Nestled beside the roadside of the busy Yuki bypass is a small, unassuming building with a bright red sign reading Zen. This is the Zen Coffee and Cup Café (Ko-hi- to utsuwa Zen), half ceramic shop, half cozy haven. The ceramics are quite artistically made in the local Kasama pottery style and are priced accordingly, but what really shines is the small dining area. The walls are made of the traditional straw-and-mud style which is found in the homes of lords in the region; this style has the benefit of being cooler in the summer while still insulating in the winter, as well as providing a very unique atmosphere. On the side facing the road are several narrow floor-to-ceiling windows for light, but on the opposite side the window covers almost the whole bottom half of the wall, cleverly designed to look out on the adjoining garden area while hiding the rest of the neighborhood, creating the effect of a private, soothing space.
The menu has reasonably priced lunch sets that include salad, bread, main dish, drink, and dessert, and the daily specials are all quite appetizing. My colleague had the spicy mentaiko cream pasta, while I chose the mozzarella and eggplant tomato-sauce spaghetti, and both were al dente and richly flavored successes. For dessert I chose the Tarte Tatain, a French take on apple pie, and my colleague selected the pumpkin tart, which were both exquisitely delicious while remaining light and airy. One more delightful surprise was the option of herbal tea for the set drink; as someone who cannot have caffeine I am often forced to resort to orange or apple juice (neither of which finishes a meal off very well), but Zen has a fruit tea menu which includes the apple cinnamon tea I elected to enjoy after dessert.
One element that we weren’t able to fully enjoy, due to the season, was the tiny adjacent garden. Wreathed in vines that provide a shady canopy for the little patio area, the tiny space is a nice spot of soothing greenery to retreat to on a hot day. There were even fully-grown gourds hanging from the metal lattice holding the vines, giving it a slightly exotic atmosphere.
If you’re in the area and not in the mood for fast food be sure to look up Café Zen for a pleasant meal and some relaxation.
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