New York, NY, tasted on February 19, 2004 —
I hate to generalize, and especially when it sounds so cliché, but there
is an aesthetic about Japan. It's actually more of a framework for
aesthetics - a value system. Multiple aesthetics spring forth from it.
But some of its core tenets include, simplicity, authenticity, beauty,
tradition. I know, it sounds cliché, but at the heart of many clichés is
a core of truth. And even though I've only been to Japan a few times
(and spent my time mostly in Tokyo) these tenets are undeniable -
especially when it comes to the food. I won't spend a ton of time
talking about the various foods in Japan and my
realization some time ago about my own shortsightedness about the
diversity of Japanese cuisine. But suffice it to say, Soba cuisine is
one of those many points on the Japanese spectrum that remains quite
underrepresented in the United States (and I think most of the rest of
(With that long preamble over with) walking into
Honmura An was like
walking into a tiny slice of Tokyo nestled in New York City. I don't
worry much about decor or environment, but I have to admit that the
comfort I felt walking in there, the familiarity, was nice, settling,
Salad that showed up just reinforced the emotional connection I was
already having with the restaurant. It contained sliced avocado served
with chopped scallion, wasabi, and bonito flakes. The flavors were stark
and simple. The bonito
flakes contrasted with the avocado. It doesn't get simpler (or more
beautiful) than this.
The avocado was followed up with
Salad - Blanched Asparagus with Sesame Seed Dressing. The sauce tasted like thousand island
dressing but it was still yummy. Next up was
Tamago - Thick Japanese Omelets Flavored with "Mirin" Japanese Sweet
Sake. I read a book once that said you could judge a sushi
restaurant in Japan based on the quality of its Tamago. The thinking is
that this simple dish will expose your talent or your flaws. Its
simplicity leaves nothing to hide flaws behind. The many layers of egg
cooked in a square copper pan, all the while manipulated expertly with
chopsticks, is definitely a sight to behold. And this particular
rendition couldn't have been sweeter, more
subtle, or more enjoyably complex.
At this point things were moving a long at a
perfect pace. It's amazing how much good timing can affect how much you
enjoy your meal.
Momiji Tataki is Carpaccio Style Japanese Rare Roast Beef and it's
also what showed up next at our table. The beef was served with spicy
daikon. The flavors were again stark and perfectly complementary.
According to the group at the table the dish had "wabi".
We also got some Prawn Tempura. Super simple. Peyman thought there was
too much shiso, but I thought it was nice. The frying was delicate,
deliberate, and balanced.
Soba Gaki a Soba Gnocchi Served in a
Bamboo Lacquer Ware Box with a Daikon Radish
Dipping Sauce. According to the menu it's "very healthy and
esoteric". According to us the "gnocchi" was like a Japanese
After the waitress broke it up with chopsticks we dipped it in a delicious dashi-based sauce
with grated daikon. I loved the sauce and the texture. Even though the
food was mesmerizing, it didn't stop us from checking out the
guy in the back of the restaurant making soba by hand. Cool!
Up next was
Kamonan - a hot duck-based soup topped with sliced duck and
scallion. The duck broth was gorgeous and oily in a good way. Its flavor
was deep but light
(does that make any sense? It would if you'd tasted it). We also ordered
Okame "Rosy Cheek" (I love Japanese names). This mix was good as
And finally it was time for our
soba - the specialty of the house. I never thought cold noodles
could be so incredible. But never say never. If someone actually took
the time to properly edit my postings then they would tell me I'd
overused the notion of being surprised at how simple and yet beguilingly
delicious each dish was at this meal. Overused or otherwise, it just
happens to be the truth. The cold soba noodles were so simple and nutty.
sauce and condiments were added, the rich tangy brewed flavor truly
came out. Who would have thunk cold noodles could be so
delicious? Not me. But then I would have been wrong. Once you'd slurped
up all the noodles and a bunch of the sauce you would have thought that
the fun would be over as all you have left at this point is left over
sauce and some soba water (the water the noodles were cooked in that
drained through the bamboo strainer). Wrong again (sorry to be so
negative). You take the soba water and pour it into the teacup with the
excess sauce, mix it up, and drink it. Crazy! But
delicious. It makes a perfect "after-soup". The starchy water
perfectly balanced and was brightened by the deep dark flavor of the
sauce. With it's protocol of eating every last drop, soba may be one of
the world's perfect foods. It's also good in hot and cold weather.
In the mood for dessert? No problem. How about
Green Tea Sponge Cake. The cake was like a perfect microcosm of
perfect Japanese detail. It was as if it was built molecule by molecule
- each perfectly positioned and polished along the way. We also had
Soba Dumplings with Red Bean and Bitter Nori
on the side. The sweet little soba "meatballs" in the sweet red
bean soup was good. The nori was in fact not bitter but a super yummy concentrated chickeny
savory saltiness. Alex thought it might be MSG.
Food is subjective. I can't deny that this
little oasis in the middle of Manhattan brought back so many positive
memories of the detail, design, and ultimately the appreciation for
flavor, freshness, beauty, and simplicity. But those values weren't hazy
memories. They were present in every dish, every bite, every taste at
Honmura An. And that's why I loved it.