restaurant review

California heart and soul at Crowley’s Kitchen

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By Rebecca Quin

Peppered with cool third-wave coffee shops, eclectic antique homeware stockists and organic delis filled with vibrant produce, the hipster backstreets of Tokyo's Yoyogi-Koen seem like the perfect fit for Crowley’s California Kitchen — a home away from home for its San Franciscan owner Jefferey Bischoff.

This is not Bischoff’s first foray into the restaurant business, having opened up an eatery in California's Bay Area with guitarist Mike Dirnt from Green Day. Right opposite Pixar Animation Studios, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe is a local institution that’s been serving up award-winning American diner staples since 2002. Its formula revolves around honest food in a fun, welcoming atmosphere; its many accolades prove that that formula is working.

The success of Rudy’s spurred Bischoff to inject some California heart and soul into the gourmet capital of the world: Tokyo.

With its dazzling neon lights, the constant rush of people and the high density of restaurants per square foot, Japan’s capital couldn’t have seemed a more different place to set up shop. But despite appearances, it’s easy enough to draw similarities between the two. San Fran is the most restaurant- and bar-dense city in the U.S. and has a long-standing reputation for having one of the best dining scenes in the country. Just as in Tokyo, foodies flock to a culinary landscape that’s as diverse as it is inventive. Ultimately, the cities’ cuisines are united by an emphasis on locally sourced, seasonal produce, freshness and simplicity of flavors, and loving attention to detail.

Interior of Crowley's California Kitchen.jpg

And that’s just what you’ll find at Crowley’s California Kitchen. A warm, sunny menu stacked with color and life. Diners can explore a bright and diverse array of beautifully presented dishes that allow the key ingredients to really shine. The flavors fuse together influences from Japan and America, of course, but also go beyond to the Middle East and Europe.

As the restaurant opened in late 2018, Bischoff is still working on adjusting the menu according to customers' feedback, offering a rotating selection of choices for lunch and dinner. On the night we were there, the dinner menu included appetizers of roasted apple salad with maple dressing (¥750), and maitake and shrimp fritters with wasabi aioli (¥850). To start, we had the plant-du-jour quinoa and lentil salad with lemon vinaigrette (¥850), which was as fresh and citrusy as it sounds. Still, generous portions served in a blue ceramic bowl meant it felt more home-cooked and less pretentious than similar trendy dishes might be elsewhere along the same street.

Braised duck leg Crowley's California Kitchen.jpg
Braised duck leg

The mains ranged from diner classics like chicken and waffles (¥1,550), a pulled pork sandwich (¥1,550) and hand-made kabocha (pumpkin) ravioli with focaccia (¥1,550). My dining companion had the salmon burger (¥1,650), while I went for one of the specials that night; duck leg braised in California Zinfandel with apricots and leeks sourced from their produce supplier Bio Farm in Odawara (¥1,750). Both were playful yet expert takes on dishes that looked and tasted properly authentic, too.

Apple and almond tart at Crowley's California Kitchen .jpg
Apple and almond tart

Finally, the handmade desserts were a win in the form of apple and almond tart and the original Crowley’s Coconut Cream Pie. In the end, we’d felt as stuffed and content as if we’d been at Grandma’s for a family meal — if Grandma’s house was a high-ceilinged loft-style space with candles everywhere and black and white photography on the walls.

Proving its dedication to fresh produce, Crowley’s California Kitchen also runs a weekly farm stand to showcase its menu’s ingredients and offer its farm supplier another outlet to sell what they grow. It’s all part of generating a community and recreating that same family vibe that makes Rudy’s back in San Francisco such a success.

“We’re really trying to connect and get to know the community, and have them know about us,” said Bischoff, smiling broadly from the open kitchen as he chopped and tossed with flair.

This restaurant absolutely shouldn’t be mistaken for another trendy stop gap in Tokyo’s revolving gourmet door; Crowley’s California Kitchen feels like a real honest-to-goodness eatery that does exactly what it sets out to do: feed your heart and soul.

Crowley’s California Kitchen

Address: 40-5 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0047

Tel: 03-6804-7530

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday.

Lunch 11:30 to 15:00

Dinner 18:00 to 22:00

Website: https://www.crowleyskitchen.com/

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