Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sapporo Cafes: Cafe ZILL - UPDATED

Posting more than once a month? What is this, Wikipedia?

That doesn't make sense, does it?

Anyway, here you are: Cafe ZILL.
UUUUUUPDATE! Zill closed for about a year (despite the lady saying that it would only be closed for three months to me) and when it reopened it was a lot fancier and now only opens in the evenings for dinner. So I can't go there for lunch and check it out. It looks very nice in the evenings though, so I'm sure it's still great. I'll post again if I ever go there but for now I'll leave this here for posterity and take away the tags.

ZILL is on Gyokei Dori which is a nice shopping street that cuts through the - what I like to call - null zone in the middle of the street car loop. Is that a bad way to put it? I'm sure there's all sorts of awesome stuff tucked away in that area (Yamahana, I guess?) but the fact that it's off the subway line (Horohirabashi on the Namboku line is the closest station) and hemmed in by the street car line makes me always think of it as a kind of 'heart of darkness' or perhaps a 'dark country' whose borders it is perilous to cross. It is neither. It is a nice suburban neighbourhood nestled up next to the city centre and now I work there one day a week.

And on that day I go looking for somewhere to eat lunch, and it didn't take me long to find ZILL. ZILL seems to be subtitled both "Soul Soup Shop" and "Creative Lounge" which should give you a good idea what it's like. It's a cozy little cafe, heavy on the dark wood and vintage furnishings (perhaps a little too dark? that doesn't seem to be a problem around here - every branch of Miyakoshiya Coffee feels like they've carved the walls from the darkest of dark chocolate), and the kind of place where you can buy handmade bags alongside the regular cafe stuff.

It's a divinely relaxing place, a lot like Nesco in Kita-Ku, and as such perfect for a slow lunch on a crazy day. Unlike Nesco though, their music kind of sucks. The guy at Nesco plays an amazing mix of down tempo contemporary indie, most of which I don't know, whereas ZILL tends to play those annoying CDs of lounge and bossanova covers of pop and rock songs. Fuck, I'm coming to hate those CDs. Well, clearly that's an exaggeration, because the music never stops me enjoying reading a book in ZILL.

I've been there quite a few times now, and I almost always get something that looks like this:

That's the lunch set. They offer soup, sandwich and rice-ball, and you can choose whichever you like and if it comes to more than 800yen they throw in a free tea or coffee. That's really not bad, and the food is really great. That's a squash potage and cheese omelette sandwich there and both were far better than anything I normally eat during my working day. One criticism would be that their sandwiches are great, but really difficult to eat. One time I got a full sized sandwich and it was HUGE, and so impractically constructed that I made a thorough mess of myself trying to eat it. Chalk that one up to some places in Japan making fancy sandwiches following some theoretical concept of 'the sandwich', that end up as something involving bread and filling that falls into this void between 'closed' and 'open-face'. I've given this too much thought, but then, I give everything too much thought.

So I don't like the music and their sandwiches are tricky, but those aren't serious criticisms and ZILL is a weekly godsend for me. All of the food is delicious, the coffee that I tried was good and it's a really nice, warm place to relax. It's out of the way of most people I would imagine, but if you're in the area, check it out. And of course it's on the map!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Japanese Junk Food Times - Pepsi Dry and Kit-Kat Zunda

Oh! I didn't see you there! Let me just put my gourmet hat on, and then tell you about my journeys in the realm of... flavour.

I don't need to go into how the Japanese snack food market retains its vim and vigour by trying out new flavours of existing products all the time, do I? I've read about a zillion other blog posts explaining the concept recently, so let's just say that I am thoroughly down with the concept. It reminds me of Grant Morrison's Seaguy a little, and also makes me think of white suited cowboys of the lab - pouring bubbling test-tubes into each other in search of the essence of... pistachio nut shells or something.

Above you will see Dry Pepsi. What is Dry Pepsi? It is non-sweet Pepsi. It makes no claims about being especially healthy on the bottle (though you would assume the lack of sugar is a good thing) and instead talks about being light and refreshing or something. I don't like Pepsi really, weirdly it is a little to sweet for me. So I figured that non-sweet Pepsi might be something worth checking out.

It was not.

It is not less sweet, as I was foolishly imagining, it is not sweet at all. In fact, it doesn't taste like Pepsi, it tastes like soda water, and I soon found myself wondering why it existed. If you like the bitter tang of soda, try it, or better yet JUST BUY SODA. After Shiso Pepsi, Azuki Pepsi and Montblanc Pepsi... this was a let down.

Better, but not incredible was, Kit-Kat Zunda - Zunda-Mochi being soy-bean rice cakes from Sendai. A quick google reveals that Pocky Watch - based in Sendai - reviewed this back in 2009. Tohoku was devastated by the tsunami in March of course, and now it looks like they're rolling out this flavour nationwide and giving 10yen from every bar to support the rebuilding effort. Good stuff.

The bar itself was nice, faintly bean-y, faintly rice-cake-y, but nothing to write home about. Wait, what am I doing here? Is this more effort or less than writing home? I'm lost. Anyway it was ok, but as usual they nail the scent a lot more than the actual taste - which comes out a little bit like funny white chocolate.

Anyway, that's my traditional Japanese food post. You're welcome.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sapporo Food - Dominika (Soup Curry)

A soup curry shop so good that I went there twice in one week? That's... that's... well, not unheard of actually. Anyway, Dominika was good.

And it's in Odori, where it's always nice to find good Soup Curry. Sadly last order is at 8.30, and I need victuals later than that sometimes, but that's the way the disk of fried cheese crumbles I suppose.

Yeah! Check that bad boy out - a circular cheese wonder that you can break up or allow to melt into your soup as you see fit. Amazing as that is I did actually find I preferred the pre-melted cheese, but this fried cheese topping is apparently the most popular so you should really try it at some point.

Dominika was recommended by a friend, and it's a little tucked away on the ground floor of an office building thing just along from Tokyu hands. I must've seen that bloody wooden elephant outside a thousand times though, and that makes it pretty hard to miss.

You have a choice of four soups, should you choose to go to this place. Yellow is the regular soup, delicious and with a pretty sharp, strong flavour to start off with. Black is a richer soup, made with beef stock I think the dude said, and that was certainly the impression I got from it. These are the two I've tried so far, but there's also white - which is made milder with added soy milk - and red which involves tomatoes in a way that me, Yuki and the very, very chatty dude who works there couldn't get to the bottom of. Like - not a tomato based soup, not like tomato soup, not soup with added tomatoes... he just told us to try it next time.

The dude who took our order by the way - worth mentioning. He is very chatty, eager to explain everything about the menu and to crack jokes (or he was with us when he worked out our Japanese was ok) and quick to weigh in with advice while you're making your mind up. A lot of warnings about the spice-level of the curries, let's put it that way. I had a five both times, and it packed a punch but it was ok (the regular actually seemed a little hotter than the black one). Some other Westerner in the guest book had picked a number eight and it sounded like tough going. Anyway, the Dominika guy - best intentions in the world, but he rubbed one of my friends the wrong way, and it was kind of difficult to chill out at times with him buzzing about. It was okay by me, but... I cannot speak for all of humanity.

The top photo is the black soup with pork. The soup and the vegetables were strengths, coz while the pork was good, I've had some sensational pork curries using buta kakuni (slow-cooked pork) that have raised my standards unrealistically high. When I went back I had the tontoro (pork neck) which looks like this:

And actually feels like two dishes, since the pork comes in a wonderful teriyaki sauce that means you're not meant to transfer it into the soup. Whatever though, because that tontoro was absolutely delicious. Strongly recommended sir!

So, the best soup curry I've had in Odori. Oh and free salad! Check it out. It's on the map.