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Mar 24, 2011 08:38 PM

Soba Koh – Underrated Soba in the East Village

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For some reason I feel like soba and Soba Koh get no love. When people talk about Japanese food in New York they always talk about sushi and ramen. Although these dishes more than deserved to be talked about, there is a lot more to Japanese food. Soba as a dish certainly deserves more praise as does Soba Koh.

Soba is one of those dishes that I didn’t fully appreciate when I was a kid, but as I grew up I really started to like soba and now it’s something I eat fairly regularly. Lucky for me, New York has opened up some pretty decent soba specialists such as Soba Koh and Cocoron, I’ve yet to make it to Soba Totto or 15 East (although I’ve been to 15 East many times just not for soba), but those are on my list.

The restaurant is clean looking with exposed brick walls, dark wood floors and tables. If you walk in at the right time the head chef will be hand making the soba in a small glass room at the front of the restaurant. The service is always good.

On to the food:
- Tamagoyaki: Tamagoyaki is a sweet Japanese omelet that is made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg. I was obsessed with tamago when I was a kid and I think I still am. The version here is quite good, the sweet egg-y flavor is great and the texture is just right, fluffy and moist, but not too moist. They serve it with minced daikon and soy sauce. You put the daikon on top of the tamagoyaki and dip it in the soy sauce. I’m not sure everyone will love this as much as I do because I just really like tamagoyaki, but I think everyone would at least find it good. 7.75/10
- Flash Fried Shishito Pepper: Shishito peppers have a great flavor that is really conducive to being flash fried and salt gives it an extra bit of flavor that really takes it up a notch. The version at Soba Koh is not the best version I’ve ever had, but it is a decent version and is a nice start to the meal. 7/10
- Anago Sushi: They always have specials that are changing, this was one of them. It was anago (sea eel) with the typical sweet thick eel sauce. It wasn’t bad, but I had eaten at Yasuda about a week before, so it just paled in comparison to the best eel in the city. 6.5/10
- Unagi: This was the same as the anago, it was decent, but having Yasuda a week before just raises the bar. 6.5/10
- Soba Tofu: This is pretty interesting. It’s a tofu made from buckwheat (soba). It’s a very light and has a nice buckwheat flavor. It’s served with wasabi, shredded shiso leaf and soy sauce. It’s not going to blow your socks off, but it’s pretty decent. 6.75/10
- Natto Cold Soba: The soba at Soba Koh has a great texture where it is soft, but still has a slight chew. The buckwheat flavor is simple and great. This soba is actually a special soba that uses buckwheat from Canada, which is why the color is quite a bit darker than the other soba you’ll see. It is served with natto (fermented beans), diced green onion, minced daikon, wasabi and a soy sauce based dipping sauce. I dump the diced green onion, minced daikon and wasabi into the dipping sauce then take some soba dip it into the sauce and put some natto on it. This was great for me, but I will warn people that natto is an acquired taste as it’s got a strong fermented flavor and it’s slimy. 7.5/10
- Uni Ikura Cold Soba: This is my favorite dish at Soba Koh; cold soba in a bowl with uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon eggs), wasabi, nori (roasted seaweed) and shiso leaf. A light soy based broth is served on the side. The combo of the ingredients is wonderful. I highly recommend this dish. 7.75/10
- Tempura Hot Soba: My gf always orders this dish. Hot soba is very different from cold soba as the soba has a totally different texture. The broth is a nice soy sauce based broth that has yuzu in it, which gives it a citrus-y flavor. They make some of the better tempura in the city, it’s not overly breaded or oily and the batter doesn’t slip off the shrimp and vegetables the way bad tempura does. I recommend dipping the tempura in only as you eat it. I find that the oil from the tempura gives the broth a nice flavor, but if you dump it all in then the tempura gets all soggy. 7/10
- Anago Tempura Cold Soba: This is simply soba, anago (sea eel) tempura and the dipping sauce. Simple, but everything is good. 7.5/10

Overall, I really like Soba Koh and I’d highly recommend coming here.

309 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Glad to hear Soba Koh is still going strong...i liked it the times i went when it first opened but haven't been since i returned to NYC (from Japan) a couple weeks ago...

    i agree about soba not getting enough love...sadly i think this is starting to become true in Japan as soba places in Japan, i usually see lots of older people and saririmen, but younger people much less often...but i could be wrong...i would be interested to hear Silverjay's take on soba's waning or waxing popularity and demographics...

    i did go to Soba Totto on Monday and was very pleased...they had Towari (100% buckwheat) soba as a special and it was yummy...tempura was just ok...morokyu (cucumber w/ miso paste) was a nice compliment but a put overpriced at 7.50 and yuba sashimi (8 dollars) was ok but perhaps the worst version of that dish i've ever had (a bit dry and chewy instead of the nice fresh milky variety)...still, i liked the atmosphere and the soba noodles and the shochu so i was very happy...will surely hitn Soba Koh again soon to compare...

    With the passing of Matsugen, which i liked for its dark, high-buckwheat inaka soba, i imagine i will be hitting both Totto and Koh very often...also need to try Cocoron...

    Soba Totto
    211 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017

    61 Delancey St, New York, NY 10002

    6 Replies
    1. re: Simon

      interesting re: trends in japan...i hope thats not the case, but i could see that happening as it's a very subtle and light dish which i feel like is underappreciated sometimes b/c people want big bold stuff

      i really want to try 15 east b/c it's the old chef from honmura an which was my previous favorite soba place, ill def try totto soon

      cocoron is good, but its less traditional than the others, so it is a bit's my review of cocoron:

      1. re: Lau

        Cocoron sounds fun, though my personal preference is for traditional cold soba, the darker/more-buckwheaty the better, w/ tempura...

        Will try the 15 East soba too...i used to like Honmura An...but, as much as i love soba, at 15 East it will take a lot of willpower to eat soba instead of Masato-san's sushi...(when he was at Jewel Bako i used to go there frighteningly often -- but on principal i never returned to JB once he left)...

        15 East
        15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

        Jewel Bako
        239 E 5th St, New York, NY 10003

        61 Delancey St, New York, NY 10002

        1. re: Simon

          yah he is one of the better sushi chefs in the city for sure, JB has gone way way downhill

          cocoron's noodles are fairly traditional and good quality, but it is the toppings etc that are different

          1. re: Simon

            Give Cocoron a try, it's very good. They have cold soba that is served with different dipping broths. Very good yuba too. As for desserts, I've only had the black sesame cheesecake and it was very nice.

            61 Delancey St, New York, NY 10002

            1. re: chucha

              btw i heard that 15 East no longer has honmura an's soba chef, the soba is supposed to still be good but not as good as before

              15 East
              15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

        2. re: Simon

          Well, soba's heyday was about 150 years ago during the Edo Era...I find these days, it's more considered a lunch option in Japan. Every neighborhood's sure to have a few soba shops. Many close early in the evening. I can't really get my head around going out for a planned dinner at a soba restaurant, let alone getting a dish with uni and ikura at one. It's usually a quick meal. We usually make soba at home so much during the summer, it's not really the type of thing I'd go out to dinner for in NYC. But Soba Koh certainly sounds good based on this review and we'll have to check it out- 'specially the uni/ ikura option.

        3. Soba Koh's ikura/uni soba is one of my favorite dishes in the world. I think it's an actual perfect food.

          3 Replies
          1. re: small h

            haha yah its pretty damn good

            1. re: Lau

              I've done a lot of editing work (both images and words), so my natural inclination is always to wonder "how could this be better?" The only improvement I can think of for this dish is to serve more of it, for less money. I feel the same way about El Quinto Pino's uni panini, so perhaps I'm just a cheap-ass sea urchin slut.

              El Quinto Pino
              401 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011