This morning my wife walked into the office and said, "Let's get chicken and pork ramen for lunch." I considered the case. On the one hand, the ramen is really good. On the other, it was cold and the restaurant was a bit of a journey to get to. She threw a trip to the bookstore into the deal and off we went.
One train ride and thirty minutes of walking later, we got to the ramen shop to find it closed for cleaning. We strolled around the area trying to find something else that would be as good as the ramen had been in our imaginations. We passed by a small French place called Le Metro. I had been there before, with a friend and found the food good. M had not been and was not really keen on going, but I talked her into it.
We have been working on increasing the quality of the food we consume recently, in the hopes that that will help us (me) to consume less of it. Increasing the quality often means finding bistros and small, locally owned places rather than chains. Places like Le Metro.
Normally in Japan, when entering a restaurant the staff rush all around you, being brisk and polite and shouting "irrashaimase" and what have you. Not today. We walked into a silence that was almost shocking in its rarity. One waiter nodded at us and we took a seat in the window, not at all sure that we were not supposed to wait to be seated.
M took a look at the menu and then looked at me. "I don't know what these things are."
I looked. "Me neither."
Together, we looked over the French names and awkward Japanese translations before deciding it wasn't worth the effort and asking our waiter for her recommendations. We ordered.
The food came and was very nice. I had a sausage and roast chicken on a bed of beans and vegetables, while M had a roast chicken and potatoes. They were both excellent dishes, authentically French as far as we could tell, and the portions left us both full without feeling stuffed. The deserts we ordered after were perfectly prepared if a little mundane.
As we left, I asked M if she would be willing to go back another time to sample more things from the restaurant. She said no. The staff had been too rude and disinterested. I allowed as that was so but that the food was good enough that I was willing to overlook the rudeness. But M maintained that the lack of respect and service had put her off the quality of the dishes and that that restaurant is no longer on our list of nice places to go on a Sunday afternoon.
Last week we headed into Utsunomiya for the Hatsu-ichi festival, or festival of commerce. We strolled up and down the aisles, pondering whether or not to buy a mikan tree and trying to avoid buying a snack from the various stalls. We passed by all the usuals: Okonomiyaki, tako-yaki, sausages, fried chicken, fried squid, yakisoba, etc. etc. I was briefly tempted by the new stalls selling hamburgers, but declined after looking more closely at the examples set at the front of the portable grills.
After an hour or so, we left the festival area and climbed the stairs to our semi-local shrine to do a first prayer of the year, asking for good luck and good health. We chose our fortune slips and, pleased with the results, started back towards the train station and home. As we passed back by the festival area, we decided to stop in again and buy a Dharma figure for the house. We negotiated a decent price and once again prepared to leave. We passed by a booth selling obanyaki, small pancake like buns filled with a variety of pastes. I gave in to temptation and decided to buy a cream filled one.
The old guy running the booth asked me if I wanted to try his new flavor. I said sure. He handed us an obanyaki filled with a soft, white, delicious cheese. He called it Napoli cheese and told us that he was the only one at the festival who had that flavor. I asked him how much for the one we had eaten and he said it was free. So I bought an assortment of five more.
Later that night, as we ate more of the obanyakis, I asked my wife how her's was. "It's good. That nice old guy running the booth has a good thing here."
Service is everything I guess.