There’s really something about soba that screams healthy, light, and refreshing. The act of slurping noodles brings comfort while soba’s earthy tones, grainy textures, and cold smooth body slows time just a little bit as you contemplate each exquisitely simple bite. I’ve been craving soba noodles since the heat wave hit NY and I got to indulge in it two days in a row!
Sunday night after a day spent at Rockaway Beach Angel and I stopped by Cocoron, a tiny 14 seat noodle shop on Delancey Street with a counter opening to the kitchen and tables for two alongside a brick wall. The space was a bit too cramped for comfort, poor Angel barely had space to maneuver his arm freely while reaching for the noodles and making way for the appetizer plate (which came AFTER our main dishes) was a challenge. The waitress was a nervous little thing, unsuccessfully placing trays of food in between guests spilling all over one woman’s lap, incessantly apologizing whilst forgetting other guests’ requests for water.
I ordered the Pork Kimchee Dip Soba which is basically cold noodle and hot soup and I was prompted to dip the soba into the broth for no more than 10 seconds before gratuitously slurping it into my belly. The soup is a tweaked version of the infamous Korean dish, kimchi jigae, made much more dense in its saltiness to balance the blandness of the soba. The kimchi and pork combo will always fails to disappoint but the broth was way too salty, even for my tastes considering I over-salt everything.
Angel ordered the Tororo Wakame Soba wherein which a white mass of slimy gooey frothy stuff (grated mountain yam) is slathered alongside broth and a pile of seaweed. According to the cutely animated menu it’s supposed to be age-defying and is a “power combo”. Angel seemed to begrudgingly finish it off, unconvincingly telling me it’s good and filling. I am certainly not disrespecting cultural traditions or acquired tastes but I felt absolutely no fondness for this slimy dish. None.
Steamed Chicken Meatball was our appetizer which only came midway through our noodles and despite having loved the sticky orange (not quite brown) rice I felt again, it was way too salty for anyone’s good. I cringed a little watching Angel pop two in his mouth, afraid his tastebuds would collapse from all the puckering. The dessert was a confounding mixture of corn flakes cereal, green tea ice cream, knobs of rice cake, crumbled peanuts, red beans with a very green green tea sauce. I snatched up the rice cake and ice cream real quick but left the corn flakes drowning in translucent green water for the taking. I also would avoid comparing green goo to espresso that lathers mounds of ice cream. Perhaps this would be much better without the corn flakes. It really confounds me!
Where Cocoron was casual, homey, young, and fast, Soba Ya in the East Village was more refined, subdued, decorative, and pricey. The place was packed at 6pm on a Monday night and I sat at the bar with Mai, watching all the action take place as dishes were made and whisked away by quick footed waiters.
Since last night’s soba was hot and rather filling I went for traditional cold dipping noodles which followed a three piece appetizer with my favorite side dish of all time, the glaceed sweet potato. The Korean version of this appealingly sweetened vegetable is fried and crispy while Satsumaimo was steeped in sweet juice and melted in your mouth. I ordered a separate side dish of only this which was probably a mistake as it quickly became a little too sweet to handle. Help yourself to 2 – 3 slices and you’re all set.
The soba was exactly what I was looking for: cold, light, refreshing, earthy, simple, and healthy. A dish that leaves you feeling just the right amount of content, never too filling or present. I look forward to a rise in the soba trend as I believe ramen is overrated and is associated with all things fat and msg. Soba! Soba! Soba!