Maison de la Bourgogne
Before writing a review, I try to reserve judgment until I have eaten at a place at least three times. No need to get too excited if I had just happened to be lucky and come in on a day when the fish had just been delivered, my waiter was in a great mood, and the reservation for the best table in the house had been canceled and given to me instead. Writing about Maison de la Bourgogne, however, I could not be more sure that the great service and food were consistent: I have eaten here more times than I could count.
Located in what is quickly becoming the French-district of Kagurazaka, Maison de la Bourgogne is the quintessential sidewalk café. A wine bistro with an extensive wine selection and simple, authentic French fare, the weekday lunch set is my recommendation. At ¥1500, the set is beyond a bargain. After starting with an amuse of pate on toast, there are five each of different hors devours, mains, and desserts to chose from. Coffee or tea is also included. The hors devours themselves are large in portion, the refreshing country pate and classic quiche dishes both come with an accompanying side salad (My favorite is the soufflé, though it does not). The main dishes also do not disappoint. Offering a changing menu of both meat and fish options, they are always full flavored and hearty. Desserts have included crème brulee, crunchy tarts, and homemade hazelnut ice cream and sorbets.
The staff is also incredibly friendly, and I have on more than one occasion been given a complimentary sparkling wine with my meal. Even in the winter, the heat lamps make the patio seating bearable, although the interior is cozy as well. That this bistro is one of many French restaurants in Kagurazaka only highlights how much it’s food and service stands out.
Apres Midi Cafe
Living in Tokyo, one of the things I miss most is the ease of hanging out at friends’ houses; in my hometown, friends were close-by, and cars made last-train considerations irrelevant. Apres Midi Café in Shibuya is like the home of a very cool friend, that is, if your very cool friend has DJ’s come over to spin regularly.
A little bit difficult to find for the first-time visitor, the café is located on the fifth floor of a rather non-descript shabby white building. Inside the atmosphere is very casual, with mismatched chairs and worn-down couches. The food is minimal, but tasty. A very light, albeit small, crunchy gorgonzola pizza makes a good snack, as does the salad, but the drinks are really what this café does best. My pick is the soda and tea-mixed apricot cocktail, my favorite summer drink. Desserts here are French-inspired and reasonably good.
On a hot day, there doesn’t seem to be air-conditioning, but the windows are opened, people are relaxing and grooving, and I almost start looking for my cool friend to compliment her on this great house party.
Bio Ojiyan Café
For those of us who grew up on oatmeal, eating a bowl of porridge hardly seems sufficient for dinner. But toss on some organic kimchi, grated daikon, raw tuna, and *gasp*, a hot dog that looks like a flower, and you’ve got yourself one grown-up bowl of ojiyan. This Shimo-kitazawa mainstay, although half-hidden just downhill from the quiet west exit, is frequently crowded, with fashionable hipsters and tired musicians drinking a wide array of teas, juices, and interesting natto-covered oatmeal bowls.
There are myriad varieties of toppings for your basic ojiyan concoction, and interesting seasonal ones abound in set-form as well. The homey atmosphere and large windows opening up to the street seem to swell with the rotating art exhibits which cover the exposed concrete all the way back to the couches in back. It’d be hard to remain stressed in an environment like this. The food is light yet filling, and the ambience always makes me feel at home. I’ll be moving in next Wednesday.
Bio Ojiyan Café
Shimo-kitazawa, West Exit.
Exit, turn left, and walk 2 blocks downhill
(Also a branch in Harajuku, but we recommend the relaxation and understatement and unpretension of the Shimokitazawa one.)