Tokyo Takeover: I <3 Coutume

But, guys, like, I really <3 Coutume's Tokyo location.

I was already in love with Coutume with my first sip of coffee but then they brought the food. Our first morning there I had a salad piled high with avocado, feta and grapefruit. It came with a side quiche which I think is the opposite of what I thought I was getting. Shouldn't quiche come with a side of salad? The crust on the mushroom quiche was perfectly buttery and flakey and the egg custard silky smooth. Lara's croque monsieur oozing bechamel and stuffed with tender asparagus was fantastically rich and delicious. Half way through my quite large salad, the server came over with another dish. He put down a small glass and says "with set". I didn't remember there being anything other than quiche, salad and coffee with my set, but who am I to complain? The small glass contained a vanilla custard, crumb and rhubarb compote. Living in Seoul, this was the first time I had had rhubarb in nearly two years. It was used perfectly as the tart contrast to the rich custard.

Since it was near our airbnb, we ended up going to Coutume almost every day we were in Tokyo. One morning we ate breakfast across the street at Clinton St Baking Co but after finding the coffee lacking, picked up lattes to go. One morning we just had delightfully flakey pain au chocolat and chausson aux pommes. Our last full day I couldn't resist the croque monsieur Lara had had the first day and she had a big salad with slices of avocado and ham. I picked up a piece of rosemary lemon olive oil cake to eat for breakfast the next day before our early departure. I might have a serious Coutume addiction. Good thing there isn't one in Seoul?

(j/k please come to Seoul, Coutume and let me give you all my money thx)

Coutume is located at 〒107-0062, 5丁目-8-10 南青山, 港区 東京都 107-0062, Japan and is open 7:30-9:30 seven days a week. Breakfast sets cost between US$10-$16 and pour overs and espresso beverages cost between US$3-$5.

You can find more of my favorite places to get caffeinated in Tokyo here.

Looking for more mouthwatering food pics? Check out my new food only insta @runawaybunnyeats

Glamorous Penguin

 Glamorous Penguin Hannam-dong Seoul

I've provided a picture of the outside of the building just so you can be sure I am not at all making up or mistranslating this amazing name.

Glamorous Penguin is one of those places I walked by a million times, marking the absurdity of it's name and thinking to myself "I should really go there just to see how strange it really is" but I just kept prioritizing places that seemed, well, less crazy until one day one of my friends asked if I had tried it remarking that she really liked the cakes and wanted to know what I would think of them. I kept that knowledge in the back of my mind for a few more weeks until one day after physical therapy, hot, tired, sweaty and not quiiite ready to climb back up the hill to my house, I passed by and decided that what I really needed was a cake break.

And then I did that twice more.

The first cake I tried was the Lemon Meringue. Thin layers of vanilla sponge alternating with a perfectly tart and creamy lemon curd. I am a lemon curd fanatic, so this cake could've easily been a huge disappointment but it definitely was not. I am very picky about meringue and found it slightly too dry for my taste but not so dry that I didn't eat it. Of the cakes I've had so far, this is definitely my favorite.

The Apple Maple Cake wasn't super maple-y but the cake had nice big apple chunks. Part of me is fully willing to say that the apparent trend of not leveling cakes really bothers me just because I'm a formally trained snob but now that I've actually tried some of the cakes towards which I was feeling disdain, I realize that it bothers me because it throws off the proportions of cake to frosting. Because this cake was little dry and wasn't frosted on the sides, I think I would've enjoyed it more if the top layer were thinner giving a higher frosting to cake ratio.

Similar to the Apple Maple Cake, I found the Carrot Cake well spiced but a bit on the dry side. The thicker layer of frosting in the middle did help some but I'd still rather have either a moister cake or a leveled cake with slightly more frosting. I do like that even though some of the cakes are not leveled, it clearly doesn't have anything to do with laziness or lack of caring since the presentation for each cake is unique and well done.

I've been pleasantly surprised by the coffee here. It's all espresso beverages, nothing crazy or super fancy but the iced lattes I've gotten have been consistently good with a smooth espresso taste and milk that actually feels and tastes full fat. Even in America, it can be a rarity to find bakeries where coffee isn't an after thought.

Like, Parc, Glamorous Penguin is located near Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art so if you're not looking for a full meal before or after a day of museum-ing, it's good place to stop for a rest and snack.

The address is 743-41 Hannam-dong. From Exit 1 of Hangangjin Station walk towards Itaewon Station, turn right on the side street between the Audi showroom and Trevia. Walk up the short street to the street that runs perpendicular and Glamorous Penguin will be on the street that runs diagonal and to the left.

You can also check out their Facebook page and adorable Instagram.

Tokyo Takeover: Nakano Broadway

(in which I eat foods as big as my face)

Dan's main priority in Japan may have been eating as much raw fish as possible but I had a different goal, eat as much crazy flavored soft serve as possible. Specifically, eat as many crazy flavors as possible on one cone.

For those unaware, I have a (currently neglected but soon to get A LOT of posts) side project called The Soft Serve Diaries that started as a tongue-in-cheek collection of serious reviews of every Mister Softee (or knock off Mister Softee) rainbow sprinkled, swirl cone I ate. Even though it started as a joke, I found that I had a lot of fun applying serious metrics to not serious food and as we traveled the world, my need to compare different country's soft serves became something of an obsession. I knew from instagram and tumblr that Japan was going to be prime soft serve eating country and as I searched for the absolute must-haves, one image kept reappearing over and over: the Tokudai Cone at Daily Chiko in the basement of Nakano Broadway. Eight layers of seasonally changing ingredients creating a cone taller than your face. I had to have it.

  I also need to have some of these plastic soft serves for home decor

I also need to have some of these plastic soft serves for home decor

Thankfully, even though Dan has very little interest in eating soft serve himself, he supports my dreams of eating and reviewing soft serve like it's my job* and agreed to adventure to Nakano Broadway where I had read the soft serve was in the basement.

We exited the subway station and walked directly into a shopping arcade which is not Nakano Broadway. We realized we were maybe in the wrong place when we tried to go down to the basement and found ourselves in the world's noisiest casino, no ice cream in site. With stops at a few of the many groupings of claw machines full of exciting, nerdy plushes (Dan eventually asked me to cut off his coin supply) and a liquor store where we got the world's cutest bottle of Hibiki, we continued straight through the shopping arcade until we got to a large entrance that said "Nakano Broadway" and found ourselves in the actual mall. We found a staircase down to the basement pretty quickly and found ourselves in an area that mostly was full of butchers and fish mongers. Game for exploration, we figured we'd just walk around until we found Daily Chiko and pretty soon the "no soft serve" signs became more and more prevalent at the food vendors we passed. Finally, at the other end of the basement, in front of the Petit Paris, we found Daily Chiko and got in the long but fast moving line.

This is the face of somebody who spend the morning walking around Harajuku, in the hot sun, on a weekend, and held off eating any frozen treats so that she could make her dream come true but still doesn't quite believe it's happening.

 Tokudai Soft Cream Daily Chiko Nakano Broadway Tokyo

Tokudai Soft Cream Daily Chiko Nakano Broadway Tokyo

I'm not sure quite how often the flavors change but every picture I've seen looks slightly different. The flavors when we went were: strawberry, coffee milk, vanilla, chocolate, sweet potato (!), caramel, matcha and "fizzing candy". Fizzing candy seems to always be a mix and from what I've read, what it really means is blue marble soda which has kind of a bubble gum taste. Since the cone is too big to eat like a normal soft serve at first, they give you small plastic spoons which worked surprisingly well. I was partial to the mix of strawberry and coffee milk at the top and really into the matcha layer at the bottom. Dan's flavor of choice was sweet potato. I actually thought the orange layer was melon flavored and was surprised when I was looking back through the pictures to see it was caramel. Since the flavors change, if I had the opportunity to go again, I'd still get all eight layers even though I had some stand out favorites. Plus, the Tokudai only costs about $4, so who can resist?!

Despite the size of our cone, we found ourselves in need of a savory snack after finishing since it was late afternoon and we hadn't eaten since mid-morning. We had passed large steam baskets of hand made dumplings on our way to Daily Chiko and we headed back to those.

After a day with a lot of walking, we were happy to find that "Handmaid Dim Sum Mata Ashita" had a small seating area and complimentary water. Dan chose an assortment of pork and shrimp gyoza but having already conquered eight layers of soft serve, I was set on conquering the face sized bun next. All of the dumpling were fresh and piping hot. The divinely fluffy bun was filled with a well seasoned mix of pork, scallion and ginger as were the tender skinned gyoza. Combined with the soft cream, it definitely made a full (if a little backwards) meal.

 Street signs in Nakano, Tokyo

Now incredibly full, we decided it was best to do some walking and explored the three floors above us. Nakano Broadway is primarily known for it's numerous shops selling anime and figurines and we did a lot of wandering and looking incredulously at the prices of plastic godzillas as well as making a purchase of an assortment of cookies and snack and some postcards, before heading outside.

The streets in the neighborhood around the mall are chock full of small restaurants and bars and fantastic street lights. It had been a long day at this point but since Nakano wasn't really convenient to get back to, we decided to explore for a bit and maybe find a place to grab a drink.

Our final stop was this amazing 80s bar, which had this decor in the entryway and a sandwich board outside advertising it's happy hour and free song requests (I'm pretty sure this is the only sign we saw in English in the neighborhood). We ordered happy hour beers and were presented with a thick book of songs available with music videos and a thinner book of songs available without music videos and the proprietor gave us some slips of paper to make our requests. The music videos being projected seemed primarily to be from the 70s (which lead me to wonder where music videos were played before MTV came along) but the book seemed to mostly have selections from the 80s and everything about it was bizarre and wonderful. Eventually another couple who were clearly regulars came in and immediately wrote down their selection. After some time resting and laughing at the over the top cheesiness of every video, we gathered our stuff and headed back to our hotel to shower and slowly start thinking about what to eat next.

*but seriously, anyone looking for a soft serve columnist?

PLANT Itaewon

 PLANT vegan cafe Itaewon

Plant is a small vegan cafe and bakery with a menu that changes weekly. I'm obviously not vegan but I am lactose intolerant, really into vegetables and from the Bay Area. I've been meaning to go to Plant since we moved to Korea but it's only since the weather started warming up that I've really gotten into exploring Itaewon's back alleys and actually figured out the location of the cafe.

This past week I decided to stop by after physical therapy (read: I was starving) and ordered an iced chai, kale and mushroom salad and a big slice of pumpkin cake. I didn't really think about it at the time, but this was the first chai I've had since moving to Korea and I'm not sure I've seen it on the menu anywhere else. It was a teensy bit on the sweet side for me, but I happily drank it down and definitely see myself stopping by to get it again in the future.

Kale is a very exciting thing for me. We talk about missing kale all the time in my house. I miss kale chips. I miss kale salad. I miss kale pesto. We very occasionally get kale in our CSA but it's not the cavolo nero of my dreams. Obviously, I had to order the kale and mushroom salad. Sadly, it was more mixed green with some kale than the mountain of kale I was imagining but it was still a delicious and filling salad. The dressing was agave mustard and I'm just not really into the flavor agave gives things, especially when it's not cooked but the dressing complimented the other flavors of the salad well enough for me to enjoy it (but I'd probably have enjoyed it more with another dressing). If I get something from the savory side on my next visit to Plant, I'll probably try something new but that doesn't mean I wouldn't eat this salad again if it made another appearance on the menu.

 vegan pumpkin cake from Plant Itaewon

I think the baked goods is where Plant really shines. Everything is vegan and some items are gluten free. I love that there's a wide variety of flavors and that the presentation is simple and beautiful instead of twee. I went with the pumpkin gingersnap cake which was delightfully moist and had a surprise crunchy cookie layer in the middle. The cake was wonderfully spiced and not too sweet. It was actually much more to my taste than the cupcakes at Sugar Daddy and I'm excited to go back and try more things.

I also got some dog treats for Ada. She was initially excited but didn't end up finishing one of them. I think huskies are pretty into animal protein.

Plant is located at 63-15 Itaewon-dong.

Sugar Daddy

 Sugar Daddy Itaewon

Let's be honest, I think the cupcake trend in America had long since jumped the shark and it always was mostly terrible. Most shops do a great disservice to a dessert that can be just as delicious as a full sized cake by focusing on twee over taste. Though I do find Sugar Daddy a little sweet for my taste, I think they do a great job of finding a balance between presentation and flavor and I love that walking into the shop it immediately has the warm, sugary smell of a real bakery. The mismatched, funky decor in the small shop also helps keep it from being overly precious and makes me want to hang out there more.

As well as cupcakes they also have a wide variety of cheesecakes, tea, juice and coffee but the only one of those things I've tried is the coffee, which is solidly average for espresso drinks in Seoul. They also sell a few cakes by the slice and dog biscuits that I'll be picking up for Ada once she's no longer on a prescription only diet.

 Chocolate Mint Cupcake Sugar Daddy Itaewon

My first visit to Sugar Daddy, I got a choco mint cupcake. The cake was pleasantly dense, moist and chocolate-y. The frosting was a lightly mint flavored American buttercream. American buttercream doesn't really do it for me in the same way as it's European counterparts and I found it too sweet and stiff. Everything about this cupcake from the texture of the cake to the sweetness of the buttercream tasted quintessentially American childhood, so if you're feeling a bit nostalgic, or missing a taste of home, this cupcake will certainly satisfy your cravings.

The carrot cake is probably my favorite so far. Once again, the cake was nice and moist. The spice balance was spot on. I did find the cream cheese frosting a little sweet but not as much so as the mint frosting.

 Nutella Cupcake, Sugar Daddy Itaewon Seoul

I really wanted more from the Nutella cupcake. It had the same chocolate cake as the choco mint cupcake which I liked, but the frosting seemed more like just chocolate buttercream with a half a Ferrero Rocher on top than then hazelnutty goodness I wanted from something Nutella flavored. It was fine, but I probably won't get it again.

I've heard much about the maple bacon cupcake and I've been disappointed that it hasn't been in the case when I've visited. I'm pretty much a sucker for any maple bacon dessert.

Overall, I like Sugar Daddy. I'm not going to be there all the time, but it definitely hasn't seen the last of me yet.

Sugar Daddy is currently located at 56-21 Itaewon-dong down an alley right next to McDonalds. They often have a sandwich board out on Itaewon-ro making it easier to find. In May, Sugar Daddy is moving across the street and up the hill to the 2nd floor of 118-5 Itaewon-Dong.