Sunday, July 15, 2012

Weekend Update: July 15, 2012

Yesterday my wife and I went for another great lunch at Billy's.  I, of course went with my usual club sandwich with avocado topping and my wife went with the half sandwich with drink set.  She chose the potato pottage soup as her beverage.  I'm sorry, but I didn't take my camera so I don't have any photos, but my wife was raving about the pottage's taste.

Afterward, we sauntered over to Mitsubachi 38 Cafe for some delicious dessert pancakes.   Again we went with our usual, caramel pancakes for my wife and buttermilk with ice cream topping for me.  But I did notice one thing different on the menu.  They now offer a tempting stack of ten buttermilk pancakes for 1500 yen.  Oh, and the pancakes we ordered were top-notch!

For dinner we waltzed on over to one of our new favorite neighborhood eateries, Bistro Ampoule.  They'll be a new update about this splendid new find soon, but let me just say that our meal was simply marvelous!

For this evening's supper we found ourselves at an old standard, Cappriciosa.  But because we were just a bit hungry we decided against the Pair Set and went a la carte.   My wife ordered a small garlic and tomato sauce spaghetti (905 yen) and I asked for an order of garlic bread (134 yen) and a Cappriciosa pizza (1229 yen).  The Cappriciosa comes with salami, bacon, and onion, but I kindly requested for them to take out the onion.

First, came the garlic bread.  It was good, but not great.  But at 134 yen, I guess you can't go wrong.  We were quite surprised at how big the serving of spaghetti was.  It was so large that I was able to share in its good and garlicky taste.


My pizza was very good!  I imagined that it would be topped with the standard small slices of ペパロニサラミ, but to my surprise there were at least five 9 cm. in diameter slices of salami.  The whole pizza was good sized, about 28 cm. in diameter.   Because we weren't all that hungry, so I only managed to eat half of it and brought the remainder home.


I noticed a sign for their take-out pizzas at 1430 yen.  For this price, this is actually cheaper than a large Pizza Hut pizza, and better tasting.  This might be a good option for you if you happen to live near a Cappriciosa.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hoshiyama Coffee ホシヤマ珈琲店 022-723-8111

Address:  仙台市青葉区中央1-3-1アイル2階.   Located on the 2nd floor of the AER Building.
Map:  Click the “Location” link below.
Open:  10 am – 8 pm.
Last month we visited the fancy-shmancy Hoshiyama Coffee in the AER Building for its Afternoon Set.  There are three branches of Hoshiyama altogether, an older one on Ichibancho between Hirose-dori and Jozen-ji dori, and a newer, more modern restaurant near Chuo-dori on Minami-machi dori.  But these other two locations do not offer the exclusive Afternoon Set (currently at 1890 yen). 

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Afternoon Set menu changes every month.  This is great if you would like to try something new, yet familiar every month.  Not so good if you’re relying on their webpage for the actual names of what you had eaten the month before.  Had I known that, I would have taken better notes (or at least written this post a lot sooner).  
Since I did not write down what I delighted in that afternoon, I’ll just have to describe the best I can as to what I was served.  But as the menu changes every month, you wouldn’t be able to eat what I had last month anyway, so I guess it doesn’t really matter what the name of the food was.

June's Afternoon Set

So on to the food.  The first plate consisted of two different types of gelatin; one white with a flan-like mold, and the other clear that appeared to be Jell-O.   I like cherry flavored Jell-O but apart from that I really don’t care that much for gelatin, so when I first gazed upon the first tier of this food pagoda I was already wincing a little.   Much to my delight, the flan-like substance was light, creamy, and not too bad by itself.  I blended the accompanying raspberry sauce drops with this and it became delicious!   The clear gelatin was sweet and quite nice in its own right.  We were off to a very good start!

The Gelatin Plate

Instead of eating the dishes from top to bottom I opted to forgo the sweets on the second tier and decided on something of more substance and went with the sandwich plate at the base.  I thought that the mozzarella panini was good, and that says something because I’m not fond of cheese.   The tandoori chicken sandwich was great, with a spice that was not designed to create sweat beads but rather to gratify the taste buds.  The bread rolls on both of these sandwiches were light and fluffy.   The peppery dressing on the salad was fantastic while the broccoli-bacon tidbits, though adding a nice touch, weren’t anything extraordinary. 

Sandwich Platter

Next, I proceeded to devour the middle platter.   The pineapple mousse was wonderful with just the right amount pineapple flavor without it being too powerful. 
The 杏仁豆腐 (almond jelly) with melon jelly was my least favorite of all the tempting treats because I don’t like 杏仁豆腐, yet I found this edible … at least half of it.  My wife happily offered to eat the remaining half (she loves the stuff!).
The black sesame tart’s caramelized topping reminded me of peanut brittle and せんべい.   The heavy sweetness of this top layer and the mild taste of the filling seemed to compliment each other quite nicely.

The Middle Platter

And now on to what Hoshiyama is known for:  COFFEE!  It was OUTSTANDING!  Flavorful and rich without being overpowering.   We were served the famous Royal Blend Coffee, which by itself costs 1050 yen a cup (and at today’s current exchange rates, that’s $13.26 for a cup of Joe).  And as a super special bonus, we got a refill on the house!  Coffee refills in Japan?  I thought this was only available at Mr. Donuts.  

The best part of waking up

Hoshiyama prides itself on its elegance (and coffee).  Each coffee cup and saucer set has its own unique design and is made of bone china (my wife was served with Wedgwood china).  I saw no one in the place dressed very casually, and a few people seemed to really dress up.   You’ll need to make reservations for their Afternoon Set as they sell out quite quickly.  This June afternoon was our third attempt at reserving a table, as we were politely rejected on our previous inquiries.

I highly recommend Hoshiyama for their Afternoon Set.  It’s something different, something elegant, something exquisite. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bistro Ampoule ビストロ・アンプル 022-743-5785

UPDATE:  Bistro Ampoule has been upgraded to my Favorites listing.  Please read my updated post here: Update-Bistro Ampoule.

Address:  宮城県仙台市太白区泉崎1-33-10 富沢公園パークマンション102.   Located about a three-minute walk from the Sendai Gymnasium or a five-minute walk from Tomizawa Subway Station.  
Lunch:  11:30 am – 2:00 pm.    Dinner:  6:00 pm – 10:30 pm.
Closed Wednesdays.
While flipping the channels this morning we happened upon a local TV program called あらあらかしこ which was currently showcasing businesses near Tomizawa Subway Station.  One of the eateries highlighted was Bistro Ampoule, and the show’s reporters were just raving about the exquisite food.  
We live within walking distance to this restaurant and have driven past it countless times, but it never seemed to catch our attention.  In fact, it’s kind of difficult to tell that there’s a restaurant at that location.  This seemed to reaffirm a theory that I proposed to my wife:  The truly great restaurants in Sendai seem to do the least in attracting attention to themselves, while restaurants with more, shall we say, common fare, tend to go overboard in their displays of “Look at me!  I’m a restaurant!  I have bright colors, big banners, and plaster the side of the building with photos of the food and the prices!  Eat here!  Please!”  びっくりドンキー is an example of this “I’m over here!” type of restaurant.  I actually enjoy driving by Bikkuri Donkeys because each restaurant has a different motif on the outside of the building.  You can spot a Bikkuri Donkey a mile away.  I have nothing against びっくりドンキー.  I’ve eaten there and it was good.  But it was also nothing special.  Conversely, Bistro Ampoule seems to follow the concept taken by such greats as Café de Mieux and Bistro Boeuf d’Or, which almost seem to hide their existence.  Rather than focus on being seen, these restaurants focus on quality.
We strolled over to Bistro Ampoule and at first were turned away due to them hosting a full house (the place only holds about twenty people).  We thought that perhaps others in the neighborhood had seen the same program, as well.  But we gave them our cell phone number and they gave us a call ten minutes later saying they had an opening.  
My wife and I both ordered the “A” set lunch that came with an appetizer, a main dish selection, bread or rice, a drink, and dessert for 1000 yen.  For an additional 500 yen, I went with the steak and fries, the mouthwatering platter they showed on the TV program, while my wife ordered the fish selection, but more on these later.


First came the focaccia bread and the ratatouille appetizer.  The ratatouille consisted of eggplant, red and yellow bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, mizuna, and zucchini while topped with a light dressing.  This was very good!  The focaccia was light with a slightly crunchy crust that complimented the ratatouille very nicely.


My wife stated that the fish was tender and delicious, and that the vegetables were fabulous!  The accompanying veggies were as follows:  Chinese cabbage, sweet potatoes, radish, spinach, yellow bell peppers, onion, carrots, eggplant, and green onions.  She said that it seemed to be topped with a delightful a carrot sauce!


I’m always a bit concerned when ordering steak in Japan, as I don’t like to see the meat red.  Back in the States I order my steaks medium (or medium rare for prime rib), but in Japan I have to ask for well done just so that it won’t be red in the center.  But this time I forgot to request how I wanted my steak prepared when ordering .   Luckily for me, it was grilled to a perfect medium setting, and like my wife’s fish, this was also tender and delicious, and much to my delight, appeared to be just a bit bigger than what I saw on TV that morning.
We were seated at the counter where I could see the chef preparing our food from our vantage point.   I’m no cook, so I don’t know if this is standard practice or not but it was the first time I had seen this:  the chef held the uncooked steak in one hand away from the stove and sprinkled the salt over it, then the pepper, before he placed it on the grill.  It looked … different, but it also gave me the impression that he was sweating over the details and that he was really putting in a fair amount of effort into our food preparations.  I liked that!
The fries were just the way I like them:  crispy and salted to perfection.  A nice added touch was the spicy mustard on the platter that went well with both the steak and fries.
For dessert, we were brought a wonderful serving of vanilla ice cream to top off the meal, or so I thought.   By the end of our meal, we were the only ones in the joint.   The waitress, having noticed me writing my notes and taking umpteen flash photos asked me, “Do you write a blog?”    I told her I did.  She then brought out the regular menu (we had only seen the lunch menu up until then) and told us a little about the restaurant.  They’ve been open for business for three years now and are proud of their wine lists and their food preparation.  She says that sometimes the menu changes as they set the day’s menu according to the availability of the freshest ingredients.  We noticed that they offer a wine nomihoudai, which is something I’ve never seen advertised before.   

Vanilla Ice Cream

Perhaps they were trying to buy my loyalties as the waitress served us some cherries.  She said that the chef had just returned from his hometown in Yamagata and wanted to share his omiyage with us.   It worked.
Bistro Ampoule does not offer a stamp card but they did give us two 100 Euro tickets, which is good for a 100 yen discount each off our next lunch.  Click on the クーポン tab on the gnavi site for the same discount ahead of time.  Another coupon choice is the 1050 yen two hour house wine nomihoudai.  The website states that they have six parking spaces available.  Since it’s a small establishment you might want to call ahead and make a reservation.
I’m listing Bisro Ampoule in my Recommend listings for the time being, but I have a feeling that after a couple of more visits this restaurant will be moving up to my Favorites.

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