As a resort favored by the imperial family, Karuizawa isn't the cheapest place to dine; it's almost all bijou restaurants and upscale bistros, with nary a burger or pizza on the radar. However, there are places you can go that provide quality food and high-end service without your needing to sell your grandmother for the privilege. Just down the road from the Hiroshi Senju Art Museum, CoDow is such a place.
Even before you get inside, it's a coolly atmospheric place; the building looks like an alpine lodge and it nestles in a thick copse of trees, which you walk through along a path that's lit up in the evenings by twinkling little firefly lights. Just those few yards separate you completely from the rumbling trucks on the bypass, and create an air of calm that stays with you as you go inside.
The interior is very central European in style, with lots of cheery warm, wooden furniture, and rustic touches such as exposed brick that add to the charm. On the first floor they use large, hinged wooden screens to partition tables off, allowing for complete flexibility in party size while retaining the sense of spaciousness. The atmosphere is lent a touch of extra class by the very soft, jazzy background music and the helpful but unintrusive staff, whose service is as immaculate as their neat uniforms.
Wanting to try something local I ordered the CoDow Jam Curry set; but don't worry, it's not a curry made from jam. After a crunchy, tasty salad served on a delicate metal stand, I had the light but satisfyingly flavorful house curry, then cleared my palate with some tart pickles before setting about the jams. There were three of them – apple, rhubarb and apricot – from storied local producer Sawaya, who also provided my rich blueberry juice. The jams were distinctive and lip-smackingly sweet, and I was disappointed to see that the neighboring Sawaya shop had closed by the time I left.
The set was a mere ¥1400, which typifies the split personality of the menu. On the one hand, the high-end seasonal lunch costs ¥3500, while dinner can go up to ¥6700; but on the other, the dinner menu also features cheap and cheerful pizzas and pasta, none of which are more than ¥1500. By way of drinks you can choose from a good, eclectic wine list, or sample one of Sawaya`s other fresh juices, black grape and chardonnay among them.
In summary: the food and drinks are of high quality, the surroundings and service are classy, and you don't need to break the bank to go there. Next time I'm in Karuizawa, I'll certainly be going back to CoDow.
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I came to Japan from Manchester, England in summer 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I`m not working I write satire at www.iothern.blogspot.com and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check my youtube channel `CunningPunster` for a taste.