Last Saturday I cooked behind the counter of my friend Kiyomi's small restaurant on the outskirts of Kyoto City. One of his good customers was having a birthday gathering and Kiyomi's mother, who typically helps out on days like this, was in the hospital with pneumonia.

I really respect the kind of restaurant Kiyomi runs, particularly for the rapport the owner has with his patrons. Whether sitting as a customer or standing as a cook on either side of the counter at Kiyomi's restaurant, I have studied the way my friend interacts with his customers.

When the restaurant moved a year ago, long-time customers, who had become friends, showed up to help pack boxes and empty refrigerators in the old place, and paint, paper and stock the shiny new premises just two blocks away. My own task was to smooth ebony-colored washi paper onto that long counter, before coating it with lacquer. After the kanpai toast at the end of each of the several moving days, Kiyomi would pull out a gas burner and make a nabe or some other simple, satisfying dish to show his appreciation for everyone's help. It's that kind of restaurant.