November 6, 2008
Get a taste of all-natural cooking in a casual Ginza setting
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2008
When we heard about a café in central Ginza catering to health-conscious women, we can’t say we were really surprised. But when we learned that this café was established by the cosmetics tycoon and skin-whitening guru Sonoko Suzuki, and that the chefs adhere to a no-oil, no-artificial-ingredients cooking style, we made sure to pay a visit.
Sonoko Café sits in a cafeteria-like space on the third floor of a building just off the main Ginza intersection; on the first floor is a retail shop selling Sonoko brand cosmetics, nail-care products and other goods (including bakery items from the eatery upstairs). The interior’s point of pride is the wall-length window with counter seating that looks out over bustling Harumi Dori. Crane your neck one way and you can see the fabled Mitsukoshi department store; look in the opposite direction to check out the resplendent Kabuki-za theater.
During lunch, Sonoko Café offers three teishoku menus priced at ¥1,575 each: tofu-chicken “hamburger”; saba (mackerel) simmered with miso; and a mixed “fry” plate with shrimp, white-meat fish and korokke. These last items are baked instead of fried, and served with a tartar sauce prepared with egg but no mayonnaise.
The saba set comes with a lovely array of side dishes to fulfill the washoku ideal of interplaying colors, tastes and cooking styles. Onyasai (boiled vegetables) include potato, green beans, carrot and daikon with a tart miso sauce, and there’s also kinpira (sautéed gobo and carrot), pickles and rice. The excellent miso soup is filled with small cubes of tofu. An accompanying dollop of pumpkin demonstrates the kitchen’s ingenuity: typically made with mayonnaise, the pumpkin here is prepared shiraae style, a vinegar-based cooking method that eliminates fats but ensures a lusciously creamy texture. These same side dishes came with the tofu burger, which featured chunks of shimeji mushrooms and which was served with a sour grated-daikon oroshi.
During the tea time from 2:30-5pm, Sonoko Café serves oil-free cakes, pastries and more traditional Japanese sweets like green-tea and chestnut anmitsu; with coffee or tea these snacks cost ¥1,000 or less. The dinner menu is devoted to healthy takes on yoshoku comfort foods. Dishes like beef stew, curry, hambaagu and chicken “cutlet” (¥1,869-¥2,079) can be paired with rice (¥262-¥367), miso soup (¥262), salads (¥399), pickles (¥105), or oil-free bread (¥315) and a variety of vegetable dishes (¥577-¥787).
Unsurprisingly, Sonoko Café attracts women—and lots of them. Obasan, model-types, housewives and afternoon shoppers all come here to enjoy a casual meal in friendly surrounds. Male customers aren’t so rare as to invite stares, but they do constitute a significant minority.