While Omotesando gets the upscale rep and Shimokitazawa is all about the hip, Jiyugaoka has quietly been setting a lockdown on cute and quaint. With its open streets already lined with patisseries and adorable cafés, the Blue Books Cafe now aims to inject a bit of adult food fare into the area’s pantheon of prim.
Located at the bottom of an inviting flight of stairs off a brick-inlaid pedestrian street, the café’s red-brick walls create a classic train-station jazz-bar ambiance, with an appropriate undercurrent of the lively music encouraging animated conversation. Seating is available at the broad bar or among chairs and sofa seats surrounded by bookshelves—though the subterranean lighting may be too dim for any serious reading.
While billed as a café, this is truly an international restaurant. Appetizers of note include a salty Spanish omelet (¥700) filled with either sausage or five types of mushrooms (shiitake, shimeji and girolle among them), as well as a “Bien Duo” of prosciutto and coppa (¥1,000). A traditional cut of Italian pork taken from the hindquarters, the coppa is oily and soft, slipping delectably down almost without being chewed. Avoid the marinated salmon and fresh cheese tartine (¥600), however—you could do as well by slapping a supermarket fish on a slice of baguette.
Mains include cutlet sandwiches (¥1,100), pastas (¥1,100-1,200), grilled pork (¥1,600), akushiage plate (¥1,800) and a ribeye steak (¥1,800), while the Blue Books Hamburger comes on a rye bun with flame-grilled onion, mustard leaf, sprouts, eggplant marinade and homemade ketchup with a cute side of curly fries (¥1,200).
The standout dish is the chou farci (cabbage roll) stewed in a cocotte, or French oven pot, the sealed cooking process locking the flavor inside. Immersed in a white-wine soup seasoned with onion and chicken bouillon, the tender cabbage cradles a softball-sized ball of ground beef flavored with port wine, cumin and burdock root (gobō), with the delightfully tasty tomato hidden in the center. The most expensive thing on the menu at ¥2,000, it’s worth the price just to savor the rarity of a cabbage roll with character.
The drinks menu offers whisky, cider, wines and cocktails, with a few deadly options involving tequila thrown in (cocktails ¥800-1,000). Of particular note is the house specialty Blue Note Tokyo Beer, a light, fruity and airy IPA available at ¥700 for 330ml or ¥900 for 450ml. If alcohol isn’t your thing, there are also coffees, teas and five flavors of milkshakes, which, at ¥700 each, go down like sticking a straw into a frothy glass of milk and half-melted homemade ice cream.
The prime finisher is the walnut tart (¥600), an imposing wedge of walnuts mortared together with a thin coating of caramel, mounted on the tiniest of cake crusts. Forget the fork: It’s easier to pick up this sticky brick and devour it by hand.