Cool and Refreshing! The Outstanding Soba Noodles of Ichimian (Honten) [Review] w/ Pics!
(Formatted with All Pictures here:
Soba Noodles can be an acquired taste. It is far less popular than its Ramen Noodle cousin outside of Japan, but understandably so: Unlike Ramen, Soba Noodles are generally simpler in taste and flavor combinations, and in its simplest form, it seems so basic that it may come off as "boring" or "too plain" for many. And the fact that Soba can be served chilled / cold doesn't help those preferring hot food.
But therein lies the beauty of Soba Noodles, and my favorite incarnation of it: Zaru Soba (Soba Noodles served atop a zaru (a bamboo slotted "plate"). Soba Noodles are usually made with a combination of buckwheat and wheat flour, depending on the style of Soba, and paired with a simple Tsuyu (a Soba dipping sauce made up of a soy sauce-type base, mirin and dashi). The fresh-cooked Soba Noodles are then immediately chilled, and simply dipped into the Tsuyu sauce as you take each bite. Its simplicity reflects a meditative, Zen-like feeling while eating good Soba Noodles on a hot Summer's day: Each bite is so refreshing and cooling! (^_^)v
Finding a So Cal restaurant that serves handmade, fresh Soba is rare, and the ones I had tried up till this day were ranging from "very good" to "so-so," but I still hadn't found a Teuchi (Handmade) Soba locally that was truly "amazing." Until today. :)
Ichimian (English name, "Bamboo Garden") is located on a quiet side street off of Cabrillo. It specializes in Soba and the majority of its menu is purely Soba in many variations. I enlisted the biggest Soba Hound I know to come along with me, and the anticipation grew as we entered the small establishment, placed our order and sat down to wait.
Ichimian Honten (Original / Main Branch) makes their Soba Noodles by hand every morning, and when they sell out, they're done for the day. They also make Soba for their sister restaurant, Inaba.
While there were quite of few enticing variations, I wanted to try my favorite (and simplest form) on the menu: Zaru Soba (Buckwheat Soba Noodles), Hosomen (Thin Noodle) style. At Ichimian, you can order each type of Soba dish with either "Hosomen" (Thin Noodle) or "Futomen" (Thick Noodle); Ichimian's Adachi-san recommended their Hosomen, which is what I went with. :) The Zaru Soba arrived soon after, and was served with the traditional Tsuyu Sauce, Negi (Green Onions) and Wasabi. Mixing it all together, I eagerly dipped the fresh-cooked and fresh-chilled Soba Noodles into the sauce and took a slurp.
The subtle fragrance of the Buckwheat Flour in the Soba Noodle, the freshness of the Noodle itself, cooked perfectly with a slight chew and good firmness yet suppleness, this was true Soba Excellence! The Hosomen-style thinness was just right. It had none of the slight chalkiness found with many Soba preparations found in So Cal, and the housemade Tsuyu was also wonderful: Strong, flavorful, but never overpowering.
This was easily the best Zaru Soba I've had in Southern California. I turned to my Soba Hound who wore a ridiculous grin while eating the Soba: "I could eat this every day." And with each bite of the refreshing, chilled Soba I had, I would agree. :)
I ordered a small Don (Rice Bowl) as well, trying their Shirasu Gohan (Whitebait Fish Rice Bowl). Ichimian's Shirasu Gohan arrived with a decent amount of Shirasu (Whitebait), a Quail Egg and some Nori (Seaweed) and Negi (Green Onion) atop some fresh steamed Rice. This was even lighter than the Zaru Soba in many ways, with no additional Salt or Seasoning added to the bowl. It was literally those simple ingredients together. It was a touch too bland for my tastes (but adding a little Shoyu remedied that).
We also split one Ume Okaka Onigiri (Japanese Plum Rice Ball). The Onigiri was rather small, and it was average in execution, with a small bit of Ume and mostly cool rice, a far cry from the goodness I had at Yakitori Bincho, and homemade versions, but for $1.50, I didn't mind.
Still, their specialty was Soba, and it was excellent, so that was good enough. :) It was so good that I returned for another visit a few days later, with another Soba Hound in tow, to get their perspective (and to make sure my visit wasn't a fluke (^_~)). We arrived on our second visit and I decided to try a variation on the chilled Soba Noodle:
Their Mentai Oroshi Soba (Marinated Pollock Fish Roe, Grated Daikon Radish Soba Noodles) arrived quickly, with their chilled, handmade Soba Noodles topped with Karashi Mentaiko (Lightly Spicy Marinated Pollock Fish Roe), Oroshi (Fresh-grated Daikon Radish), Negi (Green Onions), Nori (Seaweed), Wakame (Kelp) and some Shiso Leaf. Mixing it all together, I took a bite, and just like my previous visit, it was sublime! :)
Only this time, the Fish Roe and Fresh-grated Daikon Radish added a nice layer to the simple Zaru Soba Noodles, and the Green Onions, Shiso Leaf, added an even more refreshing, Spring feeling to the dish.
My other Soba Hound on this trip looked up after taking one bite of the Zaru Soba and could only utter, "Sugoi!" ("Amazing!"). :)
On this visit, I tried out another of their small Don (Rice Bowls): Sake Ikura Don (Salmon and Salmon Roe Rice Bowl). The Don arrived with a generous helping of minced Salmon and Salmon Roe, with some Green Onions and Seaweed atop some steaming Rice. This was a touch too salty for me, from the saltiness of the Salmon and the inherent saltiness of the Ikura (Salmon Roe). But when eaten with a big bite of Rice, it evened out.
Ichimian is a very simple mom-and-pop operation. You enter and order at the cash register, and help yourself to complementary Ice Barley Tea, or Hot Tea, or Ice Water. But all their menu items already include tax, and they don't expect a tip, but are willing to take any donations. :) At $5.90 (so, $5.45 before tax!), Ichimian's Zaru Soba is one of the most fairly priced Teuchi (Handmade) Soba dishes in Southern California and a bargain for the greatness of the Soba! We averaged ~$11 per person (including tax and tip!), and if you're not that hungry, you can skip the Don (Rice Bowl) and average about ~$7 - 8 per person total.
(Note that you can order a batch of the Fresh Soba Noodles (Uncooked), To Go, for a bargain of $7 for a Double Serving!) (Note also that they serve Hot Soba and Udon as well, if you're in the mood for something warm.)
Of the 5 Teuchi Soba Specialists I've visited in Southern California, Ichimian rises to the top as my new favorite Zaru Soba shop. Ichimian's Zaru Soba, Hosomen (Thin-style Noodle) is the perfect antidote to the hot Southern California Summer: An order of refreshing, chilled Noodles that invigorates the mind and body, and cools you down from the heat outside. Simply wonderful.
*** Rating: 8.9 (out of 10.0) ***
Ichimian (Honten) Bamboo Garden
1618 Cravens Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501
Hours: Mon, Wed - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Sat - Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
way to go exile. you've found my down-low soba sanctuary in the heart of torrance. now the tiny space will run out of soba by noon, get completely overcrowded, and i'll never be able to eat there again! -_-
haha. just kidding!
ichimi-an has long been my top soba shop in LA, i always order the mentaiko oroshi cold, and i tell most of my friends (especially the otafuku stalwarts) to go there. they usually wind up getting lost lol and i'll be like, "look for the foster's freeze..."
Thanks. Hehehe, now that I think about it, you're right (here's to hoping they don't sell out of their Soba until at least ~ 2 p.m. (^_~)). But their Hosomen Soba is too good not to share with all the Chowhounders. :)
I'm glad it's your favorite as well. :) Oh and thanks for the reminder (I got lost my first time as well :) -
For those coming from Carson St., when you see Cabrillo (signal light) turn North, and you'll see this tiny *45 degree* angled street that bisects Cabrillo at the intersection as well. That's Cravens Avenue, and Ichimian is on the right-hand side. :)
the rolling hills location has a different menu, however. basically the same quality soba, but last i recall, they don't do the cold broth preparations like the mentaiko oroshi. rather they have a more standard japanese menu with stuff like tempura, ten zaru combos, and things like that. but i haven't been there in a while so maybe things have changed...
I used yahoo babelfish to translate the website. I'm more confused now abut this place and the menu than ever!. I think the translation is really fun. I want the Racoon-dog side, or the Applying mountain side with my noodles!
Here is what babelfish came up with.
On a more serious note, I had Mme. Akitist do some translations. She says the descriptions are figurative.
Looks like "side" is the topping.
Raccoon-dog is tanuki, an animal similar to a raccoon. Here it means those little bits of stuff like batter left over from deep-frying.
"Mountain" seems to be short for yamakake, a sticky tuber sometimes called mountain potato, and "applying" means soup poured over.
Month-seeing is moon-viewing, referring to the poached egg that's on top.
"Cooling discernment Crown Prince lowering" side is cool soba with codfish roe (or egg sac?).
I prefer the futomen (thick cut) for zaru soba. In fact, that's how it was recommended to me at Ichimian when I went there. They also recommended hosomen with the hot soups. The texture of the thick cut, I think, works better for eating cold. There's a better mouthfeel and substance to the chew. But it's a matter of personal preference. Give it a shot.
Photos in this link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/80073
And here's a alternative link to Ichimian Honten: http://www.japaneserestaurantinfo.com...
Thanks! :) Regarding the name, yah it's puzzling. They had their official Business License, and various other permits on display, and they all were listed officially as "Ichimian." In Japanese their name is pronounced "Ichi-mi-an". I know their website's URL uses "Ichimiann" :) I'm guessing they added the extra "n" at the end to help people pronounce their name better perhaps?
Adding Chow Place Link (there was a delay on showing up in their database).
Ichimian (Bamboo Garden)
1618 Cravens Ave., Torrance, CA 90501
You like Ichimian's zaru soba over Otafuku's? In my heart, Ichimian's is excellent, and Otafuku's is a glory among all glories. (They're definitely my two favorite though). Ichimiann has that distinctly perfect chaw, but Otafuku has this intense depth of flavor - like these opening, earth-rollowing, huge, quiet brown notes underneath.
Also: have you tried sarashina soba at Otafuku? They havef some varieties - the regular buckwheat, sarashina (which is sort of... hulled buckwheat? I'm not totally sure - it's whiter and silkier and quieter) and then this other kind, that I don't know the name of, that isn't on the regular menu, but is occasionally written in Japanese on the wall, and I can occasionally successfully order by pointing to a sign. As best I can understand it, the last kind is made of *pure* buckwheat flour, instead of mostly buckwheat flour cut with other sorts of flour, and I think it's a coarses grind too. It's very, *very* intensely buckwheat.
Incidentally, I inquired and found out that Otafuku's noodles are handmade, and Ichimiann's are machine-made. Not to say machine-made is worse - I think Otafuku's have a bit of rustic oddity to them, and Ichimiann's are more perfectly al dente every time.
I haven't managed to go to Otafuku for about a year, though - every time I get down there, they're closed for some odd reason, or I just missed their lunch hours, or something. Frustrating. Hope it's still good. Last time I went, it was as good as ever.
Between Ichimiann, Otafuku, and those insanely great buckwheat pancakes at the Original Pancake House, South Bay is sort of buckwheat capital of California.
re: Thi N.
Yah, ultimately it's just a matter of preference. (^_~) Ichimian is my current favorite over Otafuku, and it was the top pick for the 2 Soba Hounds I brought on separate occasions who've tried them at both restaurants.
I find Otafuku's Soba just a bit too thick and rustic for my tastes. I've tried 3 kinds of Soba at Otafuku: Zaru Soba (mixture of Buckwheat), Seiro Soba (their "specialty" and "pride of the house" as the waitress told me in Japanese :), and their Kikouchi Soba (100% Buckwheat Flour). I agree the Kikouchi has a depth of flavor (100% Buckwheat, what did one expect? :), but the thickness and rougher texture has me picking Ichimian as my fav. But don't get me wrong, I think Otafuku is #2 tops in L.A. / O.C., and still very good.
That's weird about Ichimian: When I spoke with 2 different people at Ichimian in Japanese, they both said their Soba was "teuchi (handmade)" and they make it fresh every morning. I'm guessing it might be "handmade / rolled" and then cut by machine perhaps? (not a big deal, it's still the freshest Soba I've had in So Cal regardless.)
And yah, as you say, we should count our blessings that L.A. has a few very good freshly-made Soba shops that offers a great relief from this heat. (^_~)
Machine-cut is what I was told, so yes, that sounds most likely - hand rolled then machine cut.
Seiro Soba is my favorite. (By the way, does anybody know the naming convention? I've heard it sometimes referred to as sarashina soba, and sometimes referred to as seiro soba.) It has the longest... soba narrative. I mean, when I close my eyes and *listen*, it has this long, unravalling series of tastes - first a taste line clean, pure water; then a taste like gentle nuts, then a taste like warm toasted something, then a taste like... pure wideness. Very hard to describe.
One thing at ichimian: besides straight zaru, I really like the version with the soba in cold, minimal broth, with seaweed, some veggies, and grated mountain yam.
re: Thi N.
As far as I know (and I ended up calling Otafuku to double check), Seiro and Sarashina are essentially the same. It's just a different name.
For me, I respect the Seiro Soba and love the freshness of it, but I find myself going back to Ichimian's Zaru Soba the most. Also, next time you're there, give their Mentai Oroshi Soba a try (which I mentioned above). Very nice layers of flavors without intruding on the beauty of the Soba noodle itself. (^_~)
How does Fukada compare to Ichimian? Just curious if it's worth the drive up to LA from South OC.
Thank you EK, for reviewing this. I finally had a chance to go, taking two Japanese guests who, unbeknownst to me, had also wanted to try it.
We all LOVED it. We had the yamakake, cold zaru soba and hot soba. We loved the flavour and the chew of the soba.
Unfortunately, the place is cash-only! As host, I was completely embarrassed that I had no cash.
Embarrassment aside, this was a great place. Thank you for continuing to put great finds on our collective radars!
First off, hounto ni sumimasen! Sorry, I forgot to make a note that it was cash only, forgive me. :( I've updated my original review with the information (must have slipped my mind).
I'm so glad you enjoyed the legendary Soba there, though, and your guests as well. :) If you enjoy Mentaiko, next time give their Mentai Oroshi Cold Soba (Hosomen (Thin)) a try; it's my current favorite. :)
The mentai oroshi is what I always end up getting! It is really great. I've been meaning to thank you, ek, for this rec and your other south bay reviews. I live in RH and am always bemoaning the fact that there isn't anything to eat. But thanks to your posts, I'm now a regular at Bincho and a semi-regular at ichimian!