While I have yet to try the much lauded soba at Matsugen, I am sticking with Soba-ya as my favorite place to go for soba in Manhattan. One of my qualifications for a good Japanese restaurant outside of Japan is that most-to-all of the servers must speak Japanese. Soba-ya delivers in this category, however, sadly, when we went a few days ago with Christina and Rich we got stuck with one of the few with whom I had to communicate in English.
(Side note: my mother will say that the true test of a good Japanese restaurant is the miso soup. One sip and she can judge whether a place is worthy of her patronage. I suppose in a noodle shop this test can’t really be used, especially in one where miso soup isn’t on the menu.)
One step inside Soba-ya and I’m back in Japan. All the sounds and smells are there and I feel right at home. And, if you are there in the afternoon you can even see them hand rolling the noodles.
To start out, the boys ordered some beers and we got some small plates to share including spinach and green beens mixed with a delicious sesame sauce (goma ae) and Japanese-style deep fried marinated chicken (tatsuta age).
After that we all enjoyed our noodle dishes. Dave and Christina both ordered the kamo seiro: soba with a side of hot dipping sauce made of duck broth and containing pieces of duck and scallions. Dave liked the “strong, meaty broth,” but was a little sad that he had strayed from his usual order of nabeyaki udon (udon noodles served in a hot pot with lots of yummy toppings).
Rich went with tempura udon.
I ordered from the seasonal soba/udon section of the menu which has specials for every day of the week. That day the special was kawari soba: cold buckwheat noodles flavored with shiso and served with a cold soy sauce-based dipping sauce. The shiso flavor was delicate but present in just the right way and I finished wishing there was more on my plate.
As for dessert, the winner (which Christina had had before and raved about it) was the honey wasabi ice cream, which is served on top of crispy soba noodles. I do not care for wasabi, so it wasn’t for me, but everyone else thought it was unusual and tasty. To quote Dave, “just when you thought the wasabi flavor was going to get too hot, the honey would kick in and counterbalance it.”
I could eat at Soba-ya every night and never get bored. Last week’s meal was the perfect summer time dinner, light but filling, with a satisfying slurp.