Saturday, 24 May 2008

Places to eat in Sapporo: Part one in an irregular series

As mentioned before, the dormitory provides breakfast and dinner six days a week (excluding holidays). I've also mentioned that I have been known to pick up lunch at a convenience store. But of course, I've also eaten at other places, too, and some of them are definitely worth mentioning. I hope to put more up about other places I have yet to eat at later on, but there are a few I've been to over the past weeks which I'd want to recommend. I'm going to start here with ones in the Maruyama Koen area, as that is where both the school and the dormitory are, and so is where I need to find my weekday lunches (and the occasional evening meal).

The web links given range from mentions on restaurant directory websites to other people's blog entries to official websites of the restaurants themselves, and the detail in them varies accordingly.

First, starting with lunch options.

The next block down from Exit 5 of Maruyama Koen subway station is a terrific “Omusubi parlour” called Nigi Maru. I have eaten the soba lunches there a few times, and they are delicious, and cheap, too (starting at 500 yen for a basic wake soba, and with a set lunch option around 700 yen). The soba are made with sesame seeds (“goma soba”) which makes them especially tasty. They do udon too, but I haven't tried them (personal taste only: if offered the choice between soba and udon, I'll almost always go for soba). The only thing I have found slightly disconcerting is that every time I've eaten there, they seem to be playing multiple versions of “Amazing Grace” in the background. But more recently, I've been buying the omusubi to take away and eat at school. Omusubi are rice balls. What the difference is between omusubi and onigiri (if any) I have no idea (if anyone knows the answer, feel free to comment below). Whatever the case, the ones from this shop are excellent. The rice is freshly made, so the omusubi are still warm. And the fillings are delicious: I'd highly recommend the crab mayo. Starting at only 170 yen each for the regular size, a couple of these makes a cheap and tasty lunch. Open daily from 10:00 to 17:00.

Further from the station, and fairly near to the school, is Sato coffee. This is a slightly pricey option for what you get, and only for a snacky lunch, but the coffee and the toast are excellent. They do cakes, too, but I always have the regular coffee and cheese on toast for 900 yen. Unlike most of the toast I've eaten in Japan, Sato's is made with particularly good bread: slightly darker and heavier, and with an excellent flavour and texture. The cheese is also decent, and the black pepper ground over the top finishes it off nicely. The coffee is good, too, and the owner (Sato, I presume) is happy to chat if the shop isn't busy. The atmosphere is very pleasant, too, with cool Jazzy music in the background. A cup of coffee is 500 yen, which is a little expensive, but it is good coffee, and it's worth splashing out for a nice cup of coffee in nice surroundings once in a while. Open 11:00-21:00 closed Tuesdays

On the way from the station to the school is a friendly Spanish place called El Cid. The woman who runs front of house has a Spanish father and a Japanese mother. I think the mother does the cooking (or at least some of it). The lunchtime options are mostly spaghetti (which I tend to think of almost as Japanese cooking, given its ubiquity), but in the evenings Tapas and paella are served, too (although the paellas are for a minimum of two people). On my first visit, I had tuna and aubergine spaghetti, which was very nicely seasoned. Lunch from 12:00 to 15:00, dinner from 17:30 to 22:30, closed Tuesdays.

A couple of other excellent options are a little further away again. The first is a rather lovely modern Japanese place called Toh-Toh. It serves terrific set lunches, with a weekly special at only 945 yen. It is the kind of restaurant which has a “concept”, being healthy, original Japanese cuisine. But don't let that put you off. The restaurant design is cool and modern, but with a traditional heart. And so is the food. On my first visit, the weekly special was a prawn burger (as pictured at the top of this page). The name wouldn't sound anything much, but the meal itself was wonderful, with the tasty “burger” accompanied by excellent rice, salad and miso soup: I have a theory that you can tell how good a Japanese restaurant is by the quality of its miso soup, and by that theory, this would be a very good restaurant indeed. I have yet to try this one in the evening, but it could well be worth a visit (although the prices will inevitably be higher). Open for lunch 11:30-14:00, for dinner 17:30-24:00, closed Thursdays.

Last of the lunch options for now, a rather excellent curry restaurant named Mirch. This falls somewhere between being an Indian curry restaurant and a Japanese one. You can choose how hot you want your curry (a feature which seems to be common in Sapporo – home of the “soup curry”, which you may hear more about on a later occasion), and the flavourings are richer and closer to Indian curry than is normal in Japan. Also, you can choose to eat naan bread, rather than rice, with your meal, but if you do have rice, it is definitely Japanese rice, not Indian (I don't believe I've ever come across Basmati in Japan!). On my first visit, I had the special of scallop and mushroom curry, and it was very good indeed. The scallops were plump and tasty, and the curry itself (which I has at a heat setting of 5 out of 7) was delicious. Open 11:30-22:00, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

A few places I've had evening meals in around the Maruyama Koen are also deserve particular mention.

The first is a spaghetti restaurant called Don Pasta (by the way, while trying to find web references for Don Pasta, I hit this blog which looks like it covers – in Japanese – a lot of Maruyama eateries). This is a friendly little place, which seems to be run by a family, with the husband cooking the sauces, and everyone else chipping in with cooking the spaghetti, preparing the ingredients, serving and washing up and the like (of course, they might not be related at all, but it certainly felt like they were a family). Downstairs, where I ate, is a counter only, and there are tables upstairs. The cooking is done directly in front of the counter, so personally I think that's more fun, particularly if you are dining alone. Anyway. The spaghetti is very good. On my first visit, I had a crab special, which was delicious, but other diners' meals also looked good. And the prices are perfectly reasonable for an evening meal, with pasta dishes start around the 1000 yen mark (the seafood ones I've had came in at 1380 yen). There is also a separate, cheaper, weekday lunch menu (plain spaghetti starting at 500 yen, or vegetables in tomato sauce, for example, at 815 yen). There is no menu on display from the street, but it is definitely worth going inside and getting some very tasty spaghetti (the espresso afterwards was excellent, too). Open 11:00-21:30, closed Mondays.

Next, another friendly little place, this time specialising in pizzas. Unlike all the other Maruyama restaurants mentioned here, I didn't actually just find piacere on my walks around the area: it was actually a recommendation from poroco's Sapporo 10-ku Gourmet Guide (さっぽろ10区グルメガイド) which I bought early on in my visit (and I think may be the only restaurant so far which I have visited from the guide!). The pizzas are freshly made, with a nice thin base, although the small size is, indeed, a little small. If you are in the mood for a pizza, this place is worth a look. Open 11:30-20:00 (22:00 Fridays and Saturdays), closed Mondays.

Finally for the Maruyama Koen area (at least, for now), a rather splendid and stylish Italian called Caäo ((face) – in Japanese). I'd walked past and peered into this place a few times before I finally went in, mainly to check it would have something I would want to eat. The specials are written on a blackboard visible from the street, but there is a regular menu, too, and in the end the spaghetti vongole I chose was from that menu. The food is delicious and beautifully presented, and the glass of wine I had to accompany it (French, probably chardonnay: I can't tell you any more, because I didn't see the bottle) was excellent too (they have a more extensive selection available by the bottle). I sat at the counter, but there are also tables. It's not the cheapest of options, but then again, not that expensive, really, particularly for an evening meal: mains start around the 1000 yen mark, and my spaghetti vongole and a glass of decent wine came to 1800 yen. Evenings only, from 6:00pm to 3:00am, and closed on Sundays.

That's all for now. I hope to post further comments about restaurants in other parts of Sapporo (and possibly other places in Hokkaido), but that should whet your appetite.


Anonymous said...

That omusubi/onigiri difference? This post has a terrific explanation of how and why those self-wrapping onigiri work, and they discuss the two names in the comments.

Fabrizio said...

Hmm, I would recommend you also the chain of "Nakauten" were they serve udon, but if you don't like them, there is no point in going there. If you like Ramen, there is a small and nice ramen-ya in Susukino which serves great chasshu-ramen. They are friendly with foreigners and there is always the TV turned on (generally on sumo matches, hahaha).
If you also like sandwiches, if you follow the main road in front of the temple (don't remember the name, but it's the big one with the El Cid restaurant on it) you will arrive at SEIYU. On the main floor, they have a bakery store, where you can choose whatever you like and then buy it (works like a self-service). The price is reasonable and you can get a huge variety of stuff : pizza, baguette, pastry, sandwiches, hot sandwiches, cakes...
If you have some extra-money and you plan to go out to dinner with 3 or 4 friends, you can go at the restaurant floor of Sapporo-eki. There is a roasted-meat restaurant where you can eat delicious meat that you cook yourself on a grill in front of you. It should be called "Gyu-Kaku" or something similar, I do not remember well, it has been more than a year since I left the place, hahaha...

The BBG said...

Thanks for the further recommendations, Fabrizio.

If we're talking sandwiches and similar, then, staying in the Maruyama Koen area, I'd also recommend Bakery Shop Maruyama, just down from exit 4 of the station.
Again, self-service, with a wide range of sandwiches, pastries and the like. The quality of the bread is high (the French bread and croissants are at least as good as the average you'd find in the UK, for example) and there's a decent selection of fillings.

I hope to do another post about restaurants I've been to in the JR Tower and Susukino areas in future.

Fabrizio said...

Now I remember. The name of the type of food (or way of cooking) in the gyu-kaku is called "Jingisukan". It must be a japanization of the name "Gengis Khan", because they told me the recipient they use to grill the meat has the shape of a mongol soldier's helmet upside-down. Funny, huh ? ^_^
Oh, one more recomendation should be the "Mos Burger" chain. Definitely more yummy and healthy than MC Donalds and less "Heavy" than Freshness Burger, I remember I made it my favorite fast-food. Also, it was strategically well-placed : just in front of the 2nd hand book shop "Book Off". Buy a book, take a seat and eat a fine hot dog while reading a 200 yen manga... Taht is paradise ! ^_^

The BBG said...

Just quickly to mention that, following a tasty lunch at Don Pasta, I've made a small update to mention the (cheaper) lunch menu, as my original post might have put people off going there for lunch. I thought I'd mention it here as a separate comment, also, for anyone who has already read the post in its original form.