I was wondering when it was gonna happen. The day I finally got called out by my local cafe about my culinary meanderings here on “Forage.” It wasn’t four months ago that my husband just “happened to mention,” during a lovely dinner down at the Jiji Cafe, that I was a food writer and reviewer. I met the chefs, who were lovely, and chatted with them. Suddenly, the pressure was on….which meant that I could not find the words to save my life. Thankfully I had a great excuse. The pictures did not turn out due to the fabulous, yet intimate lighting in the restaurant.
But that excuse could not hold me forever, especially when I frequent Cafe Jiji at least once every other week, sometimes up to three times a week. I bring my friends for drinks, I go for dinner, my cleaning lady hits them up every Tuesday for lunch, hell I even write these blogs sitting in a nice cozy corner next to their bar. So it is about damn time I wrote about this great little joint that I dearly love!
Cafe Jiji sits on the side of one of the curving, narrow main hilltop roads in my village of Kitanakagusuku, just a nice little meander from my home. It is, perhaps, the greatest discovery in my local area that I have made in the years I have lived here in Okinawa. You see, there are those few places, as a world traveler, as an expat, that pop up in your life. Places that have so much heart, attitude, creativity and comfort, that you almost immediately feel at home, no matter where you are.
It doesn’t matter what language you are speaking or where you fall on the longitude and latitude, but that you some how share a connection through great, creative, gorgeous food and drink!
Jiji lives up to everything I adore in a perfect hangout. I grew up in the cool 90’s cafes of downtown Prescott, Arizona, which, at their time, were revolutionary for a little hick town but have since continued to create an amazing, thriving cafe culture in my hometown. We had these artistic little corners of paradise where you could escape into a cocoon of laid-back warmth and acceptance. They always had mellow lighting, great music, supported local artists and musicians, and most importantly made wonderful food and drinks. There were only one or two of these in my childhood but they made their mark on me and I can honestly say that when I move into a neighborhood, whether it was Brooklyn, Paris, London, Cedar City, Okinawa, I have searched for this perfect creative-comfort cafe. I always found one. And that one, here in Okinawa is Cafe Jiji.
Jiji is so very eclectic in every aspect. It is like an arty-hipster, a traditional hippie and a totally sophisticated gastronome exploded all over a a found-art gallery. In a beautiful, perfect, holy-crap-how-did-they-think-of-this manner. Dried flowers and plants, candles. hand blown glass, antique furniture, fixtures and shabby-chic agedness accent the decor, without dominating or defining the dining area or bar. The Bar itself is chalk full of the pleasures of libation, the kind you don’t get in many places in Okinawa. Things like Chartreuse, Absente, Pernod….bevvies that make a gal like me stay much later than I should!
As I have been frequenting this establishment for quite awhile, they do take care of me. They always surprise me with their latest, special wine. “Manekin,” as he likes to be called, took the time upon my first few visits, to get deep into my wine tastes. He NEVER disappoints me with a recommendations, and they have a constant flow of new wines….so much so that they don’t really have a wine list. They will bring the bottles to your table and let you taste.
So, the food. You wanna talk about the food?
I don’t return to a restaurant if I don’t like the food. I don’t blog about it if I haven’t returned many times or plan to. I don’t freak out and NOT write a blog about a joint unless I am so overwhelmed by it’s fabulousness that I have to spend time, eat everything on the menu and put my kiss of approval upon this place. Jiji gets kisses.
So what do I recommend? Well to begin with, they do make their own pasta for a few of the dishes, so any of those are naturally on the list. Jiji is open for Lunch, Afternoon Tea and Dinner. Essentially for 12 hours there is always something on offer! Quiche, Salads, Pasta, Fish, Pork and Steak, and amazing desserts. The menu changes with the seasons, with what is available locally and organically. It changes with the winds of Okinawa and whims of the chefs.
We have had amazing cheese plates with Italian honey, specials like tonight: Pork and Potato Pasta in Pesto Green Sauce (which was divine!) to a Bone Marrow and Cartilage Risotto. They make a mean Carbonara, an exquisite Duck Breast in Berry Sauce, and I am always thrilled when the Coconut and Shrimp Risotto with Squid Ink Sauce pops up on the menu.
The set menu is really the way to go. It comes with a beautiful salad dressed in their signature black sesame. You also get the appetizer of the day, usually quiche but sometimes an interesting concoction of, again, whatever is fresh and seasonal. And of course you finish up with a beautiful plate of desserts, always different, always scrumptious!
If you are just looking for a nice place to spend the afternoon they have many teas and coffees to choose from, including a tea menu offering quiche of the day, bruschetta and other various nibbles. You will, if you come around tea time, see the cool coffee klatches of Japanese mommies who bring their little ones to read the multi language kids books on hand whilst they gossip over said nibbles. It is a relaxing time to be there, amazingly, and bridges that gap into cocktail hour, which of course Jiji excels in as well. To be honest, for a person like myself who doesn’t tend to deal with daylight til 10 or 11 am, Cafe Jiji provides the perfect opportunity to be social or secluded and spend my day however I see fit. Coffee or wine? Lunch, tea or dinner? Pasta or salad? They are an equal opportunity cafe with something intensely pleasant available for anyone. 098-987-7515 www.jijicafe.com