Soba is on the rise in New York as ramen is on the wane: You can follow the ramen glamour arc from the opening of Ippudo in early 2011 to the present, as ramen restaurants recede from the conversation.
Now, for New York City soba, there’s Uzuki, at 95 Guernsey Street near Norman Avenue, which just opened in an industrial-looking area in West Greenpoint, in a stretch that’s becoming its own Little Tokyo. The restaurant is run by soba master and consultant Shuichi Kotani, who moved here from Tokyo in 2008.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a soba spot considered among the city’s top restaurants. One must look back to Soho’s Honmura An, which had a glorious run from 1991 to 2007, making noodles on the premises in a tiny space, and serving bowlfuls that featured tempura-friend shrimp caught in the Bay of Tokyo. Prices ran as high as $18 or so in 1993 when Ruth Reichl reviewed it in the New York Times. More recently, Sarashina Horii, an offshoot of one of Tokyo’s oldest soba shops couldn’t make it in Flatiron, after only two years in operation.
From behind the soba counter, Kotani assembles bowls of soba from a menu that includes seven a la carte items and seven types of soba from $26 to $72, served in distinctive pottery he has fashioned himself. The most expensive order is a $72 bowl of noodles called the deluxe sashimi soba.
In the bottom, he places a tangle of cold soba, green with matcha powder, then pours over a sprightly dashi broth tasting of the sea. He cuts planks of sashimi, including belly tuna, yellowtail, salmon, raw pink shrimp, and local scallops and arranges them on top, along with orange salmon roe and fingers of uni. This seagoing school is decorated with a single shiso leaf, scarlet seaweed, and shredded scallions before it’s handed over the counter to customers. Otherwise, it’s carried to one of the dozen tables in the room.
You pretty much have to eat the fish first, dipping the swatches in the soy and wasabi provided. Next eat the noodles, which are firm and have subtle texture. With the fish gone, the salmon roe bob, clinging to the noodles. In some ways the broth that remains is the most important part; it’s provided in a pitcher to pour into your bowl. “It’s the most nourishing part of the meal, filled with antioxidants,” Kotani tells me, leaning over the counter.
Other options for soba involve those with duck, salmon, uni, tofu, soba chips, and a wealth of garden vegetables including eggplant and okra. Wash a meal down with sake, or gluten-free soba beer.
In fact, the entire place is a temple of soba, with most of the appetizers made from buckwheat in some form or another. Most delicious of the starters I tried, the soba yakimiso ($14), featured three kinds of homemade miso on a triangular tray scorched with a torch and sprinkled with crunchy buckwheat groats.
I finished up my meal with a small scoop of soba ice cream ($9). It was creamy and nutty tasting, and altogether one of the best I’d eaten this season — a fitting end to a delicious summer.