Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review: Usagi no Mori

"No smoking or photography while in the forest, because the rabbits are shy and afraid of fire, and will quickly run away."



Welcome to Hand Maid Cafe - Usagi no Mori (rabbit forest), a newly remodeled cafe located directly on the left side of Chuu-ou Dori a few blocks past Kandamyojin Dori, on the 6th floor of the Akiba Place building. When you step out of the elevator, you're immediately in a small gift shop filled with plush rabbit dolls, CDs and Kitkat bars with photos of the maids on the boxes. The maids are all referred to as "usagi-chan" (small rabbit), and wear big floppy ears and fluffy black tails along with their black dresses and white apron and trim.



Around the corner is the entrance to the restaurant itself, a large, softly lit space capable of seating 100 people, with wood paneling, and a large fake tree growing out of the wall behind the bar. Branches of the tree weave through the metal rafters of the ceiling. A large stage near the front is used for maid photos, and for periodic song numbers performed by the staff. The opposite wall has a large plate glass window opening onto the kitchen, where you can watch the maids preparing the food.



The staff are all friendly, and if they're not too busy, are willing to stop and chat. At 7:00 on a Tuesday evening the place was relatively quiet with only 20 customers (at many maid cafes, 20 people would be considered a packed house). One table had 3 female office workers (OLs, or "office ladies"), and there were 2 other foreigners sitting at the bar; most everyone else were salarymen. But, there were close to 10 maids on duty, keeping the staff-to-customer ratio pretty high. At about 6:40, two of the maids got up on the stage and started dancing to a light j-pop number that essentially was a thank-you for coming to the cafe and ordering the delicious food. A second song promoted several of the dishes from the point of view of a pretty rabbit talking about her busy day. The dances were pose-heavy j-pop influenced things with lots of hand and arm movement but very little actual dancing.

The rules card is in English and Japanese. The menus are Japanese only but have lots of pictures of the dishes. The maids can speak some English, but would rather answer questions in Japanese if possible. As a family-style restaurant, the entrees include the standard pastas and curries, as well as rice bowls and okonomiyaki. There's no table charge, so the food prices are all higher as a result. On the other hand, the serving sizes are also a little bigger. Entrees for 1000 to 1400 yen, soft drinks for 800 yen, mixed drinks for 900 to 100 yen, and custards and ice cream parfaits for 1000 to 1200 yen.



I ordered an ice coffee, and spaghetti with meat sauce. The coffee came out first, and the maid poured in syrup and cream from metal pourers (as opposed to just giving me a stick of sugar or a cup of creamer), but instead of the 'nyan' sound some cafes would make you use when you got enough cream, here it was just "stop" when the coffee was the way you wanted it. Fortunately, they do let you take photos of the food. The spaghetti came out in a heart-shaped bowl, with the sauce in a roughly rabbit-like shape, and the maid sprinkled on cheese to form the eyes. There was also a small salad with ginger-soy dressing and a small cup of onion soup. All of the food was good, but the coffee was watery. You'll probably want to stick with sodas, or the cocktails, which are less likely to get wrong.



I also ordered a maid photo. Along with the 1100 yen meal, and 800 yen drink, the total came to 2400 yen, which was fairly reasonable. The maid took me up on the stage right away (rather than waiting towards the end of the meal like at most places) and suggested the heart pose. Later, she shyly approached my table with the touched up photo, asking if it was acceptable. When I said "yes", she looked obviously relieved. No one else got photos while I was there.



There is a points card, but you have to fill out a membership card to get it, and you have to bring the completed form with you on your next visit. So, what's shown here is the front of the form card. Not exactly sure of the yen per point ratio. At 1000 points you go to "Bandana card" level, and get a free Usagi no Mori telephone card. At 2000 points it's the "Secret Menu card" level and you can order food and drinks from the secret menu. At 3000 points is the "message card" which gives you a personalized phone greeting and some other things. At 5000 points is a CD of the maids, and at 10,000 points is a hand-made bento box from the maid of your choice.



On the way out, I decided to pick up one of the Kitkats for 400 yen ($4.40 USD). It's just a regular Kitkat with 2 packaged bars, but I wanted it for the photo. There are about 10 different packages, each with photos of different maids. The "L<=>R" logo is supposed to represent the left and right hands of the maids making the food for you. The mascot is one of the most ill-tempered rabbits I've seen in a while.

Overall, I had a lot of fun. Usagi no Mori is a family-style restaurant, so it appeals to a different crowd than similar maid cafes, but isn't as "adult-themed" as Kokumaru Milk. Since there's no table charge, it's not all that expensive if you just get a drink and an entree. Any more than that and the total will skyrocket, though. On the other hand, there are menu items tailored for groups, such as the cocktail special with several drinks and a maid photo for 3300 yen. So, if you do go with friends, you can bring the prices down a little by ordering in bulk.



Summary:
Name: Usagi no Mori
Location: On the left side of Chuu-ou Dori, 6th floor of the Akiba Place building, a few short blocks north of Kandamyojin Dori.
Price: Moderate high.
Cover: No table charge
Food: A wide variety of dinner plates, including the standard pastas and curries, but also okonomiyaki and rice bowls for 1000-1400 yen; soft drinks for 800 yen and mixed drinks for 900-1000 yen; and desserts including custards and parfaits for 1000 to 1200 yen.
"Love": No special added flavor chants. Standard "welcome master" greetings when you arrive.
Outfits: Black dress with white apron and trim, and floppy black rabbit ears and tail.
Photos: 500 yen.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: A distinct rabbit in a forest theme. Lots of branded goods for sale in the lobby, and live song and dance routines every so often.
Recommendation: Usagi no Mori is a fun family restaurant that doesn't take itself seriously. The maids refer to each other as "rabbits", and you can watch them preparing the meals through the window to the kitchen. Because there's no table charge, the prices of the individual food items are higher. But, it's worth visiting just to watch the usagi dances on the stage. Recommended.

4 comments:

  1. There was only 1 foreigner at the bar. The other 2 guys were from Japan.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This was a really cute place.

    When I went last month, the bunny girl who guided me asked me if I needed "English," so maybe they have an English menu now? I didn't ask for it, so maybe it was just the rules card.

    When I first walked in, I couldn't get over how huge it is...!! That's what really struck me about it. It's really like a "real" themed restaurant..

    ReplyDelete
  3. Is this place still open? Their website doesn't work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been out of Tokyo for 3 years now, so I can't verify. Maid Cafes come and go all the time, so it's not surprising if many of the places I've reviewed here aren't open anymore.

      Delete