By Ana Skara
The croque-monsieur made its debut in the bars and cafes of Paris last century. It showcases the best of its ingredients, ham, bread and grilled Comte cheese. I prefer mine aged to twelve months with a smokey and fruity flavor, having been transformed in dark caves on spruce boards. If you prefer something more creamy, the younger version is great melted, just like fondue.
Cheese connoisseurs can fall in love all over again at Pancake Days, where they cultivate the young Comte cheese into their signature dish, the creamy croque monsieur pancake. It is amazing how skillfully the Japanese have blended the best of foreign traditions in creating their cuisine and festivities. Think Tempura and Bread with its Portuguese influences and Taco Rice from North America. Often in Japan you will find dishes that are even better than their country of origin. It is no wonder that Tokyo has more Michelin restaurants than Paris. This fusion of foreign inspiration and Japanese sensitivity is evident in everything from snacks to high cuisine.
So, as I sink my fork into the sponge like tender texture of this pancake, I wonder, so what will pancake cafe culture become? The philosophy of Pancake Days Cafe is Love, Eco- friendliness, Nature, Family, Sharing and the Next Age. This light, airy yet intimate space is ideal for a gathering with family and friends or for a birthday party for children or adults alike. Decorated with beech wood panels and natural timber floors, it has a welcoming, inviting feel, making it popular amongst the young ladies from Harajuku and Omotesando. The large floor to ceiling windows bathes the room with sunshine, making it a gentle way to while away an afternoon people watching on this fashionable lane way below.
One of the highlights here is the eight tiered Birthday pancake, filled with seven kinds of fruits and whipped sour cream. If you have a favorite anime character, they can even hide it inside the pancake for an extra surprise when you cut it. Even the menu covers have a whimsical fantasy feel, like a children’s picture book. No wonder this place is popular with families on the weekends, helped by a visit by some TV and magazine crews awhile back.
The chefs at Pancake Days are constantly reinventing our perception of what pancakes can be. I tried the creamy croque monsieur pancake (1150 yen), which is their interpretation of the famous French cafe and bar dish. Freshly cut shavings of cheese and ham are sandwiched between three layers of pancakes. The spongy texture of the pancake, along with the milky melted cheese, are countenanced by the shredded cabbage and potato salad, reminiscent of Okonomiyaki, a Japanese style savory pancake, even down to its sticky mochi texture. If you are not a big cheese fan, try shrimp and avocado pancake dressed with a wasabi mayonnaise sauce (980 yen), the Loco Moco Rice, Beef curry, or the Rice Gratin with Seasonal Vegetables (all under 1200 yen). There is also the Tomato and Avocado Oven-roasted Hamburger for 1100 yen, though for a great burger, head next door to J.S. Burgers, an eatery oozing with the holiday spirit of a California summer.
For a snack or dessert, there is the Pancake with Maple Syrup (500 yen), Maple Cream Pancake (700 yen), Vitamin Fruits Pancake sandwich (850 yen), or go all out for its signature desserts, the gorgeous Caramelized Banana Chocolate Pancake (900 yen) or Triple Berry Rare Cheese Pancake (1,150 yen)
I am already looking forward to coming back to Pancake Days, not just for snacks and dessert bar, but one for light lunches and dinners as well. For less than 1,500 yen with drinks, a hot meal here won’t break the bank.
This cafe is also smoke-free, so it is ideal for enjoying food unfettered by tobacco smoke. A variety of gifts are also available for sale at the counter, from recipe books to souvenirs, so you can recreate the fun of pancakes at home.
Pancake Days cafe is tucked away in Harajuku Bell Pier, a boutique gallery of cafes in a side street called Onden, just three minutes’ walk from Exit 4 of Meiji-Jingumae Subway Station. As you walk into the sunshine from the subway, take a 180 degree u turn, and head South East. Once you cross the Meiji Dori traffic light inter-section, walk past the UFJ bank on your right and then turn right on the second block down the side street, and then the white Harajuku Bell Pier building is about 50 meters on your right. From JR Harajuku Station it is a slightly longer five minute walk on the same route.
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