Tag Archives: pasta

A Novel Lunch at Cannery Row

Reader’s Digest

I went to a pasta/pizza restaurant in Meito-ku, Nagoya, called Cannery Row recently. Here’s a condensed recollection as I try to get a few words in while tonight’s lightning seems kept at bay.

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To start, all lunches include the loaded salad bar, which is really an antipasto bar. Very nice variety, all good. I realized I must not have had vichyssoise very much before because it was an enjoyable taste I wasn’t really familiar with. You may need two trips to the buffet. A drink bar is also included.

The regular pasta lunch menu offers several pasta dishes, many quite original, in each of several categories, ranging from around ¥1300 to ¥1800. Pizza lunch menu choices, all about ¥1600 to ¥1700, number eight.

There are also fondue, chicken and fish course lunches available at a premium of around ¥4000. “Dessert sets” are a simple matter of tacking on either ¥150 (one item) or ¥390 (three items) to any lunch set.

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Mm, Mm, Good

From the special Summer Fair Menu, I chose the avocado and shrimp chilled spaghettini. Cold soba noodles are a common cool option in the summer heat, but this was a rare pasta version. I guess I was expecting something like gazpacho, but what I got was a truly new taste sensation I’ve never had before. The mango-pineapple fruit vinegar-infused tomato sauce worked very well with the cold thin pasta, accented with a zingy kick of fresh basil. I might not have thought a cold tomato sauce spaghetti would work, but this definitely did.

Despite its name, Cannery Row doesn’t particularly specialize in seafood (the locale in the Steinbeck novel was a major canning center before the surrounding waters became overfished). Lunch is served from 11 to 3, open year-round. Map link here.

If They Build It…

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I put a nice bright spot in a soggy afternoon with a visit to a hot new place in Toki (yes, Nothing-To-Do Toki) today.

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Since opening just this month, Secret Time Cafe has quickly become quite the in spot, having been supported by lots of folks along the way to realization. Many who had a hand, including a couple of acquaintances of my own, are recognized with their names painted on the floor. Apparently the opening was rather a smash, word of mouth rendering Secret Time no secret at all.

The cafe feels like a bit of Nagoya or other city right in downtown Toki. Near the intersection of route 421 and local (not regional) route 19, it shares an ample parking lot with the second hand shop with the big Santa sign.

The menu has a pretty wide selection to choose from (more galettes, for one thing), everything sounding tasty, eye-pleasing and healthy. I had the taco rice lunch for ¥980 including what you see here and a drink.

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They’ve devoted a lot of attention to the atmosphere here, and did a nice job, especially considering this space has been a revolving door for a number of cheap, seedy or somehow unappealing outfits in the past. That is, emphatically, history now. I didn’t have a chance to look completely around, but I’m sure I’ll be stopping by often enough. More photos and info (like what the “art” on their business card refers to) to come.

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Secret Time Cafe, bar and zakkaya (notions shop) has these very welcome broad business hours: Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday, 11:30-3 and 5 PM to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11:30-3 and 5 PM to 1 AM. Closed Monday and the third Tuesday. They have smoking and non-smoking sections.

Cool Fresh Pasta, Hot Off the Press

I’ll start off this restaurant intro while I’m still on the premises waiting for my after-lunch coffee to cool. I have, as they say, a cat’s tongue.

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I’ve just tried out Mare Melo, a new (update: since last August) “pasteria” in Mizunami. It looks like a nice new choice for a fresh pasta casual lunch, stylish and jazzy (a word used the way cool is now when I was growing up, though the music is a sort of mix of jazz and electronic lounge anyway).

Though seats are a bit limited (twelve seats at six easily rearrangeable tables and four at the counter), it’s wide open space-wise. All non-smoking all the time. Mare Melo is situated halfway between Cafe Crepuscule and the Mizunami route 19 McDonalds. Open for lunch 11 to 3 (dinner 5 to 10), closed Tuesdays.

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They have three levels of lunch specials (no drink, which makes it reasonable for people at work on a lunch break, drink included, and dessert included). All include salad and fresh-baked roll. There are five pasta dishes to choose from. I had an amatorichana. The food was good, though the iced coffee had run out by the time I ordered, thus the cat getting my tongue. And now that I’ve finished my fresh cuppa, I’ll post and run.

Going Solo at Covo Comodo

Today a look at a popular Italian restaurant in the same vein and area as two others I’ve blogged about, Io and Hoshizumi Pasta.

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This is Covo Comodo, located in the same building as Io. Similarly a great place to go if you’re willing to spend a little more than normal for lunch in a nice atmosphere (I think Io is the highest-priced in the neighborhood, with corresponding quality).

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They have an original healthy menu, with some pizza or pasta sets limited to a certain number of customers. I’ve had pizza both times I’ve gone. I went one more time four or five years ago, but it seems like it was a French restaurant then.

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When I went last week, I was leery of being a nuisance, as there aren’t many tables, and I was by myself. There’s often a considerable wait. Oddly enough, I was the second of three single customers, besides other parties that lingered very long, and still there was always at least one table open. This during peak hours. The staff seemed to be sweating it out, dreading having to turn a large party away, all through. Something of a lunch-hour twilight zone, dancing in the dragon’s jaws as it were. Anyway, going alone seems to be okay.

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Above, a badly exposed food action shot, as seems to be my inexplicable irresistible wont with immovable edibles. I’m lousy at foodpics with iPhone 5 Like a child with other ideas, the pâte wouldn’t patiently sit still for a portrait.

The lunch sets all include dessert, which is long on both looks and taste. Mine was ¥1350.

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P.S.: If you get the right table, look for the heart on the shelf. Looks Like a good place to carve some initials.

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Wind in the Road

Let me introduce yet another funky little cafe tucked into the hills and winding backroads of rural Gifu, Fuu.

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This cozy little rustic hideaway, in its third year of business, lacks any significant signage beyond its immediate surroundings, so no one just happens to wind up there. It’s in Azuma, Akechi-cho in Ena. In your navigation software, enter the Japanese kanji (not the usual katakana) for kōhī (珈琲) and then fuu (風).

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You’ll be greeted by the kindly owner and ushered down a hall to a wood slab table in front of a little wood stove, or perhaps to a front room where the morning sun will keep you warm. Another hardwood floored room has a dugout horigotatsu in the middle for warmth.

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The name, the owner will be glad to tell you, comes from the breeze that blows through, giving a refreshing, cooling feeling in summer. In winter, the same draft renders the woodstove the heart and hearth of the place. It gets bone-chilling without it. Still, as it’s on the leeward side of the surrounding hills, the weather is consistently milder than the rest of Ena and Nakatsugawa. You can see some of the dried kindling under the bookcase below. It reminded me of college days when we chopped wood most every morning to stoke the day, and somehow made a fractured axe last all winter in the process.

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There’s a nice selection of books, many about design and style, for inspiration and information. You’ll also find artwork in every nook and cranny. Do let me know next time you find an actual cranny somewhere, by the way. The only ones I’ve actually seen have strangely always been in print, and invariably right next to the words “nook(s) and.” Uncrannily peculiar.

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While the owner’s real pride is a slowly prepared cup of coffee to sip in this idyllic nest in the woods (with a healthy serving of the story of how it all came to be, hacked out from a jungly old bungalow after a life in the concrete jungle of Nagoya), she does serve pasta lunches for those who come on an empty stomach.

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She was kind enough to throw this sweet potato on the wood stove (in foil on the stove above and in the raw below), serving it with green tea after the lunch and coffee, on the house. It was a nice experience, skinny skin and all.

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That heat, something we tend to take for granted even without much domestic central heating here, really became a theme running through it all. Also playing through (which reminds me, Fuu, unfortunately(?) like much of rural Japan, is also surrounded by golf courses) was French chanson music. C’est si bon.

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Antiquey items and of course plenty of pottery for sale line the variegated walls, shelves and staircases.

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Below, complementing a roundtable with all different school chairs à la Momogusa, is an old card catalog salvaged from a school library. By sheer coincidence, someone else on the other side of the world just had the same idea. Maybe it’s just that I used to be a library worker that I thought it interesting. I once checked and corrected my university’s entire general collection card catalog, card by flippin’ manila (get it?) index card. Remember your Dewey decimals, Huey, and never forget, always nothing before something. Only an old-school librarian may get that. Never mind. Throw analog on the fire and curl up like smoldering pages with a good book blog on your Kindle.

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Anyway, the proprietress will be glad to have your company, and only too eager to share her stories with you. She related, for instance, that the fall foliage north of Fuu on route 109 was quite spectacular, and that deer and wild boar (hey, no librarian jokes) roam the hills with abandon and a mariachi band (just seein’ if you’re paying attention). I myself spied an intriguing pair of birds running out of my car’s way which I thought might be rare grouse (raichou), which I recall are the official bird of Gifu prefecture, though perhaps they only reside at higher elevations. They may also have been thrushes*. They seemed brown and spotted, without the long tail of pheasants, and scurried along the ground rather than flying.

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Props to an iPhone app called Strip Designer, which I used to put together the collage of photos at the top of the post. Well done, and it was either free or discounted to 85 yen.

*(Sixties spy spoof/superhero reference alert) Jeepers, I learned through this that robins, would you believe, are the most common kind of thrush. Once again proving that to write will always win over chaos, and a labor of love will always make you get smart. And Robin’s your rich uncle, Bruce Wayne.

Limited Sets at L’Isoletta

As part of my never-ending quest to spare you the grueling work of finding the best pizza in the area, I present L’Isoletta, one of Tajimi’s newest (actually seven months old now) casual lunch and dinner spots.

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Nominally an open kitchen pizza and pasta restaurant, L’Isoletta has this nice lunch feature: several unique meal specials limited to about the first ten orders. My dedication to pave the way for your pizza preparedness undistracted, I opted instead for the ¥950 wood-fired pizza lunch special, which, like pasta lunches, is available all through the lunch hour. They close in between and open again at 6 pm.

All Hours

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A recent pasta plate lunch special at Shinsui Bagel Cafe. Shinsui is a good option if you need a place to go at odd hours.

Just a note: Though it’s non-smoking from morning all through the afternoon, that all goes up the chimney come dinnertime. There is a large non-smoking section, but it hardly makes a difference here. If you’d like it to be smoke-free all day, consider adding your one voice to the call. Just a word to your waitperson as one customer is all I’d ask.

It’s That Time Again

As we anxiously await another episode of Leave It to SCOTUS the results of the US presidential election, whose TV commercial sponsors in the US are traditionally watch manufacturers, it’s a chance to turn back the clock (don’t forget our time difference with the US east coast jumped up from 13 to 14 hours Sunday), and think about history, and history in the making. And pizza (knew that’d getcha).

In the past few months, on trips to Marino pasta and pizza restaurant, I was struck most not by anything on the menu, but by the music they play – 70′s pop of various styles: folk rock, art rock, disco, proto-soft rock, you name it. It’s certainly not a grouping of music I have any special fondness for as such – it’s dated, but not (to me, excluding disco) in a good way. It’s just what was being played on radios back when choices, especially for tweens and teens, were more limited. I even enjoy some eighties music more than this. But it definitely brings back memories.

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There are plenty of songs you’ve heard from time to time through the years since the decade of blacklights, bellbottoms and back-to-nature. The difference with many that I hear in Marino’s stream is, I heard them with intense repetition when they were hits, but I haven’t heard them even once in the 35 or 40 succeeding years.

The number of lunch customers at Marino is such that the chatter is a very effective white noise that cuts out much of the music. You’re left with bits and pieces of hooks, riffs, rhythms and melodies you’d otherwise recognize immediately, teasing you from just out of reach. It’s a strange sensation.

One tune I caught the end of coming back from the drink bar last time was “Sweet City Woman,” by a band called The Stampeders. This is actually one of those I’ve occasionally heard or remembered through the years, but it still hit a sweetspot. I don’t know why, but its licks had my ear whenever it came on the AM radio all summer one year four decades ago. Other songs that I knew by heart had totally slipped my mind until almost magically coming back through the diner din. I wonder what the customers must think, if anything. Most weren’t around the first time around, so have no memory to be jogged.

Anyway, for me it’s become a weird timeslip experience and history lesson whenever I go to the restaurant. Not being a fan of the music, I wouldn’t actively seek it out, but since it’s there, I let it tickle my neurons like someone straightening up an old attic. Maybe the reshuffling will enable other brain connections to turn on new light bulbs over my head in unexpected ways. Or maybe I’ll just have that sweet city woman licking my ears and dancing in my head again.

As for the food at Marino, they’ve reworked their weekday pasta and pizza bar lunch special so that you don’t have to get dessert, making it a better value. Most recently I went on a Sunday, when they have pasta and pizza specials that include their veggie-salad-filled antipasto bar. These specials do include the three desserts. Lunch (at least) is always all non-smoking.

Among the few antipasto items I didn’t try was something that looked awfully like a Waldorf salad, at which wrinkle-browed Japanese have always turned their heads askew whenever I’ve described it. I think it had some Italian name. Like the Nixon, Ford and Carter presidencies, and the seventies themselves, it all comes to ¥1980.

Expanding in Many Directions

Bonjhorton has been in Mizunami for a couple of months now. It’s in the area near Komeda Coffee and Cabin, where parking space is more plentiful than at the original Tajimi branch.

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At least for the pizza/pasta/risotto lunch specials, the rotating menu choices are different from Tajimi at any given time. I think the Bagna Càuda is more voluminous in Mizunami, as well. I had a pork risotto this time.

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The Artist, Up Close and Personal

Picture of the Artist As a Maker of Young Men

I made the acquaintance of artist Mitsuyuki Sakai recently at Lotus Cafe, where I learned from the owner he’s something of a local legend, having variously taught/mentored/inspired/corrupted/otherwise delivered into adulthood many a lusty local young lad throughout a long career in education (no mention as such of young ladies, but I presume it’s much the same). Yesterday I caught an exhibition he’s having in Mizunami.

The show was at Cafe Realize, which I’d often noticed signs for but never ventured up to. It’s located toward the Sony plant, somewhat between Komeda Coffee and Cabin Pasta & Pizza.

After having a pasta lunch in the sunken central dining area here, I had other business in town, but briefly stepped up to see the paintings around the raised perimeter. The boardwalk is quite narrow, meaning you can’t stand very far away from the works, which is a severe limitation from an artist’s point of view, but then again I, um, realize this isn’t a gallery first and foremost.

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Working on board, Sakai mixes, if I understood correctly, earth materials with black and white acrylic paint for varied texture and color. Punctuated by occasionally exposed bits of underlying primary colors, simple geometric shapes dominate in different ways in each of these works. I found myself preferring the more bold, iconic ones.

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I’m not sure how long this show lasts, but Realize is worth a visit any time at any rate.