Sometimes it is not enough to save ¥500. Sometimes ¥300 is not sufficient. On lunch days at Yume, it is far more worth-it to pay ¥1,200 and find yourself seated in relaxation, jazz floating around you, serene lights sparkling. Your experience exceeds the meal-price.

Sometimes your hustle-bustle city-brain and tired body require some finery. This is an onsen for your tastes. A modern respite taking your very basic needs into account. Fellow-money-savers, I mean it. Treats that make you feel more whole, more balanced, are worth it.

Situated on the first floor of an apartment building along Hongo Dori, a main street in Kaminakazato, Yume shares the bottom level with an organic, locally-grown produce market. Everything about the building is cool, punctuated by daffodil-yellow apartment doors.

Now smoothly slide the door and step through the gauzy red noren; you’re home. In the small, intimate space of Yume restaurant, simplicity stands-out. The lighting. The coat rack. The coffee bar and refrigerator housing leafy house-made dressings with virtually no oil, just vivid, tasty vegetables. Nothing is left-over, nothing is garrulous. Light pine tables, wooden flooring along with pebbled concrete. Why guild the lily if the lily is already so sweet.

The tinkling electricity of jazz, soft lighting, and blond pine. In winter, the atmosphere is warming. In summer/early fall, it has a cooling effect.

Yume’s lunch menu ranges from ¥1,200 to ¥2,800. Three lunch-time curries await: horenso/spinach, carrot, or a warm beef curry (¥1,200).You may also choose from an okazu set/a balanced grouping of 30 ingredients eaten with rice (¥1,300) This is like a supreme tasting portion of so many wonderful flavors and ingredients. Or go for the hamburger set that also comes with a smaller okazu set (¥1,200). Lastly, Yume offers a special marbled steak-okazu set (¥2,800). Like the vegetables, Yume works with farmers to procure the best, purest meats.

Salad is not just an afterthought. It is a mainstay. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

All lunch sets include a real salad, none of this shredded cabbage-only business. Whereas salad often seems an afterthought, a requisite to merely meet, I cannot wait to go back to my Yume sald. Paper-thin daikon, green leafy lettuces, cabbage, one juicy tomato halved, julienned carrots, and crisp cucumber. Everything in Yume is organic, pesticide-free, or reduced-pesticide. House-made dressings are carried over in a wooden strawberry crate. Organic spinach, carrot, or red onion dressings lend distinct flavor and pizazz to my salad, that I often try them all at different stages of my salad. What can I say, the portions are big enough for that.

Your set also provides one deep-red miso soup with shimeji mushrooms, silky wakame, slivers of negi and satiny cubes of tofu. I don’t always reflect on the simple things such as the tofu floating in my miso soup, but Yume is like meditation. Suddenly the simplicity of pure ingredients and superior skill astounds you. The raised dots on white porcelain, my striped lacquer tray, glass that gleams in the hanging fixtures. This is clean. This is refined. This is just what the body needs, tapped-off with rich coffee or tea. Stay and linger; lunch-time coffee and tea are self-service.

unlimited coffee and tea
Help-yourself and stay awhile. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

James Ohtani, chef and owner of Yume, will serve you, chat with you, and delight you (in English or in Japanese) with interesting stories of how he came to cook this way. A child of a diplomat, Mr. Ohtani spent his childhood in the Phillipines and then later, London. He traveled a great deal, tasting and learning from foods and people around the globe. He decided to learn from the “outside”, but gained tremendous tools and talent. Whether setting down regal tagine dinners for you, or eliciting “oohs” as he serves a crackling, sizzling hot stone carrying the juiciest, most flavorful chicken you’ve ever popped-into your mouth, Mr. Ohtani knows how to render the best flavor from his ingredients. He brings an Indian-flair to his curries, and marries Japanese tastes with faraway herbs and spices.

Yume uses almost no oil in creating their curries. Instead, Ohtani swirls some choice pieces of meat into his pan. The flavorful fat leads the way for the vegetables, and there are many.

Propped-up against my rice, carrot, broccoli, impossibly purple potatoes, turnip, and kabocha/pumpkin, look quite artistic in their colorful contrasts.

“Pop” go the colors on my plate! | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

A bit of amazake stood by until I finished my generous meal. This creamy sake, koji rice concoction is full of enzymes and sweetness. Delicious. If guests desire more of a dessert with their set, there are fresh, seasonal dessert -choices for ¥300. Two women next to me were treated to a large and luscious house-made kiwi sorbet.

Also on the lunch menu are drinks, aside from the tea and coffee accompanying your meal. A cool glass of French wine goes for ¥600, while beers are ¥550. House-made ginger ale with a bite, mikan or apple juice, and oolong tea is also offered.

For ¥1,200, you are made healthy, rested, and quite deliciously full. There were no fillers in your meal. This is the kind of lunch that macrobiotic-spa ranches or the famed Camelback Mountain Resort in Arizona would charge armloads for.  The kind of cooking and serving that will bring you back for countless ambient and restful lunches or dinners. Ohtani walks you out, graciously smiles, and bows deeply. Your ¥1,200 yen lunch has certainly gone far.

Chef of Yume
Friendly, accessible, and talented, Yume’s chef has it all. | Photo by Melissa Uchiyama

Yume seats 24 guests Tuesdays through Sundays. Catering and group-lunches are available, for even ¥1,000 a person. My friends and colleagues have been delighted with such service. Dinner tasting menus are also an offered treat.

As a gorgeous fall continues and gives-way to tawny and crimson leaves, mozy over to the nearby Kyu-Furukawa Gardens, along the same street. For a whopping 150 yen, you can tour their Western style and Japanese style gardens, complete with a pond in the shape of the kanji for “heart”. Come back during their end of October/November  rose festival, too. Every season is special at this garden, and you can combine it with Yume’s seasonal entrees, drinks, and desserts for a full-on relaxing day.

Also not far from Yume, the famous Rikugien Gardens sit. Rikugien Gardens are written-up in the top ten sites for both momiji/Japanese maple leaves and sakura. Trees and branches are illuminated in the evenings, making it ideal for dinner at this garden of a restaurant. In this old, very special part of Tokyo, Yume is well-situated.

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