs through September 3rd, 2013.

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I ordered the Coconut Coffee Frosty, and my sons each got a Strawberry Frosty (not on the Hawaiian menu, obviously, but also a seasonal drink).

DSC_1678The Coconut Coffee Frosty was a good treat, but there wasn’t much coconut about it other than the toasted bits on top of all that darn whipped cream.  It would have been nice if it had included (and maybe it did but I couldn’t tell) some coconut-flavored syrup.  The boys’ Strawberry Frosties were REALLY good–I highly recommend these if you can get one before they stop serving them.

+ What I like about this cafe:  Service was friendly but not over-the-top, large drink selection, ok to bring your kids to this cafe, open feel of the interior, Wi-Fi available.

– What I didn’t like about this cafe:  Chain store, but hey, I knew that before I went in.

Address:  〒706-0011 岡山県玉野市宇野1-11-1 TSUTAYA玉野店内 1F Okayama-ken, Tamano-shi, Uno 1-11-1, Tsutaya Tamano 1F

Tel:  0863-33-6266

Hours:  Everyday 9:00am to 11:00pm; open year-round

Website:  http://www.ufs.co.jp/shop-search/shop_id/294

Map:

Date visited:  July 19, 2013

Nene Goose Cafe…revisited

My friend and her sister wanted to meet for lunch, so we agreed to meet at Nene Goose Cafe again because it’s central to my friend’s house and to mine.  Today I decided to try something different to what I ordered last time.  I got the Korean Bibinbap-style casserole dish; my friend got the curried ground beef and vegetable casserole, and her sister got a seafood pasta casserole.

The casserole lunch sets were 1,100 Yen for the main dish, a side salad, and a drink.  Again, I opted for an iced tea since the tea I ordered on my last visit was really good.

Verdict: It was pretty darn good, and very filling.  The casserole had a rice base, and included cooked vegetables, sliced beef, a Korean-style sauce, a poached egg, topped with white sauce and cheese, and garnished with Japanese mizuna.  The salad was good, but the dressing didn’t have that “Wow!” factor that it did the first time we ate at Nene Goose; it definately needed more sesame oil and chili oil.  The tea also was so-so, and lacked the rich flavor that it did on the first visit.

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For dessert my friend and I got the roll cake, which came with a side of vanilla ice cream.  The dessert was an extra 200 Yen with the lunch set.

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The cake was very fresh: the sponge was soft and dense, the whipped cream and custard was fresh, and the fresh fruit (ruby grapefruit and orange) was really nice.  But it was really bland.  This cake looks very pretty but it needs a bit more sugar to bring out the flavors of the creams and the fruit.

Still, I really like the interior of this cafe, especially the flooring.  Here is a photo of the entrance area and the dessert case:

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As with the service on our first visit, the servers were really friendly and outgoing.

I guess it just goes to show that something that seems great maybe is just so-so, depending on the day that you visit.

Date revisited:  July 18, 2013

***For shop information, map, etc., please see the original post on this cafe (in June 2013 of the archives).

Tokyo Cruise Cafe

Finally, a proper cafe entry.  Sort of.

Tokyo Cruise Cafe is located inside the Hinode boat terminal, which is just next to the Yurikamome Hinode train station.  The main offerings are coffee, soft drinks, and frozen yogurt.  The shop is not really a proper shop since it’s inside the terminal building; here is a photo of the counter (taken from the website, see link below):

Tokyo Cruise Cafe counter

And another photo of the counter that I took, with the staff:

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My sons each got a frozen yogurt topped with Oreo cookies and sprinkles; being a tropical fruit lover, I ordered one topped with pineapple and coconut sauce.

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The yogurt was good; it was sweet but not cloying, and the toppings were good.  The bowls made from waffle cones were cute too.

Tokyo Cruise cafe has a contempory sample window displaying all of the topping options:

DSC_1591The cafe is in an awkward location; I think the only customers are the ones coming off of the Sumida-gawa river cruise (which is great fun; I recommend doing this if you’re in the Tokyo area and have about an hour to spare).

+ What I liked about this cafe:  Good yogurt, cute display case.

– What I didn’t like about this cafe:  Awkward location, no real distinction between the cafe and the terminal building.  The cafe shares washrooms with the termimal building–yucky.  No trash cans.

Address:東京都港区海岸2-7-104

Tel:  0120-977-311

Website: http://www.suijobus.co.jp/img/home/menu.jpg

(this is actually just a short introductory page on the “water bus” /  river cruise website)

Map:

Date visited:  July 7, 2013

* For information on Sumida river cruises in Tokyo, see:  http://www.suijobus.co.jp/   This page is in Japanese, but some pages include bi-lingual information.  Also, please note that more than 1 company offers cruises on the river.