Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Salmon bowl me over: Soba-ya

One of my favorite go-to restaurants is Soba-ya. I usually end up there when I'm looking for a nice-looking, low-key place to bring out-of-town guests and/or a casual-but-not-too-casual place for catching up, but also when I'm just craving good quality, comfortable Japanese food. The service is discreet and unobtrusive; the food interesting, tasty, and well-prepared; and the bill never goes much, or at all, above my budget. It's not so small you feel cramped, nor so large it feels impersonal, and even sitting next to other people, the atmosphere somehow always feels private.
When I went there with DT last month, we decided to split an order of cold soba topped with uni and grated Japanese yam. The uni was delish—creamy and sweet—but I found the rest of it rather disappointing and just a bit flavorless. Ironically, though the restaurant specializes in soba I never like their soba dishes as much as their other stuff.
But I do love the other stuff, specifically their sake-oyako don: a bowl of rice topped with salmon sashimi and salmon roe. The bowls come in "small" and "regular" sizes; even though I always mean to order the small, I've accidentally ordered the above "regular" more than once, thinking "regular" meant the smaller size. Or maybe my stomach took over my brain for a moment?

The regular size includes a hot, savory broth of enoki mushrooms, a small dish of pickles on the side, and of course, a much larger portion of salmon, roe, and rice. The sashimi is meltingly tender and I love the salty little pops of roe. Though the other size comes without the soup and pickles and is smaller, it is definitely a more manageable and appropriate amount, especially when you are also splitting a soba dish like DT and I did.
As for dessert, the first time I ever had honey-wasabi-flavored ice cream was here, and I've ordered it ever since—its elements of floral, sweet, milky, and cold combined with a pronounced kick of wasabi were eye-opening. But to my disappointment, this time the honey-wasabi had no heat. The other two flavors we chose, yuzu and black sesame, were good as usual though. The three scoops rest on a bed of fried soba bits, no doubt made in the restaurant from leftover noodle scraps, which are a perfect crunchy topping for the ice cream.

Unless something changes, I'll probably keep going to Soba-ya for as long as I have access to it. I'm sure there are better places to get a tray of cold soba and maybe even a better sake-oyako don, but I haven't found a place I like more yet. Suggestions are welcome, though!


  1. Funny, I went to Soba-ya once in college and thought the soba was a little boring so I never went again. But since you like it, I'll give the other dishes a try....I want to try that honey-wasabi ice cream!

  2. Yah, not so into the soba there (it's bland, no?) but I really like some of their other stuff. It's hit-or-miss, but I always end up with the sake-oyako don anyway, and I'm happy...

  3. haha.. yeah they served us bigger portions- and thought we wouldnt notice.. but we did- and it was all good!