Thin Wheat Line: Cold Soba

Thin Wheat Line is a survey of noodles in Seattle.

Noodle: Hiyashi kitsune

Source: Koji Osakaya, 89 University St. (at Post Alley), 583-0980.

Price: $7.95

It's not hard to find zaru soba, or cold buckwheat noodles with a light soy dipping sauce, in Seattle. Hell, it's not hard to make them, either. Boil noodles. Chill. Mix dipping sauce of soy sauce, dashi, and mirin. Grate some daikon to dab on top. Serve.

But last week it was too hot to even think of boiling water and heating up dashi, so Erika Hobart and I walked over to Koji, the odd little Japanese restaurant on the Harbor Steps with the overly cheap sushi happy hour and an odd mix of Japanese tourists and Seattle office workers sitting at the tables. Koji also offers one of the largest selections of cold soba dishes in the city, including hiyashi kitsune soba, aka "cold fox" noodles.

The "cold," of course, refers to the noodles, but the "fox" refers to the fact that foxes supposedly love the little pile of deep-fried tofu slices on top. (To diverge for a second, according to Erika, who grew up in Japan, the Japanese divide people into foxes and raccoons based on the shapes of their faces. The counterpart to Koji's hayashi kitsune is its hiyashi tanuki, or "cold raccoon" soba, though here tanuki is a pun referring to tempura-batter bits the cooks sprinkle on the soba noodles.)

As simple as the concept is, Koji's regular zaru soba (left) was underwhelming, the noodles a titch soft, the sauce a titch powerful, with nothing else in the bowl to hide the flaws.

The hayashi kitsune, in contrast, was more like a cold noodle bibimbap, the soba bathed in a sweet, light soy-based sauce and covered in finely shaved toppings. It's unclear whether the foxes would also like green onions, julienned sweet omelet, fish cake slivers, cucumber threads, wakame, and grated radish, but I did -- they shivered and sparked in the mouth, alternatingly creamy and crunchy, brightening up the sober buckwheat flavor of the noodles.

Since foxes appear to be omnivores who don't know when to stop eating, I suspect they'd probably finish off the bowl, too. How do foxes stay so skinny? There's a best-selling diet book in there, if anyone cares to investigate.

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