Quick Bites: Cafe Japon
by Bix Engels
Two-year-old Café Japon, the French-Japanese fusion bakery café on Liberty, now serves breakfast seven days a week. Like the rest of the menu, it's an ideal counterpoint of East and West: on the one side, French omelets, sweet or savory crÍpes, quiche; on the other, atsugiri toast and, on weekends, a Japanese breakfast assortment.
Café Japon was impressive when it opened. It's even better now-from its authentic French baguettes (which owner-baker Miyoko Honma also supplies to Eve in Kerrytown) to its out-of-the-ordinary Japanese fare. The setting is humble, close, and comfortable, but food-wise, it's a special experience. When I ordered a cup of matcha tea to start my breakfast. Joe, the counterman, asked me to pick the bowl in which I would like it to be served. Using a long narrow bamboo scoop, he carefully measured the pea-green powdered tea into my chosen bowl, added purified hot (but not boiling) water, and whisked it to a light foaminess with a wooden chasen. To offset the tea's faint bitterness, it is accompanied by a daifuku, a rice-flour dumpling filled with sweetened red bean paste. The two, matcha and daifuku, are presented side by side, and the tea is drunk from the bowl. This is no cup of Lipton's.
It's almost enough to go in and get blissed out just from sipping matcha, reading the paper, and listening to the sultry jazz on the sound system. But we followed the tea with more familiar breakfast fare. Omelets are constructed with the same care shown in making the tea. I had mine filled with smoked salmon and Gruyere; alongside was a rough-hewn slice of pain de mie toast with butter so rich it almost tasted like cheese. Thin, light crepes are stuffed with sweet or savory filling such as the "crepe complete," composed around a fried egg, sliced ham, and Gruyere.
I've recommended Café Japon to many people and have occasionally heard back that the service is not fast enough. In
my experience it is neither slow nor inefficient, but it's true that this is not a place to be rushed. If you can allow enough time to savor the experience, it will be well worth it. If you can't, order one of the premade sandwiches on that amazing baguette or a croissant-plain or filled with ham and cheese or a terrific dark chocolate.
Café Japon 113 E. Liberty 332-6200
Mon.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun.
7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Breakfast entrees $4-$8.50, baked goods $2-$3.50, sandwiches $5-$9.75, soups $1-$5, salads $3.75-$12, Japanese entrees $7.50-$12, desserts $1.75-$4
[Originally published in April, 2009.]