More thoughts on Cafe Zaiya and red bean paste (orig. posted 9/5/06)

Well, if you have read my previous post about Cafe Zaiya, it seemed I was standing in between the boundaries of like and dislike. Today I try confirmed my final thoughts on this much raved Japanese spot. Today, Tuesday, 9/5/06, I purchased the Mini Koshi An Pans (package of 5 for $2.75) and the Pork Cutlet Sandwich ($3.95 for 1 1/2 sandwiches; seen in photo). Both foods were made the day of and it looked appetizing; the problem is that this is a lot of food for me. Thankfully, I have arranged a little meet up for lunch with my long time high school & college friend, Seungmi ^^.

Ok, back to the food. Let’s start with the main course, the pork cutlet sandwich. It was pre-made but it was fresh enough that it had steam/condensation on the top of the package; it looks promising. The sandwich itself consists of plain white bread (no crust), shredded lettuce, slices of tomatoes, breaded (possibly fried?) pork chop, and it’s dressed with worcestershire sauce. Looks good (as you can tell from the photo) but it smells acidic, most likely from that worcestershire sauce. The big part of food, the taste & texture. Well, the pork was cooked perfectly, not too dry, slightly moist. The bread is soft and moist due to the sauce as well as the fact it has been 1 1/2 hours since I bought it. The major drawback about this sandwich was that it lacked flavor. You barely detect a hint of pork flavor, the worcestershire sauce was too overbearing for this sandwich. Too bad.

The next thing is well, dessert. It’s not chocolate but I need some variety in life. So, the koshi an pans were cute, pettite buns that is filled with red bean paste. It looked good from the packaging; the desirable golden brown hue that you would like to have for any type of bread. The other reason why I bought this type of bun or bread is that I happen to like red bean paste buns from Flushing, Queens; assuming that it would taste the same or similar. The first time I tried it, I shared one with a visiting friend, Bryan, who commented/contemplated on whether or not he likes red bean paste. I can see why he would mull over this matter (more on that later). Initially, I thought it tasted okay. The textures were fine, soft bread with smooth paste. However, eating it a few more times with my lunch companion, Seungmi, I started to dislike it. There’s not enough red bean flavor in the darn paste! All I can taste is the subtle yeasty flavor of the bread and the slight sweetness of sugar from the bean paste but there’s an absence of red bean flavor. I am truly disappointed.

Overall, I believe the purpose of Cafe Zaiya is to provide sustenance to the hungry Midtown lunch crowd who is on a budget and seek an accessible type of Japanese food. I really want to like their food but somehow I feel like I’m setting myself up for disappointment. The only thing I really loved eating from here was the mochi-an donut.

To go back on the Bryan’s contemplation on red bean paste, it’s usually a hit-or-miss kind of thing. Certain brands that make the bean paste or whoever is making this batch can get perfection, blandness, or just plain disgusting. I too, have this conundrum when it comes to these things. The only time I truly ever loved red bean paste was the time my parents made it from scratch 5 years ago. Slaving over a big wok of red adzuki beans, for about 2 hours…and was it worth it. It was truly divine and blissful. Unfortunately, with modern times, we all somehow feel time restricted so we never do that anymore. Even though I still dream of it…


I shoot, eat, and drink. My full time job is a hospital administrator. Moonlighting as a freelance photographer and food and travel writer.