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excellent meal at soba totto

bigjeff May 22, 2008 06:18 AM

hit this spot up at opening time, 6pm on the dot, sunday, and in 10 minutes, the place was packed. between the two of us, we ordered the duck salad, their cold tofu app, maybe 10 skewers (chicken skin, chicken wing, chicken thigh, chicken meatball, shiitake, asparagus bacon, etc.). all were delicious, the chicken meatball was actually really really good and when I got back, I'm just going to order 3 or 4 of those plus a soba. that and maybe a skewer of chicken butts.

for soba, my friend had the plain zaru soba (she ate most of the skewers) while I saved myself for the oomori (extra large) cold soba which I cannot remember the name, but it is a cold soba with 13 kinds of vegetables, mushrooms and seafood, and the restaurant serves only 10 of this soba per night. or rather, is limited to 10. so weird but of course I had to get it. what came out eventually was an amazing dish, sort of like hiyashichuka but with soba, and all ingredients compartmentalized over the soba like chirashi so, piles of the following: sauteed shiitake, seasoned tiny silverfish, grated turnip like for tempura, small greens, oh damn I can't even remember but it was so delicious, so many flavors, looking beautiful, you could either mix it or have discrete tastes of each. I'm not sure what the non-oomori serving looks like but this was an enormous bowl that put me over. it was awesome and I'm definitely going back to get this. not sure if this is a common thing or an invention of the chef but, very enjoyable.

oh and funnily, we were served, at the end of the savory portion of the meal, with a cupful of "soba soup" which is the hot plain milky broth that the noodles are cooked in (not our noodles, necessarily) and you can dunk some of the soba seasoning broth into it and drink like a savory tea. this is just like how my family would have a bowl of "jiaozi tong" which is the very light but savory soup that resulted from boiling our dumplings, hopefully greased up a bit from the pork filling of the dumplings, to which we add some of the dipping sauce (soy, sesame, vinegar, etc.) and have a bowl of at the very end. and to think, I thought only my family did that!

all the dishes were served with neat piles of condiments and salts and flavors and we finished with . . . some dessert I think a soba pudding? buckwheat groats suspended in a snow white custard, with some syrup on the side as well as a spoonful of toasted buckwheat powder. really nice as well, very clean finish that somehow made us feel unfull.

the space is beautiful, the bathrooms have buckets of charcoal (perhaps for air filtration use) and, an absolute pleasure to dine here.

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    cimui RE: bigjeff May 22, 2008 05:11 PM

    thanks for this review, bigjeff. i'd been wondering about the newest addition to the totto empire, but hadn't gone yet myself, since my dining buddy for this type of thing is allergic to wheat. do you know happen to know if there's a pure buckwheat version or do they mix the buckwheat with wheat as most places do?

    7 Replies
    1. re: cimui
      bigjeff RE: cimui May 22, 2008 07:31 PM

      well I've no idea about the mixes, but I do know they were offering a special which featured 3 different kinds of soba, and one of them had the word "pure white" (or maybe I'm just thinking it did), which . . . make me lean towards the possibility very strongly. it was on their daily specials list which also had a lot of other interesting items which I was very happy to see.

      1. re: bigjeff
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        cimui RE: bigjeff May 22, 2008 08:10 PM

        thanks, bigjeff. better not to risk it with soba or udon (actually, i think i got mixed up earlier, i'm sorry: udon is the buckwheat noodle). those skewers sound really good, in any case -- so i'm sure there'll be something for her on the menu.

        1. re: cimui
          Miss Needle RE: cimui May 22, 2008 08:40 PM

          Cimui, I think you were right. Udon is wheat. Soba is generally buckwheat and wheat. I think most places use the soba with the wheat mixed in -- it does make for a better more resilient texture. I think your friend will have a better chance of getting 100% buckwheat noodles at a macrobiotic restaurant.

          Thanks, bigjeff, for the review. I love refreshing soba during the summer.

          1. re: cimui
            E Eto RE: cimui May 22, 2008 08:57 PM

            Soba usually comprise of buckwheat and wheat flour at a 80-20% ratio (ni-hachi in Japanese). Finding 100% soba noodles in a NYC restaurant will be really tough, since it takes a real master to make it. There are probably factory made versions out there, but not likely at restaurants that make it fresh.

            1. re: E Eto
              bigjeff RE: E Eto Jul 13, 2008 05:04 PM

              Looks like they have it at Onigashima but I haven't had it, on their website it says they offer 20 orders only per weekday of 100% buckwheat soba:

              http://www.onigashima.com/index_E.asp

              1. re: bigjeff
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                mrnyc RE: bigjeff Jul 13, 2008 07:28 PM

                awww nice -- excellent intel bigjeff. i'm more excited to try this jyu wari soba for lunch, it appears to be house made, i'll try to find out when i go.

            2. re: cimui
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              cimui RE: cimui May 22, 2008 09:31 PM

              hey, thanks for the info, MN and EE. if suppose that if i guess enough times, i'll be right eventually. :)

        2. bigjeff RE: bigjeff May 29, 2008 08:17 PM

          just saw a picture of the cold soba dish I had, it is in this week's Time Out:

          http://www.timeout.com/newyork/articl...

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            ginsbera RE: bigjeff May 30, 2008 07:26 AM

            I had a fantastic meal there the other day as well. The cold soba with sesame broth was very good and as usual the skewers were amazing. Look forward to going back.

            http://always-eating.blogspot.com/200...

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              comiendosiempre RE: bigjeff Jun 14, 2008 07:46 PM

              Four of us went for lunch to Soba Totto the other day. We had a good lunch but, it wasn't all that I expected, unfortunately.

              The restaurant is very pretty and already does a very big lunch business. After waiting awhile, with a reservation, we were sat in a small private room right off the entrance. Very nice. From the manager to the waitstaff, its obvious that the spot is favored by many Japanese; there is an obvious language barrier here. That didn't affect the service, etc., which was very good. The waitstaff couldn't be nicer.

              However, all things considered, the place is relatively expensive for what you receive. A few of us chose the soba and tempura lunch. (Of note, there are no skewers offered at lunch, unless you opt for the skewer lunch. Thus, the lunch menu is very small compared to the dinner menu.) When our lunch came the food was well presented on a tray. A nice assortment of tempura arrived, about one shrimp, I think, a couple pieces of fish and some veggies. Well fried, not greasy, all around a good plate of tempura. The soba came on a separate pretty dish and my issue with it was - there just wasn't much of it. Seriously. On a medium sized plate there was only enough Soba to cover the bottom of the plate very lightly. And yes, the Soba was good, if a bit bland - I'm assuming home made Soba doesn't have much taste. The dipping sauce was good, but also a bit bland. And, that was it, that was the lunch. I think that was about $16-$17 or so. You could get the Soba deluxe lunch, which came with a bowl of rice and a tiny bowl of pickles/veggies for a few dollars more. One of us got the salmon plate and that came with two nice looking, again rather small, pieces of salmon. We also received the hot broth at the end of the meal to mix with the Soba broth. I did as suggested and the taste was singularly underwhelming.

              You also have the option of "super sizing," so to speak, your order of Soba for another couple of dollars. Perhaps I should have but, I figured that would have resulted in a huge plate of Soba. Maybe I just misunderstood the whole idea but, when I go for a noodle lunch I really do want to eat noodles.

              None of us who went are huge eaters, as in eating large quantities of anything. All of us like good food and all of us were pleased with the lunch. Still, I just though there should have been more to it. I understand, a bit, the Japanese esthetic yet, Menchanko-Tei is only a couple of blocks away and the noodle dishes there are very good too, and much less expensive.

              I will try Soba Totto again, this time more educated on the menu. But, at about $20 per person for lunch, they may not see me too often, considering what is offered for the price charged.

              4 Replies
              1. re: comiendosiempre
                Artguy RE: comiendosiempre Jun 30, 2008 07:09 AM

                Like most Japanese restaurants, Soba Totto focuses on quality, not quantity. I tried it early last Friday evening and absolutely loved everything; Yoko Ono was at the next table and she was loving it, too. (For me, the one exception was the dessert, an overly sweet and kind of viscous watermelon sorbet - but American palates are not tuned to most Japanese desserts.)

                1. re: comiendosiempre
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                  windycity RE: comiendosiempre Aug 10, 2008 08:44 PM

                  I totally understand how you felt. I just ate there tonight and got the sesame soba. Oh I was so hungry still. It was pretty upsetting, because while it was clean and tasty and all, I didn't think it was worth it. Give me a good ramen restaurant any day with luscious pork, umami broth and curly noodles.

                  1. re: windycity
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                    ch_smooth RE: windycity Sep 4, 2008 09:35 AM

                    that's all you got?? you missed out! i agree it's a little pricey but to me it's worth it. everything i've ordered from there has been delicious. i especially love the fresh tofu app and the salad with cream cheese, dried fish and poached egg dressing.

                    1. re: ch_smooth
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                      ginsbera RE: ch_smooth Sep 4, 2008 10:09 AM

                      dont forget all the delicious skewers of meat and veggies. amazing chicken always cooked perfectly (love the oyster and chicken meatball) as well as the steak and assorted vegetables. The rice balls are also quite delicious. You must eat more than just the sesame soba to get full (they are delicious though).

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