More than two years after announcing plans to expand to New York City, one of Tokyo’s oldest soba makers is making its debut in Flatiron this week. Sarashina Horii — from ninth-generation owner Yoshinori Horii — is set to open at 45 East 20th Street, near Park Avenue South, on Wednesday, July 21.
In Tokyo, where Sarashina Horii has three locations, the restaurant is known specifically for its bowls of white soba noodles. “Most people think of soba as having a darker brown color” due to its main ingredient, buckwheat, chef Tsuyoshi Hori explains through a translator. Yet, at Sarashina Horii, and few other restaurants outside of Japan, its noodles are made through a painstaking process that involves whittling away the brown husks of buckwheat seeds. The white core that’s left behind produces noodles — called sarashina soba — that some describe as slightly more sweet and aromatic than traditional soba.
During the Edo period — from roughly the 17th to 19th centuries — sarashina soba was enjoyed primarily by Japanese royalty, according to Hori, an alum of acclaimed soba restaurant Sarashina No Sato who is overseeing Sarashina Horii’s first expansion outside of Japan. “Now everybody is able to enjoy this soba.”
Different sized bowls of soba are priced between $16 and $20 each, before picking from a list of toppings that includes kakiage shrimp tempura ($12 to $13 extra) and duck with leek ($9 to $10 extra). The restaurant’s noodles can be ordered hot in a broth or chilled on their own with a dipping sauce served on the side. While there’s no one way to eat the soba, Hori recommends starting with an order of cold soba to taste the subtleties of the restaurant’s generations-old recipe.
“When you enjoy the soba cold, you enjoy the fragrance and the flavor of the soba on its own without a soup base,” according to the chef. In addition to sarashina soba, the restaurant also serves mori soba, a light brown noodle made from a four-to-one mixture of buckwheat and wheat flour. Both noodles are available a la carte, or as part of a $98 tasting menu that also includes sashimi, tempura, and an entree.
Aside from its prized bowls of noodles, Sarashina Horii is borrowing a variety of hot and cold dishes from the restaurant’s locations in Tokyo, including soft-shell crab tempura, slices of grilled duck, tamagoyaki, and sushi rolls stuffed with chilled soba noodles.
For its New York debut, the restaurant appears to be going for more of an upscale feel than at its soba shops in Tokyo, with a canopy of custom light fixtures and a wall whose base opens into a rock garden. The indoor dining room is currently operating at reduced capacity with 78 seats. There’s another eight seats at the bar and 20 at an outdoor seating area.
Sarashina Horii first announced its plans to expand to New York City in May 2019, with hopes of opening the following July. The opening was ultimately put on hold, first by gas delays and later by the pandemic. Even now, amid ongoing staffing shortages citywide, the restaurant isn’t able to bring soba chefs from Japan due to coronavirus travel restrictions, according to Hori.
To start, Sarashina Horii is open Wednesday to Thursday, from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday from 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday from 12 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.