At 11:03 a.m., I walk into Davelle, an all-day, no tipping Japanese cafe on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It’s a snow day, and owner Yudai Kanayama is (stylishly) dressed the stay home from school part; he’s wearing a sweatshirt, a green cap, and baggy pants that could easily double as pajama bottoms. Kanayama politely mentions that the lunch menu has gone into effect — I arrived three minutes late — but quickly adds that I can still sneak in a breakfast order. Right on.
Within five minutes I’m sent a buttery milk toast slathered in red bean paste. On the side is a hard boiled egg and a ramekin of potato salad with a heart shaped beet slice. My matcha latte includes a thoughtful bit of latte art on top. This costs $15. I consume my breakfast content as a trio of tunes from FKJ (French Kiwi Juice), the Gallic multi-instrumentalist, pipe out on the Sonos sound system, for which Kanayama is a brand ambassador. This is followed by a ditty from SZA. Gotta respect the three-letter artist playlist.
Kanayama, who also runs Izakaya in the East Village, appears to have a very chill hit on his hands with Davelle, which tips its hat to Japan’s historic kissaten, tea and coffee shops that have been around since the 19th century. The restaurant, located at 102 Suffolk St. between Rivington and Delancey streets, is still too young for a full review but my early assessment is that the food tastes good and the space looks good.
The coffee is solid too. I order a cup of pour over (market price), which Kanoyama tells me is from a humble Japanese roaster that doesn’t like to have its name on the menu. To honor this coffee, I make sure to promptly photograph it in a spot where there’s good light, and then I slack that pic to my coworkers. Eventually, I drink the beverage (actual cost, $4.25).
Davelle has 19 seats and yet looks big enough for, say, 8 people. The walls are decorated with dried roses and vintage yellow leather coat hangers on exposed brick walls. The bar is decked out with a fancy Oji cold brew machine. The menu is written on hanging brown butcher paper. The bathroom windowsill is manicured with more care than my entire studio apartment; that two-foot space contains dried flowers, a little rock garden, copper cups, tree branches, and a diagonally positioned picture frame with nothing in it (fans of the defunct Tumblr F&ck Your Noguchi Coffee Table would’ve had a field day with this one).
When dining at lunch or dinner, order the gluten-free curry rice. The restaurant makes its own rather than relying on pre-made bricks, slowly cooking a base of garam masala, ground pork, chicken, onions, and celery, which it then blends with dashi. The slow burn of the spice and the restrained sweetness easily puts it in the city’s top tier of Japanese curries. The cost is nominally high, $18 at lunch or $20 at dinner, but remember that prices are service-included.
Another highlight of dinner is the selection of oden, a style of Japanese street food that’s simmered in dashi and sold from metal warmers. Kanayama offers a five-set for $19 (enough for one), or ten for $36 (more than sufficient for two). On a recent evening the tasting included the classic boiled daikon (topped with sinus-clearing mustard and concentrated Nagoya-style red miso), okra in cold dashi, torched fried tofu (with interiors as creamy as scrambled eggs), snappy sausages, hard boiled eggs (overcooked), soft soy balls in the style of chicken nuggets, and creamy mochi stuffed inside fried tofu skin (a superior analogue to burrata ravioli). Our dinner for two cost $69.
Davelle is BYO for now; I enjoyed my meals sans alcohol, with a few cups of sen-cha and genmai-cha. On return visits I’m sure I’ll try the Mizudashi cold brew (market price) and Napolitan spaghetti, the traditional Japanese pasta slicked with tomato sauce and ketchup sauce. The crowds will surely increase when a liquor license arrives, but quite frankly Kanoyama’s restaurant is almost perfect as it is right now, especially for those who want to type away on a laptop on a snowy spring day in New York — and not spend a ton of money.