Place: Nook, University District
Price: $10.00 as part of a three-course tasting menu that includes appetizers and dessert
In the bowl: Soba noodles in warm dashi with oysters and negi (a long onion that looks like a leek)
Supporting cast/What to do: The soup is served with a sampling of tempura--consisting of shrimp, scallop, and eggplant--and one pickled myoga, which is a flower bud of wild Japanese ginger (that's unusual to find here). The tempura comes with dipping sauce and some superb wasabi salt. As for the soup, there's an option to add vinegar to change the flavor of the broth.Noodling around: The Mein Man featured cold soba noodles in its inaugural column. I prefer them cold, with wasabi-laced dipping sauce.
But on this occasion, the owners of Nook, a biscuit place, are taking advantage of connections in Japan to do a "pop-up" series of hot soba dinners. Most exciting, they make the soba noodles from scratch. My understanding is that only a couple of local chefs make fresh soba noodles, and only just sporadically.
The broth is wonderful, with the grilled negi contributing sharp but sweet onion-like flavor and smokiness, and the oysters infusing the broth with a taste of the ocean. I also tried the alternative soup of soba and duck, which is also delicious--a little more mellow in flavor, but still allowing the dashi to shine.
The noodles are also tasty, the buckwheat flour giving up its nutty, earthy flavor. My only quibble is that the noodles could be slightly thicker, as they get soft and slightly gummy in the broth. That's typically the challenge with fresh-made noodles. And it's why I prefer soba noodles cold, as they tend to retain their bite that way.
If you want more: For this meal, there is no need for more, as the soba soup is part of a larger, three-course meal. It starts with a generous sampler of appetizers, including kinpira gobo (burdock root stir-fried and glazed with soy sauce, sugar, sake and mirin) and carrots, soba zushi (with fresh wasabi and a shark skin grater!), soba chips, and a salad of fresh greens, fu (Japanese wheat gluten), and a delicate dressing. After the appetizers and soba soup is dessert: soba tea along with mochi filled with fresh whipped cream, mascarpone, and strawberry.
Be aware/beware: This was one of the most delightful meals I've had of late. It was wonderfully fresh and flavorful food that transported me back to Japan. And a bargain at $10.
This may be a one-time only pop-up experience, with just one more seating on Tuesday night. That night is sold-out, but you can always call to see if there's a cancellation, or you can try for walk-in seating ($12) based on availability.
As one of Nook's owners has experience working with soba in Japan, there's hope that they'll repeat this event. And at the least, it's definitely encouraged me to return to Nook sometime to try their biscuits, which also get great reviews.