A Japanese Lunch & Desserts

Yesterday I had the intention of going to eat lunch at Cafe Sabarsky. However, the wait was killing me – almost 40 minutes and I was starving! So, I just gave up my spot on line and just took a bus down 5th Avenue. I ended up going to Takashimaya’s Tea Box Cafe. I wanted to eat here for a while and since I this is my chance now, I went in.
Those of you who have never went in here before, it’s basically an upscale Japanese department store that tastefully blend Japanese and French style. (I must say that their first floor floral boutique arrangements are gorgeous.) Anyways, the Tea Box Cafe is in the basement of the store. Once you get there, you’re greeted with all things tea; may it be teapots, tea leaves, as well as some Japanese confections and cookies.

Since it’s lunch hour (1 PM), there’s a wait list of people but fortunately I could kill my time a bit just browsing their wares for 10 minutes. When the hostess called me in, I was seated on the corner that borders the outside main room and the interior room. Hence the photo you see below.

Main room

Interior room; toward the back

The decor looks serene and the colors are very neutral: shades of tan and light brown. The back room is very dim lit. The demographic of the diners here are basically tourists, women who lunch, and a few for business lunch.

I ordered the Bento Box Lunch ($19) and a pot of oolong tea ($5).

Bento Box
My pot o’ tea


The oolong tea is wonderful. The tea leaves they used are of one of the finest quality as I have tasted.

The bento box looks great and nicely presented. The rice section of the bento:
It’s a medium grain rice, it had a more stickier texture than a long grain rice (obviously, because the starch content is slightly greater). It was really nutty in flavor because of the toasted sesame seeds and also there were chopped chestnuts. It’s different for me but it tastes good. It had flavors of soy and nuances of shrimp.

Next was the duck salad.
I didn’t realize there was duck until I moved all of those microgreens to the side.
The duck was perfectly cooked and well, delicious. I just wished it had more than two slices of duck. The vinaigrette tasted fine; a nice balance of sweet and tang but was a bit too oily for me, when I saw a pool of oil at the bottom of my bowl.

Then I went onto the miscellaneous dish.

It’s filled with a slice of fried, dried tofu (the square on the right). It was glazed with a sweet sauce, which I don’t know the name. My complaint is that it’s cold. I’m more accustomed with having tofu served warm. The squash, on the left of the tofu, tasted different. I can’t explain it exactly but it had the texture of a cooked wax potato – mealy, and not much flavor in it either. The shrimp shumai, in the back of the tofu, is actually one of the best shumai I’ve tasted in a long time. The shrimp is not overcooked and the wrapping is at the perfect thickness. Finally, the yellow slice that you see in the back, it’s a wedge of egg with chestnuts. I would describe it as a wedge of dense frittata with chunks of chestnuts. The chestnut gave an interesting texture to the egg but not much for flavor.

And last but not least, the salmon.
It’s a bit overdone to my preference – medium well. I prefer, medium rare because it’s a bit too dry for my taste but at least it’s not the texture of canned tuna. It tasted fine – it had a sweet glaze of sorts, possibly teriyaki. I did not eat that green chile pepper because I don’t want to know I’ll have my throat blown out. I like spicy food but I have limits.

Once I was finished eating the bento box, my waitress presented me the coconut jelly with mango sauce. She told me it came with the bento box meal. So here it is.
It’s very good. The jelly is very silky and creamy with great coconut flavor and encountered tiny bits of coconut with every bite. The mango sauce is very flavorful and tasty but I think it’s too overpowering for the jelly.

Overall, it’s not a bad meal. I just wished that it wasn’t so crowded with people. I just want to have a quiet lunch but I know it’s almost impossible to have that in the middle of Manhattan.

Later on, I went to Minamoto Kitchoan for dessert. I might as well stick with the Japanese theme since I’m on a roll. Anyways, I just bought whatever is seasonal. Unfortunately, they ran out of that pumpkin shaped wagashi that I wanted to buy but I could live with the others that I’ve gotten:

Suikanshuku

Left to Right: Hanatsubomi, Ayaichigo Jelly, and Kurihoraku

This is my own dessert flight. Anyways, this is how it looked unwrapped:

Left to Right: Hanatsubomi, Ayaichigo Jelly, and Kurihoraku

Suikanshuku

Probably you might think ayichigo jelly or the suikanshuku looks weird but they all taste divine.

The suikanshuku is the most interesting out of the whole group. It’s dried persimmon fruit filled with white bean paste and rolled in pearl sugar.
It’s chewy, subtly sweet and the persimmon flavor is very subtle. Normally I don’t like the fresh persimmons my mom usually gets in Flushing, but this is an exception.

The hanatsubomi:
It’s entirely edible, believe it or not. The yuzu is candied or what their description says, steamed, enough that the yuzu is not overwhelmingly tart. It’s just sour or citrusy enough that you taste the orange-lemon flavors radiating out from the peel. The white bean paste is very smooth; it’s a nice contrast to the slightly fibrous yuzu peel.

The ayaichigo jelly might look creepy to some on this plate.
But this is a wonderful jelly. It’s arguably the sweetest out of the four confections that I have, possibly because of the strawberry purée that they have incorporated into the red bean paste. This would be a spring dessert to me, since the delicate, floral strawberry flavors reminds me of spring. It’s a nice change to the chestnuts and heartier flavors that would be associated with fall or winter.

The last one is the kurihoraku:

This is the closest to winter, if you want to associate flavors besides the persimmon. It’s a purée of red bean paste with sweet potato paste. It’s silky smooth throughout the confection, but not it’s not the most dazzling to my palate.

If you have to ask me which ones did I like the most, I would say either the dried persimmon or the ayaichigo jelly.

Addresses:
Takashimaya’s Tea Box Cafe
693 5th Avenue (located in the basement of the store)
New York, NY

Minamoto Kitchoan
608 Fifth Avenue (off 49th Street)
New York, NY

Thank you for reading and have a great weekend.



There are 4 comments

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  1. Kathy

    Hey Tina!

    I love your picture of the Hanatsubomi – I’ve never seen such a perfect looking dessert that was entirely edible! We have a shop here in Hawaii called Shirokiya that specializes in Japanese dessert…might have to venture there now :)

  2. Anonymous

    ahhhh I love Minamoto Kitchoan, I have been thinking about going down there before the end of the session, since right now I think they have the chocolate difuku still.

    But The ayaichigo jelly and Hanatsubomi look great. I love the way they tast, I happen to quite like the Hanatsubomi a bit more.

  3. Christine

    I love your photos. I was love afternoon teas, have you tried their afternoon tea? Thanks for this informative insight, I will have to try it here next time when I’m in the city.

  4. pixen

    ooh yes.. i bought quite a lot from Takashimaya, Singapore… but the counter ran out of Hanatsubomi. So, i got candied yuzu peels instead :-( Then I got another batch from my Japanese neighbour which made me very happy indeed!


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