Nobu Tokyo

Nobu Signature Roll

Nobu Signature Roll

I remember my first visit to Nobu, in New York City, a long time ago. The restaurant was buzzing. The miso cod was better than I imagined it could be, especially after reading about the dish for so long. The table next to me was a film crew from Tokyo making a commercial for Dunkin Doughnuts Japan and we started chatting. I got a side job for the next two days as an assistant for the crew. It was all so exciting, the great food, making new Japanese friends, and the energy that comes from a busy restaurant.

Nobu restaurants appeal to a large audience and for good reason. Nobu Tokyo is located just next to the Okura Hotel. Walking in I felt like I was back in Manhattan. Many of the staff speak English, the restaurant floor is quite big, especially for Tokyo, and there were a lot of non-Japanese diners. The restaurant was quite busy at 12:30 on a weekday in early April. I came to meet a girlfriend who works nearby and she often comes here for lunch. The lunch menu is big, there is something for everyone, and there is even an English menu. I ordered the Nobu house special roll and handmade soba combination lunch (2,400 JPY).

I had the pleasure of helping to translate Nobu: The Sushi Cookbook from Japanese to English. Many of the recipes are now a part of our repertoire, like pressed sushi and miso soup with fresh tomatoes. Even the miso cod, a traditional Japanese dish, is something we often make at home. I finally had the chance to try his signature roll, which is covered with a thin sheet of daikon, adding a crispy crunch to norimaki roll. The stuffings included creamy avocado, crunchy tobiko (flying fish roe), and sashimi. I absolutely loved this addition of the daikon, which is Nobu’s creation. Nobu is brilliant in my mind and this just confirmed that for me.

Nobu soba

Nobu soba

The soba is served cold with a dipping sauce. Towards the end of the meal the kitchen sends out some soba-yu, the hot water that the soba is made with. That is poured into the dipping sauce and then drunk.

The table next to me was having the lunch box with miso soup (3,400 JPY) that looked nice and included a variety of hot dishes and sushi. I was curious to try the Stone Oven Vegetable Plate. The Japanese menu said kisetsu yasai, or seasonal vegetables. I asked my server what the seasonal vegetables were for this dish as it is spring and many of my favorite vegetables are in season. But his reply was standard vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers. Glad I went with his signature roll which was a revelation.

I had a hard time finding the restaurant as signage is minimal. Lunch at Nobu is not cheap. If you have not experienced a meal at Nobu, it is nice to have once in your life. His cuisine and influence has brought Japanese food to the masses.

Nobu Tokyo

Minato-ku, Toranomon 4-1-28

港区虎ノ門4-1-28

03-5733-0070

http://www.noburestaurants.com/tokyo/experience-2/

Soba at Honmura An

Honmura An

Fresh Yuba on Chilled Soba

My first introduction to Honmura An was in New York City back about 15 years ago. A friend who loved soba wanted to share with me his favorite soba shop in the city. I was mesmerized with the stone grinder for crushing the dried buckwheat and impressed that the noodles were being made fresh daily. Sadly the Manhattan shop has since closed. Honmura An has since relocated to Tokyo, in Roppongi, just across the street and around a corner from the massive Tokyo Midtown complex. It is a short walk from Roppongi Hills or any of the Roppongi stations.

The interior is modern and sparsely decorated with simple washi, Japanese paper, that hangs from above. In the back of the restaurant there is a large window overlooking the soba prep room. Sadly when we arrived the rolling and cutting of the noodles were done for the first seating of lunch.

A few tables had solo diners, in their 20s, plugged into their own music or engrossed into their phones and the outer world. Most of the diners were area businessmen and ladies who lunch. The restaurant has a big menu of small bites that can be had before finishing off with soba. At lunchtime most people were not having the side dishes but all going straight for the buckwheat noodles. This day it was quite hot outside and as one would expect, most diners were ordering the cold noodles.

Honmura An

Ikura and Grated Daikon on Chilled Soba

I had asked if they had yakimiso, a classic dish of a sweet miso, often studded with buckwheat, that is grilled. I was disappointed when I was told it wasn’t served so we ordered two types of soba. One topped with a creamy, fresh yuba (soy milk skin) and the other a grated daikon and ikura (marinated salmon roe).

The noodles are fine and very delicate and this would be a great light lunch during the hot summers that Tokyo is known for.

Honmura An has a nice selection of saké and wine. I was so happy to see Urakasumi Junmaishu on the list that I didn’t even bother looking at the wine list. The saké is easy on the palate and a nice partner to the soba.

Honmura An

Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-14-18

03-5772-6657

English menu available.

Closed Monday and 1st & 3rd Tuesday

Marunouchi Raku Soba

Image

The guy sitting next to me said to his friend regarding the soba at Raku, “you’ll love it or hate it”. I had already started slurping away and I knew what he meant. It’s not your typical bowl of buckwheat noodles. These handmade noodles are thick cut and the densest soba I’ve ever had. The first bite I was caught off guard by the heartiness of the noodles. You wouldn’t take to bring your grandmother here. But I got into these chewy noodles as they are so different to the soba I am used to.

Early lunch diners are given the option of extra noodles at no charge. At first I said yes. Come on, who says “no” to free food, right? But then I looked one of the diner’s bowls and realized it might be too much for me to chew. I asked the cashier if the “oomori” was an extra large portion and maybe too much to finish and he said that it was. I asked for a regular bowl and even that I could not finish.

This is the tempura soba. Kabocha squash, eggplant, squid, and chikuwa tempura served on a bowl of noodles. Chikuwa is a fish cake that has been shaped into a log with a hole in it that has been grilled, not deep-fried, like many fish cakes. Chikuwa tempura is a classic topping for noodles in Japan, not only for soba but also for udon.

When placing your order you have to specify hot or cold. I almost always order cold noodles with a dipping sauce as it is a great way to enjoy the texture, aroma, and flavor of the buckwheat noodles. At Raku the dipping sauce and noodles are served in the same bowl. The waitress behind the counter generously tops each bowl of soba with two spoons of toasted sesame seeds and a nest of julienned nori. She has a rhythm down to topping each bowl and its done with speed in mind. On the counter are bowls of tenkasu, tempura bits that can also be used for topping the soba, highly recommended.

Raku has two long counters facing each other with staff in between the two counters. The frosted thermos is filled with cold soba tea that is slightly nutty and very refreshing. If you order the cold soba noodles a server will bring you a black thermos with sobayū, the hot water that has been boiling the soba noodles. Pour a bit of this into the bowl and you can drink the concentrated sauce.

My fellow diners were mostly salarymen eating a quick and affordable meal. No surprise as this is the Marunouchi business district. Most bowls are under 1,000 JPY ($10). The music was a surprisingly hip and upbeat salsa music. Not at all what one would expect to find at a soba shop, but this is not just any soba shop, what they are doing is definitely different. The shop was packed and I was there before the noon rush peak. I was impressed at the number of diners the restaurant squeezes into each counter. This would never pass in America, they would have taken at least two, if not three, seats away.

I would love to come back at night some time. The shop has a small selection of saké, umeshū, and shōchū and some small bites like lotus root stuffed with ground meat and deep-fried chicken cartilage. And, I would love to try the nikusoba, a generous serving of thin-sliced meat over the noodles. My only advice, avoid the peak lunch time, there is always a long line in front of this shop.

Suju Masayuki Raku 酢重正之 楽

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-5-1, Shin-Marunouchi Bldg. B1 千代田区丸の内1-5-1新丸ビルB1

Omotesando Hills Kurkku 3

Kurkku 3 Soba Lunch Omotesando

Kurkku 3, is part of the Kurkku restaurant group that has several restaurants in this neighborhood. Located just as you enter the main entrance to Omotesando Hills is this sleek and bright shop. The lunch menu is simple and focuses on soba and seasonal vegetables. Here is the cold soba topped with pork and vegetables served with a tangy tomato dipping sauce. I was intrigued when the waitress described today’s special as it had a tomato sauce instead of the ubiquitous soy-based dipping sauce that soba is so traditionally served with. The tomato was refreshing and is something I will try to replicate this summer, when we often make the very thin, flour-based sōmen noodles that are always served cold.

Kurkku 3 Interior Omotosando

One whole wall is of windows that faces the main street of Omotesando that is often compared to the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo. Grab a window seat for some of the city’s best people watching as shoppers stroll by.

Omotesando Hills, designed by Tadao Ando, is filled with over 100 shops for high-end fashion like Belgium’s Ann Demeulemeester. It’s a great place to meet friends for a meal as there are plenty of restaurants to choose from including one that I go back to time and time again, Yasaiya Mei. Yasaiya Mei offers a menu filled, but not limited to, seasonal vegetables.

Kurkku 3 offers some domestic Japanese wine and international beers.

Kurkku 3

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 4-12-10, Omotesando Hills 1F

Phone: 03-6438-9603

Open daily

Tokyo Cheap Eats

Tokyo is a great city for eating well on a budget. The first thing to look for is restaurants that specialize in a dish, like ramen, tonkatsu, or soba. Also, remember the word “teishoku” which is like the daily special or set meal. It is often includes rice, miso soup, pickles, a main dish and a side dish or two. In all of my years eating in Tokyo I can count on one hand the bad meals I have had.

Here are my favorite cheap eats in Tokyo (and this is just scratching the surface):

1. Maisen tonkatsu in Omotesando. Who doesn’t love breaded and deep-fried cutlets? And, it is conveniently located near Omotesando Hills and Takeshita Dori in Harajuku.

Isehiro Yakitori Lunch Donburi

2. Isehiro yakitori in Kyobashi. The lunch donburi special is 1,800 JPY for five sticks of grilled yakitori over a bowl of rice with soup and pickles. This is a bargain when compared to the dinner full course which starts at 6,300 JPY. This is one of my favorite yakitori restaurants in the city, especially at this price. I like to sit at the counter and watch the chef grilling the skewers. Chuo-ku, Kyobashi 1-5-4.

3. Ivan Ramen. Ivan makes his own noodles, trained at the CIA, and has worked under luminaries such as Andre Soltner and Bobby Flay. Other favorites include Afuri in Ebisu, Jangara Ramen (chain), Ippudo (chain).

4. Uoriki Sushi in Shibuya’s Tokyu Toyoko-ten depachika. Uoriki’s main business is as fishmongers, they have a big retail shop in Tokyu, so the quality of the seafood is very good. Also, the location is great, literally underneath Shibuya station. It is located in the depachika, near the seafood section. Don’t worry if there is a line as it usually moves quickly. Just put your name on the waiting list.

5. Saiseisakaba tachinomi for offal. Everything we’ve had here has been great, from sashimi brains (even Shinji was afraid to try this at first), to all of the grilled innards. My favorite dish here is always the tender tongue. And, I love the genki (and handsome) staff here. Locations in Shinjuku, Monzennakacho, and at the Shin Maru Building outside of Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi exit.

6. Narutomi Soba in Ginza. A bit off the beaten path yet located between Tsukiji and Ginza. I was brought here by two Japanese food writers. Be sure to get the gobo tempura, you’ll thank me later.

7. Tenmatsu for tempura at Nihonbashi. The “business lunch” is a bargain at 920 JPY. Be sure to ask for a seat at the counter. Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-8-2. It is located just next to the historic Nihonbashi bridge. And conveniently located between Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi – both with magnificent depachika.

8. Tamai for anago in Nihonbashi. Most people I know adore unagi. If you don’t live in Japan chances are you haven’t had anago yet. Similar to unagi, but I find it more delicate.

9. Buri tachinomi for sake and small bites. A short walk from Shibuya station, the menu has a variety of dishes and not only are the staff hip, so are your fellow diners. Shibuya-ku, Ebisu Nishi 1-14-1

10. Depachika. When I am at a loss for where to go, I head to the basement of any major department store. Especially Nihonbashi Takashimaya, Shinjuku Takashimaya, Shinjuku Isetan, and Ginza Mitsukoshi as these all have rooftop gardens where you can bring any bento that you get at the depachika to enjoy. While you’re at it, pick up a beer or can of sake to enjoy.

This is just a tiny bit of what’s delicious and affordable in Tokyo. Just recently, Robbie Swinnerton of The Japan Times shared with readers a great sukiyaki restaurant, Sukiyaki Yoshihashi, in Akasaka that has a lunch bargain starting at 2,100 JPY.

Tokyo Soba Restaurants and Soba Menu

Here are some of my favorite Tokyo soba restaurants. This first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

Soba is in the midst of a renaissance. The humble buckwheat noodle has been receiving an increasing amount of attention from local TV shows and lifestyle magazines, and a further boost has come from the Slow Food movement, which emphasizes locally procured ingredients and terroir. Here are seven Tokyo restaurants that should be on the itinerary of any noodle fan.

Kanda Yabu Soba – UPDATE Kanda suffered extensive damage from a fire on 2/19/2013 but is now open again.
Soba aficionados from around the country trek to this fifth-generation shop, which first opened in 1880 (above). Entering through the compact garden is like stepping back into old Tokyo. If you’re hungry for more than noodles, the diverse menu includes dishes like sashimi yuba (¥900), tempura (¥1,400) and grilled nori (¥600). There is also a full range of seiro soba (cold noodles on a tray, ¥700).

2-10 Kanda-Awajicho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3251-0287. Open daily 11:30am-8pm. Nearest stn: Ochanomizu.www.yabusoba.net

www.norenkai.net/english/shop/yabusoba/index.html (English)

Matsugen Soba
Contrast the vintage Kanda Yabu Soba with this modern shop in Ebisu. The communal tables are set in a dimly lit room—if you’re lucky, you can watch the noodles being rolled out and cut. Matsugen’s full menu includes an unusual bukkake soba that has a full dozen toppings (¥1,200), and an aromatic, toasty shirogoma-dare (sesame dipping sauce) that offers a nice contrast to the flavor of the noodles.

1-3-1 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 03-3444-8666. Open Mon-Sat 11:30am-3am, Sun & hols 11:30am-midnight. Nearest stn: Ebisu. www.pewters.co.jp

Nagasaka Sarashina
This ninth-generation soba shop has over 200 years of history behind it, and is famous for its pure, white sarashina noodles. Unlike the usual brown inaka soba, sarashina are made from buckwheat that’s polished to the core, resulting in a silky sheen. The basic mori soba (cold noodles) is served with two dipping sauces, amakuchi (sweet) and karakuchi (spicy), garnished with wasabi and julienned green onions (¥860). Diners can blend the sauces as they like.

1-8-7 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3585-1676. Open daily 11am-9pm. Nearest stn: Azabu-Juban, exit 5.www.nagasakasarasina.co.jp

Hanabusa
Off the beaten path in the shitamachi neighborhood of Monzen-Nakacho, this simple shop was recommended to me by a soba expert. While many restaurants on this list have a long history, the care and attention to the art of soba is particularly evident at Hanabusa. The shop offers three types of noodles: hearty inaka, classic Edo and the refined sarashina (all ¥700). For dessert, there’s soba ice cream (¥420) or dorayaki with sobako (soba flour), azuki and whipped cream (¥350).

2-2-15 Botan, Koto-ku. Tel: 03-3630-4337. Open Mon-Sat 11am-3:30pm and 5-11pm, closed Sun. Nearest stn: Monzen-Nakacho. http://homepage2.nifty.com/hanabusa

Narutomi Soba – UPDATE This is now a members’ only restaurant. It is closed to non-members.
Narutomi was brought to my attention by local food writers. Situated in the far reaches of Ginza, this little gem has white walls and dark wooden tables that set the stage for the handmade noodles. Start with the signature earthy gobo tempura (¥630), thin slices fried to a crisp garnished with salt, and the soba-gaki, a dense cake made from soba flour (¥1,050). The tsuyu dipping sauce is on the sweet side, a nice match for the rustic seiro noodles (¥840).

8-18-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-5565-0055. Open Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm and 6-8:45pm, Sat 11:30am-3pm, closed Sun, hols & every third Sat. Nearest stn: Shimbashi or Higashi-Ginza. http://narutomi-soba.net

Toranomon Sunaba
This two-story wooden building commands a corner on a Toranomon back street where it feels like time has stopped. Inside, the brightly lit interior gives the restaurant a more modern feel—standard tables and chairs are on the first floor and tatami seating on the second. The menu is classic soba, with a dipping sauce that leans toward the sweet side without being cloying. The mori soba noodles are served with wasabi and julienned negi (¥700).

1-10-6 Toranomon, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3501-9661. Open Mon-Fri 11am-8pm, Sat 11am-3pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Toranomon, exit 1. http://tinyurl.com/sunaba

Tomoecho Sunaba
Operating in the same location for five generations, Tomoecho Sunaba dates back to the Edo period. Unlike many traditional soba shops, this restaurant is in a modern building with an interior that’s heavy on black granite. The osusume (recommended) dish is the tororo soba made from grated naga-imo, egg yolk and a medium-sweet tsuyu (¥1,470). The slippery, mousse-like sauce provides a nice contrast to the earthy noodles, and staff will serve a bowl of rice to finish any that’s left.

3-11-3 Toranomon, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3431-1220. Open Sun-Fri 11am-3pm and 5-10pm, closed Sun & hols. Nearest stn: Kamiyacho, exit 3. http://tinyurl.com/tomoecho

What’s on the menu?

Serious soba aficionados refer to themselves as “sobaliers”—that is, sommeliers specializing in the art of soba

Sobaliers recommend enjoying your noodles unadulterated, as in the dish known as mori soba: cold with a dipping sauce. Eating it this way one can enjoy the aroma and texture of the noodles

The tsuyu (dipping sauce) is made from a dashi combined with a concentrated broth called kaeshi—a blend of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin

One sobalier suggests that you should dip only the bottom third of the noodles in the tsuyu, then carefully slurp up the noodles

Look for signs that say “teuchi soba” (手打ちそば), or handmade soba.

Yakumi (toppings) include negi, wasabi, grated daikon, and a sprinkling of spicy shichimi togarashi.

After finishing your noodles, the staff will bring out soba yu, some of the hot water that the soba was cooked in. This liquid is poured into the remaining tsuyu dipping broth to make a savory, creamy hot soup to finish your meal.

Inaka soba “rustic” noodles, dark in color
Kake soba soba noodles topped with a hot broth
Kamo Namban soba­ duck, negi, and hot broth
Kawari soba featuring different flavors incorporated into the dough, such as yuzu, shiso and matcha
Kitsune soba sweet abura-age (deep-fried tofu) with a hot broth
Mori soba cold noodles with a dipping broth
Sansai soba with young mountain vegetables harvested in the spring
Sarashina most of the shell of the buckwheat is milled away, creating delicate beige noodles
Seiro soba (aka Zaru soba) cold soba noodles on a bamboo zaru (tray) with a dipping broth
Sobagaki a dense mochi-like cake made from soba flour
Sobagaki zenzai sobagaki cake served with red bean paste
Tanuki soba tenkasu (tempura bits) with a hot broth
Teuchi soba handmade noodles
Tororo soba served with grated yama-imo and often a raw quail egg

Kanda Matsuya Soba 神田まつや

Kanda Matsuya

Kanda Matsuya

Kanda Matsuya Mori Soba

Kanda Matsuya Mori Soba

Kanda Matsuya Tempura Soba

Kanda Matsuya Tempura Soba

Kanda Matsuya 神田まつや

Chiyoda-ku, Kanda Jimbocho 1-13 千代田区神田神保町1-13

Phone: 03-3251-1556

11:00 – 20:00 Monday – Friday

11:00 – 19:00 Saturday and holidays

closed Sundays

http://www.kanda-matsuya.jp/p01.htm

Kanda Matsuya opened their doors in 1884. The soba is made from 5 parts buckwheat flour to 1 part flour. The dipping sauce is “karame” or on the dry side (versus being sweet). A popular dish here is the goma soba which is served with a a sesame dipping sauce. Other recommended dishes are the mori soba, tempura soba (both pictured here), and kake soba (hot noodles).

Shochu 101 – Part Two

Packaging Shochu in Miyazaki

Packaging Shochu in Miyazaki

There are many base ingredients that shochu is made from providing a wide variety of flavor profiles. The most commonly found are:

Imo 芋 – (sweet potato) is highly aromatic, can be smooth, and also slightly sweet on the palate. There are many varieties of sweet potato all contributing their own characteristics. Kogane sengan is one of the more popular potatoes used.

Mugi 麦 – (barley) is roasty, toasty, and often dry. Can be aged in barrels making it fuller on the palate and reminiscent of whiskey, but lower in alcohol.

Kome 米 – (rice) is light, crisp, and very food-friendly. This is a good shochu to start drinking as it is very smooth on the palate.

Soba そば – (buckwheat) buckwheat aromas are strong and it can be round on the palate.

Kokuto 黒糖 – (brown sugar) is sweet on the nose and on the finish. Kokuto jochu is only made on the islands between Kagoshima and Okinawa. This is also a good starter shochu as it is slightly sweet on the palate.

Awamori 泡盛 – (Thai rice) is full body from the black koji. This pairs well with rich and well-seasoned foods of Okinawa where it is produced.

Other base ingredients are:

Kuri 栗 – (chestnuts) can be slightly sweet and aromatic like marron glace.

Goma 胡麻 – (sesame seeds) has a nutty aroma and a round mouth feel. Try this mixed with milk on the rocks for a unique cocktail.

Shiso しそ – (perilla leaves) has the undeniable aroma of minty shiso leaves.

Shochu can also be made from a variety of vegetables, sake kasu, kombu, and much more.

Shochu 101 part one.

Shochu 101 part three.

Shochu 101 part four.

Tokyo Cheap Eats – Kanda Yabu Soba

Yabu Soba

Yabu Soba

UPDATE: Kanda Yabu Soba caught on fire on February 19, 2013. 40 customers and employees were in the restaurant during dinner service when the fire was noticed. Everyone was safely evacuated. A spokesperson for Kanda Yabu Soba has said on NHK news the following day that the restaurant hopes to reopen in six months.

If you are to visit only one soba shop in Tokyo, then it should be Yabu Soba in Kanda. Soba aficionados from around the country trek to this fifth generation shop that opened in 1880. Enter through a compact garden and step back in time in this old building. The room is traditional Japanese with dark colored wood and paper-covered lights. Listen carefully and you can hear the girl behind the cash register sing out each order to the kitchen. This is the only place in Japan that I have seen this done. The elderly kimono clad waitresses efficiently manage the busy dining room. If you are hungry the diverse menu allows you to order a few dishes prior to closing the meal with noodles, like sashimi yuba, tempura, and grilled nori. There is also a full menu of soba, both hot and cold.

Seiro Soba

Seiro Soba

Kanda Yabu Soba かんだやぶそば

Chiyoda-ku, Awajicho 2-10 千代田区淡路町2-10

Tel. 03-3251-0287

11:30 – 19:30

some holidays in January and August

www.yabusoba.net (Japanese)

www.norenkai.net/english/shop/yabusoba/index.html (English)