Le Pain Quotidien at nonowa Higashi-Koganei

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I lived in Brussels for a year and one of the things I remember the most is the Le Pain Quotidien down the street from my apartment. The bakery opened up early in the morning so I could stop by and get a croissant or pain au chocolat to start the day. The large communal table in the middle of the cafe is perfect when dining solo. On the table were jars of jam and nutty and chocolate spreads for bread. Open-faced tartine sandwiches as well as salads round out the menu here. The menu sadly does not have any Japanese influences. It is pretty much the same menu you’ll see in Belgium or in New York City. A fun shop to come in solo or with some friends.

Le Pain Quotidien is in a new shopping complex that opened up recently, nonowa Higashi-Koganei, which is on the Chuo line between Mitaka and Kokubunji. nonowa can also be found in Nishi-Kokubunji and in Musashi-Sakai, also on the Chuo line. The shops are in the train stations and this Higashi-Koganei shop is all underneath the Chuo line. A smart move to use the space underneath the train tracks. While it’s possible to hear the trains passing above, it is not nearly as noisy as spots like the restaurants underneath the Yamanote line near Yurakucho station.

The organic coffee is served in a bowl. Reminds me of bowls of hot chocolate in Europe. The coffee comes in a pot and is about two cups plus. Next time I come back I will bring some reading with me and settle in and be transported back to Belgium.

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The shop is brightly lit as one wall of windows faces south. On this day there were a few older couples and many young women in the shop. There is a small, but well-stocked bakery in the front of the shop for take-away or for eating in the cafe.

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There is also outdoor seating which will be perfect once the weather warms up. And, operation hours are 7:30 – 22:00.

Le Pain Quotidien has branches in the city. It’s not worth the trek out to Higashi-Koganei. But, if you find yourself traveling on the Chuo line, it’s good to know that it’s here.

Sandwich and Salad Lunch

Sandwich and Salad Lunch

A vegetable-friendly menu with salads and sandwiches.

Le Pain Quotidien Kid's Lunch

Le Pain Quotidien Kid’s Lunch

The Kid’s Lunch is hearty with an open-faced sandwich, fresh fruit, roasted potatoes, juice, and a chocolate muffin. Best of all, the waitress set a bucket of crayons on the communal table along with some origami paper. The crayons bought me enough free time to leisurely peruse their cookbook.

Le Pain Quotidien

Koganei-shi, Kajinocho 5-1-1, nonowa Higashi-Koganei

小金井市梶野町5-1-1, nonowa東小金井

Chuo line, local stop at Higashi-Koganei station 東小金井駅

042-316-7041

7:30 – 22:00

updated 27 July 2015

Spoon Curry

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Japanese curry, one of the country’s comfort food dishes, is something we make at home all of the time. Often using packages of curry roux that now come in a wide variety of flavors and levels of heat.

I am a firm believer in not going out to eat food that can be easily made at home. However, rules are made to be broken, and I will make an exception for the vegetable curry at Spoon near Nishi-Kokubunji station on the JR Chuo Line. 

Spoon is a narrow restaurant, like many ramen shops, with a long counter facing an open kitchen. There are nine seats in the shop and yes, you have to pull your seat up as close as you can to the counter when someone passes you. Most Japanese maintain a narrow waistline, can’t imagine a restaurant this small passing fire codes in New York City.

Each time I come back I carefully peruse the menu. Today I considered getting the daily special which was garlic chicken and a soft omelette over the curry. The seasonal deep-fried oysters also called out to me as oysters are finally back in season now that the waters have cooled down. But, I am addicted to the vegetable curry here. It’s something I can’t be bothered to make at home. Nine different vegetables are deep-fried and then artfully placed on the curry. It’s colorful and the vegetables contribute different flavors including sweetness from the sweet potatoes and textures like from the broccoli. With this variety of vegetables I feel like I have gotten met my daily requirement of vegetables. Cream garnishes the curry with the flourishes of a skilled calligrapher. I don’t think the cream adds much flavor to the dish, but it sure makes it pretty. I splurge and ask for it to be topped with a croquette.

The curry here is something I need to try and recreate at home. Much better than any pre-packaged roux. It’s a dark, almost black curry that is layered with flavors. The smell of the curry lingers into the street, which is how we first decided to come into the shop. We noticed that it was very popular. There is a take-out window on the street and it’s not unusual to see someone waiting for their curry-to-go. 

If you come, be sure to open up the small pickle pot on the counter. The sweet, red fukujin-zuke pickles are the perfect partner to the dish.

To get to Spoon, exit Nishi-Kokubunji JR station. There is only one exit. Take a right outside of the station and then the first left. Walk down the narrow pedestrian street and it is about the 3rd shop on your left. Note that there is another curry restaurant also called Spoon on the South side of the station, not to be confused with this one.

Spoon

Kokubunji-shi, Nishi Koigakubo 2-6-3

042-322-9464

Sanukiya – Kaiseki Udonya and Saké

Tokyo is filled with a wide variety of izakaya, places with food and saké. Recently I got together with friends, two editors from a popular food magazine, DANCYU, and a famous saké and shōchū authority for a night out. I was told that we were going to Sanukiya in Kōenji. Sanuki is a region in Japan famous for its udon noodles, not for its saké so I was a bit puzzled. Udon is a noodle that is getting a lot of attention now. So much so that DANCYU did a big spread on it last month. But, what kind of saké were we going to get at an udon shop? I wasn’t expecting much.

Sanukiya 1

Until we sat down and Atsuko Sando Sensei, the saké authority, said, “Wow, this saké list is not made up of ozeki or sekiwaké (referring to ranks of sumo wrestlers), but these are all yokozuna (the highest rank of sumo wrestlers).” I knew immediately that we were in for a great evening of saké. Just a quick look at the list above, some names jump out right away like Jikon, Kamenoo, and Juuyondai. And, if Sando Sensei was excited, then surely we were in for a treat.

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We started off with a slightly sweet saké. Perfect aperitif to begin the evening with.

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A frizzante Nabéshima Junmaiginjō from Saga prefecture was served with cod milt garnished with truffles and cured Yonezawa wagyū (imagine a cured ham, but made from wagyū).

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One of my favorite pairings was a foie gras chawanmushi (savory custard) and 10-year balsamico with Murayū Hon-nama Seishu. The saké was slightly sweet like wasanbon sugar – ideal for the foie gras and balsamico. A perfect marriage of East and West.

Sanukiya 6

We took a warm saké, Musubi Tokubetsujunmai Muroka, with kuruma shrimp, kinmédai (splendid alfonsino) and truffle, saba (Pacific mackerel) that was cured in sugar and salt, and sayori (halfbeak) with a squeeze of sudachi citrus and Mongolian salt.

Warming up a saké brings out aromas and textures that may be more subtle in a chilled saké. It also warms you up as you drink, much like gluhwein, hot mulled wine.

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Chef Yasuhiro Kondō who not only knows how to pair saké with food, is also a cookbook author. He is with Muneki Mizutani-san who is a former editor with DANCYU and is now the editor of a very cool new business magazine that is in manga form, Manga PRESIDENT.


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Jūyondai Shichi Tare Nijikkan Junmai Daiginjō was served with a tomato jelly.

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Here we had a creamy nigorizaké paired with Yonézawa wagyū in a yogurt sauce – the two creamy items were an ideal match. The saké on the right is a Kizan kōshu (aged saké) from 1999 – also perfect with the teriyaki Yonézawa wagyū.

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And, finally, the udon noodle course. With chef Kondō’s signature tsuyu dipping broth on the left and a nutty, creamy sesame dipping sauce on the right. His cookbook is based on small bites all made using tsuyuTsuyu can be made from scratch, but most homes keep a bottle of it at home for last minute udon or soba meals. Chef Kondō’s is a soy-based sauce that is made with kombu (a sea vegetable rich in natural umami), niboshi (dried sardines), bushi (dried and smoked fish flakes from both Pacific mackerel and skipjack tuna), and sugar. This flavorful sauce can be used for a wide variety of dishes, hence Chef Kondō’s cookbook.

Sanukiya 11And closing off the evening with Jikon Junmai Ginjō from Mie prefecture. This saké is subtle and elegant while still having a richness to it – perfect for the udon noodles. Sando Sensei is playing it up with Saito-san, also an editor at DANCYU. Sando Sensei has written several books.

While this was not all that we had this evening, it is the highlights of a great night out in Tokyo. I highly recommend Sanukiya in Kōenji. It’s a short trip from Shinjuku. No English.

Kōenji Sanukiya

Sugnami-ku, Kōenji Minami 4-38-7

Phone: 03-3314-4488

18:00 – 22:30 (last order)

closed Sundays