Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cafe Rainbow Bridge

Cafe Rainbow Bridge is a beautifully earthily decorated restaurant in Chatan, Okinawa. You access the place by frolicking down winding (naturally formed?) steps of porous black rock, to reach the door with a little waterfall and fountain just outside. The restaurant appears to be set on the edge of a steep, black rock cliff. However, I have only been there at night, so I cannot say for certain. The setting is lovely, at any rate. It's the perfect place to discuss a good book.

And Rainbow Bridge just so happens to be the location of our monthly book club meeting; this month we discussed Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. I loved it and I still live in its world. Others abhorred its apparent lack of ending. I found it funny that they thought it was inconclusive. For me, the story was like a rope unravelling then ravelling back together again.

The place is made entirely of wood, with raised tatami platforms for guests to sit on in the Japanese style. Interesting Okinawan art decorates the walls, the bathroom sink basin features a fiberglass inlaid rainbow. The entrance has a display of handmade Okinawan crafts such as fabric slippers, keychains, cell phone decorations, hair accessories, and purses. The menu proudly proclaims, "No Smile, No Life!"

Along with entrees and meals they serve Okinawan specialty dishes such as sesame tofu, goya champuru, fuu champuru (250-1000yen), a variety of coffee/latte/milk/fancystuff drinks for 400-450yen, desserts such as raw chocolate gateau cake (420 yen), New York cheesecake (420 yen), honey toast (520 yen), pizzas (1000-1300 yen), sandwiches, pasta (600-1000 yen), and soft drinks. Not your typical Okinawan restaurant. Then again, it is located much further south than where I live, and much closer too the American military base influence.

I had the "Avo Taco Rice" this time, which is taco rice with the addition of avocado. Taco rice is a uniquely Okinawan invention, and a much-loved Okinawan food. It's basically an American taco with rice instead of tortilla. The main components are white rice and ground beef with taco meat seasoning. The better versions will give you shredded lettuce and tomato. If you're lucky, you'll get some shredded cheese (Japanese cheese is so often so disappointing). This one came with the added bonus of salsa, avocado, and a single dorito triangle chip, broken into smaller triangles for decoration. 600 Yen. I did not like the taste of the taco meat. It tasted "beefy" and there were lumps of salt. The avocado and cheese saved it from being completely mediocre.

I was still hungry after my taco rice, so I ordered the honey toast, which cost almost as much as my taco rice (520 yen)! It was delicious. Then again, it's hard to mess up honey toast, which I believe is a Japanese invention. It was not quite like the honey toast at Shokudo in Hawaii, but it was still tasty. There was a large scoop of vanilla ice cream, and small triangles of toast saturated with butter and honey. Please make this at home.

In the past, I have had the Margherita Pizza, the creamy tomato sauce pasta with bacon and mushrooms, and the tofu salad with sesame dressing, and Okinawan sesame tofu.

The pizza has remained popular over the months with book club members because of the stark dearth of pizza in Okinawa. Cheese is hard enough to come by; pizza is an impossibly expensive and mayonnaise-laden exotic foreign food. Here the pizza is fairly reasonable, and is actually prepared in a Western fashion, with tomato sauce, basil, and cheese. The crust is very thin and crispy. 1000 yen. There is also a ham and salad pizza, which doesn't look like it has as much cheese as the margherita, and an Okinawan special pizza.

The Creamy Tomato Sauce Pasta with Bacon and Mushrooms was disappointing. Don't those ingredients sound delicious and promising to you? I have never had good non-Asian pasta in Japan. The sauce wasn't creamy at all. In fact, it was barely there. And I don't think they used tomatoes--it tasted a bit like canned tomato sauce, no frills added. The least they could have done was add some garlic, onions, basil, oregano, anything! I don't think cooking in that fashion is part of the Japanese cultural knowledge base. I don't blame them, they make Japanese food quite well. The mushrooms were disappointingly of the Enoki variety; not what I expect in "creamy tomato sauce" pasta. The bacon was all right, at least it was there. 800 yen. Disappointing, but all right if you're expecting the Japanese version of Italian food.

The best thing I've had at Rainbow Cafe was the tofu sesame salad. It was a bed of greens with chunks of medium firm tofu, covered with sesame dressing and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I love sesame dressing. 650 yen. However, because this dish could have been made at home with only three ingredients (tofu, lettuce, and sesame dressing), I have to deduct points on the goodness scale. Granted, it was very nicely presented, healthy, tasteful and tasty. I would eat it again.

I also enjoyed the tofu with sesame/peanut oil. I'm not sure what the Japanese name is, since it's always in Kanji and I can't read it. The tofu is of a special variety that is a bit like a cross between very chewy mochi and gelatinous tofu. The consistency is a bit gummier and firmer than mochi, because it's actually tofu! They always serve it with this special peanutty oil/sauce. You can buy containers of it of various qualities from all supermarkets in the tofu section here. As one friend said, "It's so weird--but somehow so good!"

Of course, I also enjoyed the Raw Chocolate Gateau Cake (420 yen). Rich, deep, dark, Western -style and delicious. It even had a bit of creme fraiche (or perhaps it was just whipping cream). Maybe it's because I've been starved for real chocolate desserts, but this was great after the fluffy Japanese sugarless cakes I've been eating. It would have benefitted quite a bit from some vanilla ice cream or raspberry coulis. It was a bit dry, and could've used a contrast of tang or lightness from a saucy element. It was still good. However, this time I decided to try the Honey Toast. Next time I may try the homemade New York Cheesecake.

Overall rating: I would go back. Good decor and ambience. Know what foods to order and you'll be golden. Prices decent.

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