Outing at YakiniQ Cafe

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Note: We visited the cafe in October, but wasn’t able to post it until now, and hence the mismatch of dates.

It doesn’t feel like October.  I could feel the sun beams slip through my sweater scorching the skin on my arms as I walk up with Bernice to the YakiniQ cafe, ineptly named for a sweets and coffee shop.  YakiniQ does play on the Japanese word of yakiniku for grilled meat after all.  The quiet cafe retains the peaceful ambiance of Japantown, though it is relatively easy to miss, squashed in between a line of Korean restaurants.

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We deliberate in front of the blackboard menu for a while.  Matcha latte.  Sweet Potato Latte.  Strawberry Yuzu Iced Tea.  Or should we get something more normal?  But why order something normal when we came here exactly for the eccentric items?  Bernice orders a sweet potato latte, I go with a nutella latte, and we decide to split a green tea pappinsu, or Korean-style shaved ice.  They also have a selection of beautiful pastries, from mousse cakes to glittery fruit tarts, but we decide to save that for another time.

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We pick a table sitting below a beautiful painting with soft swatches of rose and coral, a young woman sipping out of a ceramic tea cup with flowers etched on the bottom.  I can almost see her hiding a smile beneath the cup.  The small terrier beside her also has a cup to its mouth, though what exactly is holding it there seems dubious.  I get up to survey our surroundings as we wait for our drinks and dessert.  The shop’s interior has a very bohemian feel, with mismatched chairs, green and black sofas, puffy paper lantern lights the standard fare of Ikea, and whimsical paintings in which all of the subjects are drinking something from a cup.  What a coincidence, I thought, only to find out later the same painter created all the works.

Light blue shelves carved into the wall house a collection of domestic paraphernalia-well thumbed books, small canvases of vibrant artworks, board games, dusty tea candle holders, and the odd couple of soap dispensers.  I feel like they’re almost putting too much effort into creating a quirky, bohemian space, and instead end up with a larger version of an art major student’s college room.  I slip back into my chair once the jarring roar of the ice-shaving machine dies down.  It was time to eat.

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Bernice’s sweet potato latte came in a chubby glass mug that touted all the drink’s charming colours I missed when I ordered it the first time in a take-out paper cup.  Rich pumpkin hues that would make even the most stunning sunsets envious blend into a stratified bed of cream, topping off with a generous layer of frothy milk.  As  Bernice sips the liquid sweet potato carefully, she’s reminded of the freshly roasted sweet potatoes often sold during winter time.  It’s the perfect way to get started into the cold months.

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Beside it sits my nutella latte, a chocolatey concoction resting in a ivory soup bowl.  The layer of foam doesn’t compare with B.’s drink, deflated and depressed; nevertheless I take the bowl in my hands to take a sip.  Slight whispers of hazelnut flavour dance on my tongue before torrents of sugar overpower it, leaving behind a cloying aftertaste.  The coffee is barely nonexistent, although the sugar rush is a perfect energizer between work.  I stir the contents of my cup to find chunks of Nutella clinging to my spoon.  Perhaps they could have melted it better, but it’s nice to eat it as is too.  It reminds me of the times when I didn’t fully melt the chocolate Nesquik powder for my milk as a child and ate the half-dissolved chunks by the mouthful, crunching chewy chocolate crystals between my teeth.

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Bernice hints to me that we should dig into the pappinsu, a small molehill of ice slathered in a mountain-slide of adzuki beans, encrusted with salty sweet mochi and fruit cocktail, topped with a singular scoop of strong green tea ice-cream, and dusted with matcha powder.  It tastes refreshing when compared to my cup of latte.  The crisp ice crushes softly between my molars while the chewy mochi unleashes a subtle saltiness with every bite.  Velvety smooth azuki beans slowly erode while green tea ice-cream sighs against my tongue.  It’s a symphony of texture.  The only thing left to be desired is the somewhat flaccid flesh of the canned fruit.  Nonetheless, it was a good choice.

Bernice and I chat about work, travel, and food as we finish off our drinks and dessert.  The atmosphere is lethargic.  Glaring sunlight streams gently through the windows, calming music flows across the ceiling, and indistinct chatter floats up around us.  Nothing better than spending a late afternoon here.  Now if there was an actual library of books in the back to flip through, that would be perfect.

-Cynthia

YakiniQ Cafe
1640 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

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