Many months ago now, I watched an episode of No Reservations (I know, I know, you’re thinking “surprise surprise, he’s talking about Anthony Bourdain again”) in which Tony travels to Japan several weeks prior to the devastating earthquake. Rather than go Tokyo, the show takes you to several Northern cities that are known for their amazing skiing and of course delicious cuisine. One of the restaurants is an authentic soba noodle restaurant (and home) called Rakuichi Soba (Check out the video here). You get a sense of how the making of soba noodles is truly an art form. Each piece of the process probably takes years to master. What you are left with, though, is a pile of delicious buckwheat noodles that are absolutely perfect.
While Cocoron probably can’t touch the extreme delicateness and perfection that those noodles that appeared on No Reservations, I’d like to think they are a pretty darn good New York version. Having never eaten soba before, I picked the right restaurant to start. The menu not only features what you’ll eat, but how you will eat it. The waitress will explain everything for noobs like me, or just place your plate down for serious soba experts. The restaurant is tiny, about 8 spots along the bar and then six tables for 2. The staff is extremely friendly and makes the experience even better.
To start, I opted for a highly regarded and well reviewed appetizer — fresh house made silken tofu. The tofu was like nothing I’d ever had before. It was only edible with a spoon, which you used to place the tofu into a small bowl with its accompaniments. These include fresh grated ginger, scallion, bonito flakes and dry seaweed. You top this all with a touch of soy sauce and are left with a tofu “paste” that is so delicate and refreshing. I wish I had snapped a picture. This is definitely a must try, though I think next time I’ll go for something else.
Next was the Soba. You seem to have three choices when it comes to the noodles. First, you can get them cold with a variety of additions. This seems to be the most traditional way, and the same way Bourdain does it in Japan. Second, you can get them warm inside of a broth, perfect for a cold day. And third, the dipping soba. This is what I selected. Dipping Soba lets you do the cooking at the table. You get a large helping of cold (slightly under cooked) soba and a bowl of broth with your choice of meat or vegetables. You place the soba noodles into the broth for 10-15 seconds and then place them into a second bowl for eating. I found this very satisfying and the broth was so delicious. The soba noodles themselves were incredible, like no other noodle I’ve ever had.
While the soba and broth were exceptional, the best was yet to come. After you finish your soba, you are left with a lot of broth left over, so what do you do? You drink it. The waitress brings you a pot of hot water that was the boiling water for the soba noodles. Lots of nutrients are leftover in the water and so you add that to the broth and drink it with a large wooden spoon. It was a fantastic way to end the meal and extremely refreshing. Sometimes after a bowl of Pho, I’m stuffed beyond belief, but with soba and this broth, I was perfectly satisfied (No Pho, that wasn’t an insult).
If you are looking to try soba or want to relive a past soba experience, I would recommend Cocoron. The place takes cash only, but is pretty cheap. My tofu and large soba were $14 and change, plus a nice tip. I’ll have to try other appetizers and the desserts next time….there will most certainly be a next time.