Tuesday, May 17, 2011
One of my great friends, Christina, treated me to a pedicure for my birthday. We usually drive over toward Kadena to visit Cocok, but this time she chose Essence Salon, the awesome new spa and nail salon that just opened about 5 minutes away from Courtney's main gate. I had seen signs for Essence, but I didn't realize how close it was, or how nice it would be.
They have a great, cozy pedicure area for two people. The chairs were so comfortable, and they even have baskets to set your purse in and blankets to cover your legs if you wore a skirt or shorts. They even spoiled us with a free drink and tea cookies.
Both of us did the pedicure with art, which cost ¥4,000. The pedicure included a very nice foot bath with a choice of jasmine, rose, and shea butter soaks; a foot scrub; a very nice foot and leg massage; and your choice of nail art from their huge selection of sample art.
I always choose a navy blue color, with something sparkly. I think it's because I subconsciously want to wear blue when I go to the salon, because it's a relaxing color. Then, I want my toes to match my outfit for the day.
Christina chose this awesome red color with a pattern of black swirls and little hearts. Both of our toes still look fairly good, but sadly Christina's rhinestones fell off after about a week, and they chipped her paint.
Essence offers a wide range of services, that you can see listed above. While I can only vouch for the pedicures, I'm sure everything else is just as fabulous. I did get to see their two manicure stations, which were fully stocked with everything you could need for a great manicure. I'd love to go back and get a massage. I did hear from Christina that they only have one room for massages/facials, so unfortunately this isn't the venue for a huge girls' day, but that makes it an even more perfect location to relax, without the crowds.
Essence is located on Route 75, just south of Courtney.
From Courtney's Housing Gate, take a double left onto 75, then continue straight through one traffic light. Essence will be on the left, just past the Mos Burger, and directly across from the Family mart. To get to the store front, turn left at the 2nd traffic light, and the salon is immediately on the left. There is also overflow parking with two spaces directly off 75, just behind the building the salon is in- you'll see a small marker that says Essence, and the same big flyer pictured above with the prices.
From McTureous, turn right out the gate on Route 8. Continue until the intersection with the Lawson, and turn left on Route 75. The salon will be on the right at the 2nd stoplight. You'll be able to see the store front and whether there are parking spots from the road. If not, drive immediately past to the overflow parking behind that building on the right.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011
Cafe Pipi Neo is hidden away from the main roads, near the bird watching park in Tengan. Given that their logo is a flying bird, and "Pipi" is the Japanese onomatopoeia equivalent to "Cheep-cheep," I think it's actually named for the park. Whatever it's named for, they are a very cute little cafe with a good selection of food, and some very delicious-looking baked goods. If you're looking for a peaceful place to relax and read over lunch or tea, this is a great spot!
I love the calm, quiet atmosphere here. Each of the tables here seems like it's in its own little private nook. There is even a selection of magazines available on the shelf this seat is backed up against, though most of them are in Japanese.
I loved how they break up the sterile white walls with plants. It makes the space feel clean but comfortable. Every time I come here I have to comment that if I didn't think my puppy would eat it, I would love to have a tree like this one in my house. I love the way a house plant can liven up a room.
As you can see, this cafe is set up for more intimate groups. I would recommend this cafe for adult-only outings, but older children would do fine if they aren't picky eaters.
The menu is extremely limited; there are two menu items offered all the time; Squid Ink Curry, Okinawn style pork in wasabi sauce, and a daily special--usually fish. All lunches cost ¥850 and include a choice of bread or rice and a drink. You also have the option to include dessert for ¥150, for a total of ¥1,000.
I chose the special this time- white fish in cream sauce with a Caesar salad. The fish was perfectly cooked, and while the cream sauce was a little thicker than I'm used to, it tasted good. I especially liked the little bit of mashed potatoes- I wished there had been more! Overall, I thought the meal was a perfect portion, but when my husband had a similar dish the last time we visited, he said he could've eaten two orders. (Marines. Sigh.)
My friend Christina tried the Okinawan pork with wasabi sauce. She raved about it, and I believe she is in the process of trying to find a recipe for the sauce so she can try it on pasta. (I'll definitely update if she'll share what she finds!) This particular dish includes sauteed cabbage, scallions, and the fatty Okinawan pork that is famously popular in these parts.
If any of you are brave enough to try the Squid Ink Curry, please let me know how it is! I have been wary of trying it, but I think it would probably be really good. I've had squid ink before on a pasta dish, and I really liked it.
There are usually two dessert options, and they vary from time to time. Christina and I both chose the cheesecake over the Soy Custard. This cheesecake was delicious! Even though it's such a small piece, it was so rich and dense that it was the perfect serving size. It's easier (I have tried the custard before, it tastes like vanilla pudding with a hint of soy, with a texture just a little more gelatinous than creamy like pudding normally is. Very good.)
Cafe Pipi Neo also has a small selection of bakery items available for purchase. They had a few fruit tarts and muffins and scones, and some absolutely gorgeous cinnamon rolls. They were huge and ooey gooey and if I hadn't just stuffed myself at lunch, I would've bought four. The Cinnamon Rolls cost ¥300, and I didn't see prices for anything else.
A thousand apologies to those of you who get a little lost on the way, but I promise this place is worth hunting for! To be perfectly honest, I found this place just by following the signs. They are all brown and white, like the one in the picture above, and I would highly recommend that you keep an eye out for them as landmarks so you know you're taking the right direction. Or, if you have an iPhone, use the map function to help navigate!
From McTureous, turn right on Route 8, then continue until the Lawson intersection. Take a left onto Route 75. Continue through two stoplights (the second one is between Essence Salon and Family Mart), then turn right at the third stoplight, which is just past the Mos Burger. Continue straight until you see the sign for Cafe Pipi Neo pictured above. It will be on the left hand side across the road from you. (From here, skip the next paragraph and then continue reading the directions.)
From Courtney housing gate, just turn right onto Route 224. Follow this around the bend, until you go under a very short tunnel. After this, you'll come to a bridge. Turn left immediately after you cross this bridge. The sign pictured above is on that street corner.
From there, continue straight as the road bends slightly to the left. You will end up driving parallel to the Tengan river alongside a small dam. (You will also be able to see the "bird cage" overlook from the bird park I mentioned earlier.) This road will soon turn into a T intersection. There will be a bridge to the left, but you'll turn right here. From there, pass the first left turn (a dead end) and take the second left. There will be another sign for the cafe.
Whew. For those of you still following, congrats! This next part is easy. Just keep to the left, and continue straight for a block or two, and look for Cafe Pipi Neo on the right. There is parking inside the wooden retaining wall pictured above.
Hours and Information:
Cafe Pipi Neo is open from 11:30 am until 5:00 pm. Lunch ends fairly early, I believe at 2:00 pm, but they are open later for tea. Their phone number is 098-974-1727, but be aware the staff does speak mainly Japanese. They can speak a little English, and they'll help you as best they can, though.
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On a completely unrelated note, while I was out taking photos of the front of the building, Christina and I found these sleeping ferns. If you touch them, they fold up to protect their leaves! We both remembered playing with these as kids, so we were really excited to find them! They grow in random places around Okinawa, and they are a huge hit with kids, so keep your eye out for them if you have little ones.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
When I lived in Okinawa as a kid, I thought that Sushi-go-Round restaurants were the coolest thing in the world. What an inventive idea! I love being able to see my food before I choose it, and sushi is already one of my favorite foods. Coming back to Okinawa as an adult slightly changed my perspective. I visited an old favorite "Kaitenzushi" (the Japanese word for Sushi-go-round) restaurant in American Village, and it was a lot more expensive than it used to be (when my parents were paying!). Plus, it takes about 40 minutes to get there from my house, and I tend to forget I'm hungry until I'm ravenous.
I thought we would never go to a Kaitenzushi restaurant again, until my husband and I heard about the ¥105 Sushi Go Round. Not only is it less than 10 minutes from Courtney AND McT, but it's cheap, and has really good sushi!
The full name of this restaurant is Nigiri Uminai. The first word, Nigiri, is the name of the style sushi that has a piece of sashimi sitting on a little ball of sushi rice. The second word, Umi, means ocean. To be completely honest, I have no idea what the last part of it means. If anyone speaks more Japanese than I do, please feel free to let me know! To keep it simple, I just call this place Nigiri Sushi, for short.
Like any sushi-go-round, Nigiri Sushi has both a bar area and booth tables organized around a moving track full of individual plates of sushi. You are free to grab whichever plate catches your eye, and at the end of your meal, your price will be calculated by tallying the number and type of plates on your table. There is also ice water and hot green tea available at your table, via tea packets and a hot water spigot at the table.
If you sit in the bar area, a sushi chef in the middle of the tracks can take special requests for you, and make them right in front of you. If you sit at the booths, however, there is a really neat touch screen computer system that will allow you to special order sushi, drinks, desserts, and even some assorted side items. Everything is written in both Japanese and English, and its really intuitive. Even better, when your order is ready, it wheels out to your table on a little race car!
This is a great family friendly restaurant to go to. It's better if everyone going likes sushi, but there are a few other things available as side items. They usually have small bowls of soba, fried chicken pieces, potato wedges, and some assorted dessert items. There are a few things on their menu that are a little more than ¥105, but they are still fairly cheap. We usually leave completely stuffed for under ¥2,000 for two adults, including a few sodas.
From Camp Courtney, simply take a left onto Route 75. You'll cross through 3 stop lights before seeing Nigiri Sushi and the Tsutaya movie/music store on the right.
From McTureous, take a right out the gate onto Route 8. From there, continue straight for a while. Take a left onto Route 75 just past the KFC and Lawson. Drive one block north, then turn into the Tsutaya parking lot on the left, and Nigiri Sushi will be at the far end of the parking lot.
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Friday, May 6, 2011
If you are in the mood for some really good soki soba, Gushikawa soba is a great option. I noticed this restaurant the first week my husband and I were on Okinawa, while we were still driving between the Foster Plaza Housing area and Camp Courtney nearly every day on Route 330/75. None of the signs are in English, but I had learned just enough Japanese to read that it was a "Family Restaurant" called Gushikawa Soba.
After we moved on post and learned that 330/75 is the SLOWEST way to get to Kadena or Foster from Courtney, I all but forgot about this place. I would've never remembered it existed if I hadn't been invited to go sightseeing at the castle ruins with my friend J and another friend's visiting relative, who we affectionately called "Mama K". They mentioned that they would like to try some soba for lunch, and it clicked. This place wasn't too far out of the way, since we were going to take the Expressway, so I took them here. We all really enjoyed it!
The staff here was very friendly, but only spoke a little English. Unfortunately, they do NOT have an English menu. However, they do have a very nice wax display of the food they serve outside the restaurant, and since we all wanted soba anyways, it was fairly simple to order. And since everything was fairly cheap, and really tasty, I would still recommend it, even if you only know how to say "konnichiwa," "gushikawa/tempura soba, kudasai" and "arigatou."
Mama K chose to order one of the "Set Meals." From the little Japanese I can read, we figured out that her meal included soki soba, rice, a salad, and some fried chicken. I was unclear on the difference between the sets, but I believe they just include different side dishes in place of the chicken. The waitress helped us decide. Mama K said the dressing on the salad was a thousand island, and that it was very filling. She couldn't finish all the soba and left a few pieces of the chicken.
J chose to order the Gushikawa Soba. It was a traditional soki soba with Okinawan style pork on top. She said the pork was very tender, but a little fatty. (Just how the Okinawans like it!) Her soba came with a side of fried egg to put on the soba, and a piece of inari, which is sushi rice inside an envelope of deep fried tofu. She really enjoyed her meal! Her only complaint was that it was hard to get used to eating noodles with chopsticks instead of a fork. Luckily, the shopkeeper was nice enough to give us one for her to use- though she did side eye us! I guess it would be funny to Japanese people that Americans struggle with chopsticks.
I ordered the Tempura Soba, which I spotted in the wax display outside before we even walked into the restaurant. I am a huge fan of tempura, and in fact it's my favorite Japanese food. I was really surprised that anyone would ever think to combine it with soba, another one of my favorites. I was in heaven!
My meal was a huge bowl of pork soba with scallions, and as you can see in the picture, they replaced the pork meat with a feast of assorted tempura goodies. There was a shrimp or two, a huge slice of acorn squash, onion, green beans, and I believe there was even a mushroom in there. The huge portion would have satisfied three or four of me, but it was so delicious that you can bet your life that I ate pretty darn close to the whole bowl. I highly recommend it!
I chose to just have some water that was available at the drink table set out for customers, but they do sell soft drinks (sodas) and Orion beer. They were reasonably priced, but it's been almost three months since I've visited, so I can't remember exactly how much it cost.
I do know that all three of us got out for under ¥3,000. It was actually closer (but a smidge over) ¥2,500! I'd say that's really good for the amount of (delicious) food we ate. The set was the most expensive, at just over ¥1,000, but there were several options available for between ¥500 and ¥1,000 as well.
Gushikawa Soba is open from 11:00 am until 9:00 pm.
Gushikawa Soba is located along Route 75, just a short drive south of Courtney and McTureous. From Courtney, you'll just take a left onto 75 (or a double left from the housing gate). From McTureous, you can simply take a right on Route 8, then continue past 2 stoplights until you see 75, and take a right. Once you're headed south on Route 75, just continue straight until you see it on the right. It is about a block past the big intersection of Routes 36 and 75.
If you are heading to Gushikawa Soba from Kadena or Foster, the easiest way is to simply travel north on Route 330, accessible from Foster's PX gate, or Kadena's Gate 2. If you continue straight long enough, Route 330 turns into Route 75. From this direction, the restaurant will be on the left. Once you pass the San-A store, you are getting close.
There is plenty of parking along both sides of the building (North side, and facing the street). If that's full, or if you have a slightly bigger vehicle like me, you can drive just past the building to the parking lot on the south side. There are plenty of spots there, I just hadn't noticed them because I was hungry and food-centric at that particular moment in time.
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Thursday, May 5, 2011
I remembered from my first stay on Okinawa that Mexican food is few and far between in Japan. Other than the numerous taco joints scattered around, the only authentic Mexican restaurant chain is Obbligato. They have several branches: one in Uruma, one on 58 between Kadena and Lester, an Oblee in Yomitan near Torii, and a new restaurant called the Tortilla Factory near Foster. I was very pleased when I found out that my apartment on Courtney was less than 5 minutes away from the Uruma store! Depending on where you live, you could even walk there on a nice day.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a huge fan of Mexican food. I've been fortunate to have spent most of my time stateside in Oklahoma and Illinois, both of which have very good, authentic Mexican food. That, combined with my fondness for good tequila, makes me a bit picky about Mexican restaurants.
I'll be the first to admit that Obbligato is a little bit Japanesey at times. For example, most of the lunch menu items include an egg over easy, and some white rice. My friends and I all think that the salsa tastes a bit like marinara sauce, too. Their biggest faux pas (in my opinion) was the fact that their margaritas are made with whiskey, and not tequila. (Shenanigans!) For the most part, though, the food is pretty good; probably the best Mexican food on Okinawa. (Okay, so they're the only option. That does technically make it the best!)
Some dishes are more authentic than others, like the Enchiladas Mexicanas that I had for lunch today. The enchilada sauce is a bit milder than you would normally expect, but I like it, and the meat inside is well seasoned. This particular set cost ¥650, and includes two enchiladas, one ground beef and one shredded chicken; a choice of beans or mole; and Mexican rice.
They have a good variety of food to choose from, and all my favorite Mexican foods are included. They have chimichangas, tacos, taco rice, mole, carnitas, and a lot more. Everything is reasonably priced, too. Lunch items tend to cost ¥800 or so, and some of the bigger meals are a little pricier, but usually aren't more than ¥1,200 or so.
Obbligato also sells their fresh, homemade flour tortillas at all of their locations. They come in packages of 6, and there are two sizes that I'll call taco sized and burrito sized because I forgot the measurements. They are definitely more expensive than the El Paso brand at the commissary, but sometimes it's nice to splurge on fresh stuff.
Hours and Info:
Obbligato is open from 11:00 am until 10:30 pm every day. If you'd like to call for take-out, their number is 098-972-4220. The staff speaks very good English, and usually your order will be ready by the time you drive over there. Their website is http://www.obbligato.co.jp/, and they do list their menu items online, complete with photos. There is plenty of parking in the front of the building.
From Courtney, turn left onto Route 75. Obbligato will be on the right just past the first stop light at the Family Mart.
From McTureous, turn right onto Route 8. When you come to Route 75, turn left. Obbligato will be on the left.
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