Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: Pondichery

Pondichery is a combined cafe and reflex shop located in with the same cluster of cafes as Pash Cafe Nagomi, Mai Dreamin' 2 and Akiba Itchome Theater. In fact, it's right across the street from them, on the 4th floor of the building that also holds M-factCAFE and cafe la vie en rose. The name apparently derives from the French spelling of a city in India that still has remnants of the French occupation.

As you come in through the door, you're greeted with the "welcome back master" chant, and are requested to put on a pair of slippers. To the left is a small group of little cubicles with thin cloth curtains drawn closed for the reflexology (essentially just hand and foot massages) and to the right is the cafe. The entire space is maybe only 30-40 feet long, so any strange grunting sounds would be easily heard by everyone there. And, there were no strange grunting sounds.

The cafe space is kind of cramped, and dimly-lit (candles at all the tables) with a bar that holds 3 people, and round wooden tables and chairs for another 7 seats. There's lots of anime and manga paraphernalia on the side tables and walls, with a collection of books for those that want something to read. The bar has a selection of liquors for the mixed drinks, and a tiny kitchen area. There were three maids that night, two working the cafe and one on the reflex side. No real uniforms; one was in a kind of school uniform and the other two had goth-lolli outfits with big, heavy rubber-soled boots. None of them tried speaking English to me, and the menu was only in Japanese.

The menu was printed on four small laminated cards. The food list consisted simply of curry rice, omelet rice and some pasta (in the 1000 yen range), soft drinks (around 500 yen), mixed drinks (600 yen) and beer (700 yen) and desserts (various sponge cakes, 700 to 800 yen). Most of the items have a "maid special" variation where you're paying an extra 100 yen to have the item customized for you by the maid of your choice. I decided to get a hot coffee, a maid dessert and a maid photo. With the 500 yen cover for a 90 minute stay, the total came to about 2400 yen ($26). Fairly pricey for what you get, and they neglected to give me both the receipt and the points card.

Probably the highlight of the evening was the preparation of the coffee. Pondichery uses a vacuum brewer, which is essentially a pair of pyrex flasks suspended over a sterno flame. Water in the bottom flask is heated to boiling and the resulting pressure forces the water up a pyrex tube through the chamber holding the coffee grounds up into the top flask. When the heat is removed, the vacuum pulls the water down into the bottom flask again and the brewing is done. The maid making the coffee apparently was a new-hire and she'd never done this on her own before. She stood watching the process, repeating "sugoi" (wow) over and over again. But, when it came time to put the cover over the sterno flame, she panicked, expecting to get burned. Then, she brought the coffee over, poured in the cream and sugar and stirred it for me. Unfortunately, she probably didn't pack in enough coffee to start with, because it was kind of watery. Hopefully, she'll get it right with practice.

The dessert was a small molten chocolate fudge cake, and the customization consisted of putting dollops of whip cream on the plate, topped with honey. The cake was a thick, heavy unsweetened chocolate and the whip cream-honey flavor complemented it quite well. The only thing missing would have been a glass of cold milk. So, the cake was good, and the coffee just marginal. When it came time for the photo, we walked out to the space in front of the elevator, and the maid spent about a minute trying to get my hand to do the heart shape properly. A few minutes later, the photo was fully embellished.

About the time I was getting ready to leave, a group of 8 people arrived and tried to get into the cafe. There were already 5 of us there at the time (a young couple at one table, two guys at the bar and one other guy playing video games at another table; one guy was an obvious otaku, one may have been an artist, and the video game player was a businessman in an expensive suit. The male half of the couple looked like a dandied-up college student and his girlfriend looked like she spent a lot of time shopping in Harajuku). The couple left and 3 members of the party came into the cafe to take their table; the others may have gone to cafe la vie en rose 1 floor down.

Pondichery does have an online site, but there's no menu list and no description of the points card. Because I wasn't offered a points card on my way out, I can't scan it and upload it here.

Overall, Pondichery is a nice little place to just sit and chat with friends, or play games on your PSP at the table. The staff is not overly chatty, but the smaller space does make the cafe feel more "cozy". The menu prices are a little on the high side and the cover inflates the total. The dessert was good, and maybe the coffee will improve with time.

Name: Pondichery
Location: West of the Akihabara JR station 3 blocks, across the street from Pash Cafe Nagomi and Akiba Itchome Theater, on the 4th floor.
Price: Moderately high.
Cover: 500 yen lets you stay 90 minutes.
Food: A small selection of entrees (curry rice, omelet rice and pasta), drinks and beer, and desserts. The molten chocolate fudge cake was good.
"Love": Standard welcome and goodbye chants, writing on your food, maids stir your coffee for you, and the maids shake your mixed drink for you at your table.
Outfits: No standard outfit while I was there.
Photos: 500 yen for a maid photo.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: This is a reflex and cafe combo, where you can get a reflexology session on one side of the room, or vacuum brewed coffee and food on the other.
Recommendation: Pondichery is kind of limited on space, only able to seat 10 people in the cafe at a time.But, it is cozy, and it's a nice place to sit and chat with friends over a beer. Recommended.

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