Where's the best place in Austin to pretend that it isn't almost Christmas? No music, no decorations, just a peaceful seasonless oasis where I can hide out from family obligations for a few hours.
There are so many things to love about Christmas; the uptick, for example, in invitations to parties where there will be elaborate little snacks, the increased social acceptability consuming multiple cookies per day, finding out what the people in your office are like when they've had a little too much to drink, even, yes, the dreamy possibility of giving someone you like a really nice present. Even if you're not religious, even if you're someone who complains about the way the Christmas lights in the shopping center seem to go up earlier and earlier every year, there's something vaguely cheerful about the whole undertaking. Festive is the word, I think.
But the holidays can also be an incredibly lonely time. Our society puts so much pressure on Christmas; it's supposed to, somehow, be a last hurrah, a magical tidal wave of love and acceptance that undoes all the damage done by the year, get together with the people you've spent all November arguing with and pretend that everything's OK, that all you care about is eating a couple tinfuls of the aforementioned omnipresent sugar cookies, watching It's a Wonderful Life for the millionth time, and maybe receiving a nice pair of socks. And this has been a particularly garbagey year, hasn't it? So many bad things, so many conversational traps to fall into, so many things to argue about with your family on Christmas Eve, assuming you haven't got through your arguing rota at Thanksgiving. And this year, who has? I understand why you'd want to get away from it all, if only for a few hours. Although, now that I think of it, I suppose you could always just pick up one of those horribly satanic unity cups from Starbucks and post a picture of it on Instagram for a little Grinchy schadenfreude. But there is a more peaceful alternative.
Sa-Tén, a tiny little squirrel wallpapered nook of a Japanese cafe hidden away in the Canopy arts complex, is the Christmas-free oasis of your secular dreams. It's always ridiculously quiet in there, full of monastically hip creative types tapping away industriously at their laptops, murmuring quietly to one another about who can get who on what list, the kind of quietly cynical social climbing that is totally, blissfully at odds with the faux familial cheer of the corporate holiday spirit, the kind of cafe where you can spend hours futzing around on your computer or flipping through the same few pages of an impressive looking book, doing nothing in particular. The food's not half bad either. I like to get the chicken katsu lunch set, with anchovy garlic toast, of course, on the side. The toast itself is the best thing about the meal. It's almost cartoonish in appearance, an enormous, pillowy slab of bread, dwarfing the crispy soft katsu it's supposedly playing second fiddle to, the anchovy coming through as a vague umami savoriness bolstering the garlic. It's the perfect afternoon snack, with a big cup of green tea on the side. It will be silent, aside from the sound of typing, a quiet murmur of jazz, probably some Mingus, or a little whispery Thelonious Monk. You won't have to listen to "All I Want for Christmas Is You" even one time, I promise. Look out at the gray sky through the wall of windows, and pretend you're somewhere far away. Christmas will be over before you know it.
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