I had been wanting to try Matsugen (Jean George Vongerichten’s Japanese restaurant with a focus on soba noodles) for a long time. When I saw that they were participating in restaurant week, I made a reservation right away. Not only was I not disappointed, I left ecstatic, having been fed one of the most generous restaurant week dinner portions, and having found a new favorite Japanese in NYC. (It joins my other favorites Sushiden and Matsuri.)
I started off with one of the housemade sodas: cherry-yuzu. The delicate flavor of the yuzu permeated the carbonated treat, and wasn’t overwhelmed by the sweet cherry.
The restaurant week menu is a six-course (eight-dish) affair, if you include dessert. Each dish is small, but they definitely add up. I left the restaurant just as one should: completely satisfied but not stuffed.
First course: edamame and homemade soft tofu. Since I don’t eat that much soy these days, the tofu was an extra special treat. Just the right texture, smooth and cold with a drizzle of soy-based sauce, it took me immediately back to summers in Japan.
Second course: seaweed salad, shrimp and vegetable tempura. The seaweed salad contained a nice mix of different colored plants, unlike the generic monochromatic offering that you see so many places. The tempura was good, but not great. My mother who is very picky about her tempura said that the batter was a bit too heavy-handed. My father, however, loved the red pepper tempura.
Third course: black cod with miso. Thanks to Nobu, it seems everyone has to have one on their menu. I wanted a little more miso flavor, but the cod was cooked well, separating into delicious large chunks when I dug in with my chopsticks.
Fourth course: zuki sushi, made with pieces of marinated tuna. I am not a big fan of tuna (especially in its raw state), but these bites were phenomenal. Enough said.
The fifth and final savory course was larger and served as the entree. It was, of course, soba. Matsugen’s menu offers three different thicknesses: Rin (no husk, center of the soba, delicate, served cold), Seiro (medium husk, smooth, 90 percent soba), and Inaka Soba (with husk, very coarse, served cold).
The soba course was the only one that offered us a choice between seiro kamo nanban soba (duck, hot) and inaka goma dare soba (sesame, cold). My dad ordered the hot noodles, but had chicken substituted for the duck (above top), I had the cold sesame noodles (above bottom), and my mother went hot, but with no meat at all (not pictured). I loved my thicker, heartier inaka soba, and the sesame sauce was nice too. My mother raved about the taste of her kombu (seaweed) broth. Coming from her, that means it was top notch.
Dessert was a green tea pudding. When I read that on the menu my heart sank, as I’m not a big fan of pudding, but this one won me over. It was very light, almost like a cross between a pudding and a jello, and came with a dollop of red bean paste on top. It tasted like green tea but in a refreshingly non-cloying way.
Thank you Jean George for importing a $10,000 buckwheat grinder to New York City (I know this because a friend used to work in the kitchen at Matsugen) so that I can enjoy soba perfection outside of Tokyo.