It does not seem to be the place to procure the perfect bowl of ramen, but isn't ramen becoming a little overrated these days? If you would like to sit in a sun filled cafe and drink a creamy delicious matcha latte, browse bonsai, or shop in a market that sells fresh shishito peppers, nifty little Japanese white cucumbers, and bitter almond Kit Kats, San Francisco's Japantown is your place.
1746 Post Street is where to begin. Cinema Cafe serves a fine matcha latte. I always order mine in a small cup. The large is just too large, but they only have one button on the cash register for this beverage, so you'll have to pay for a large. It's worth it. It is the most beautiful latte I've ever seen, a calming pale green.
Bring a book or browse the Kinokuniya Bookstore (1581 Webster Street) before you head to the cafe. Kinokuniya has the most inspiring collection of Japanese books. I'm always drawn to their various craft and design books. Don't worry if you don't read Japanese, it is the imagery that will capture your attention. They carry some English books as well.
Currently, Kinokuniya has some darling little tote bags in stock. The bags are printed by a local artist, and selling for only $4.95. They come in a variety of colors and I really have to practice restraint to keep myself from purchasing a new tote each time I enter the store.
There is always the option of forgetting books altogether and simply drinking your latte while gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Cinema Cafe and people watching.
Before you go, visit the best ladies room in the city of San Francisco. I'm sure the men's room is nice too, but I cannot say for sure. The ladies room is located on the level beneath the cafe, near the small box office. Yes, they show films here--the focus is on "the latest and hottest films from Japan". Once inside the ladies room, you will find an array of tiny glass vases filled with fresh flowers. Best of all, you will sit on a high-tech heated toilet seat. The entire space is immaculate.
Even if you don't require any Japanese pantry items, the Nijiya Market is worth the trip (1737 Post Street). It's just across the street from the cafe. Peruse the aisles and note all of the interesting ingredients you will not likely find in an average American supermarket. Don't miss the Kewpie Mayonnaise.
If you are in the mood to wander, there's a cute little bonsai shop, Katsura Garden, just steps away (1825 Post Street). If you require rest, stop by Robert Redford's Sundance Kabuki Cinema (1881 Post Street). I'm sure there will be something that suits your mood.
I left Japantown with a new tote (I now own 2) and some nice pickle ingredients.
Once home, I made these deceptively feisty pickles. As I prepared the thinly sliced petite vegetables, all so delicate, and decided on the additional spicy and sweet ingredients, I thought...these are going to be called Lady Pickles.
1 small chunk of ginger = to the top of your thumb, above the first knuckle
3 small carrots
3 shishito peppers
2 small Japanese white cucumbers
3 ooba (aojiso) leaves
1/2 stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1 star anise
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Peel ginger and place in the bottom of a clean 1 pint jar. Top, tail, and slice carrots, peppers, and cucumbers very thin. I used a Kyocera adjustable mandoline slicer for the carrots and cucumbers and a knife for the peppers. Chiffonade the aojiso leaves. Toss together and add to jar. Over low heat, toast cinnamon, red pepper, mustard, and star anise in a small sauce pan for a few minutes. Add vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to sauce pan and simmer for a few minutes while gently stirring. Pour liquid into jar, over vegetables. Allow contents of jar to cool before sealing jar and placing it in the refrigerator. Wait 24 hours or so.
Eat Lady Pickles beside grilled sandwiches, grain salads, or platters of cured meats and cheeses.