229 E 9th St
(between 2nd Ave & 3rd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
Soba-Ya is, of course, known for its soba. They market themselves as a Japanese noodle restaurant and proudly display this anonymous quote on their homepage: Sobaya’s handmade noodle … sheer joy! Soba is a gluten-free buckwheat noodle that when made correctly, is supple, slightly chewy, and retains an earthy flavor. Gluten is a crucial ingredient because it is what holds the dough together and gives it its springiness. Without gluten, the dough can easily become very dense… ever had a bad gluten-free loaf? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about then. It is very difficult to make great soba, which is probably why it is so expensive to have good soba in New York. The noodles are usually served on a bed of ice with a chilled, light dipping sauce on the side, or in a warm noodle broth. The photograph above is of the Kamo Seiro, soba with duck dipping sauce. This is a combination of the two aforementioned serving methods as the noodles are not cold, but are room temperature, and the dipping sauce is piping hot.
Yes, yes, the soba is great but the real reason I come to Soba-Ya all the time is for this:
The Salmon Oyako, which includes fat slices of juicy and fresh raw salmon and salmon roe served over a bed of gleaming white pearls… aka. high quality Japanese rice. This whole affair only costs $16 for the large bowl, which seems like very little to pay for such high grade salmon sashimi. The salmon comes at the perfect temperature, chilled under room temperature but not cold. A nice piece of sashimi grade salmon could easily lose its texture and flavor if frozen. The texture is smooth, buttery, and consistent. I’ve never had a fibrous slice before and I’ve been here for this dish many times. The chilled roe has a thin skin that pops when you apply the slightest pressure. The inside of the roe then reveals its lightly salted and fishy flavor, adding a fragrant punch to the buttery salmon. The rice… ah… the warm gleaming white pearls are sticky like sushi rice and are subtly vinegary. The vinegar in the rice really complements the salmon and the roe as it adds a slight acidity. The warmth of the rice also goes oh-so-well with the chilled salmon… there really is nothing wrong with this dish. I wouldn’t even want more of it. The portion is perfect… any more and I think I’d faint from an overdose of euphoria.
This is a similar bowl but with seared tuna steak instead of raw salmon. It is served with a few mushrooms and a thick garlic sauce. LAW likes this one a lot but I much prefer the salmon bowl. The tuna steak is certainly seared to perfection; as you can see from the photo, the center is still nice and raw while the exterior layer is cooked. The seared tuna steak gives the tuna a smokier flavor, which really pairs well with the garlic sauce. The rice is the same glorious sticky Japanese sushi rice. If you don’t like raw fish too much or are just easing into it, this may be the perfect dish for you. The supple buttery texture of the salmon might just be too much… whereas this tuna steak is more meaty.
This is the Buta Kakuni. It is featured in the “delicacies” portion of the Soba-Ya menu and certainly deserves its place there. The dish features 2-3 large pieces of braised pork belly steeped in a soy-sauce based broth with a perfectly poached egg. The pork belly has a lean meat to fat meat ratio of roughly 4:1 – a little bit too lean in my opinion but delicious nonetheless. The pork belly is rich and succulent, so soft that it breaks apart at the slightest touch. When the pork belly is paired with the gooey yolk of the poached egg and some vinegary rice from your salmon bowl… ahh life is too good to me sometimes.
And of course, the soba. Pictured here is a standard hot soba. If you come for lunch, you get a bowl of either hot or cold soba with your rice bowl. Because the soba is so light, I think it really does go well as a side dish, paired with your buttery salmon or juicy tuna steak. I prefer the dipping style over this noodle broth because the soba loses its pliancy after sitting in the soup for a while. If you’re interested in having soba for a full meal, I would suggest you check out Cocoron. The quality of soba is equally great in both restaurants but Cocoron boasts richer flavors and broths – which of course, isn’t necessarily a better thing… just a different thing.