Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I stumbled upon this restaurant while flipping through this Japanese restaurant guide that I picked up while at Kyoto Ramen. Embedded in a sea of Japanese characters sat a photo of a man making what looked like noodles. With the little Japanese that I was able to read, I figured out that he was making soba. Fresh, handmade soba??!! After doing a little research, I was excited to surprise my soba-loving boyfriend with a trip to Matsugen! I loved this place so much that I've already gone there twice in the last three weeks! During the second visit, I took my Japan-born grandma and she gave it her stamp of approval! "Oishii!!"
Matsugen was filled with Japanese nationals slurpping freshly made soba noodles. When you first enter the restaurant, there is a mill grinding the imported buckwheat into flour. Inside the tiny restaurant, there is a glass display area. If you're there at the right time, you can watch the soba maker making noodles, just minutes before it is presented to you in your meal! Its amazing to see the skill involved with making the noodles!
The menu is handwritten with kanji and english writing. Inside you'll find an assortment of unique appetizers, tempura, kobe beef, udon, and of course, soba!
My favorite appetizer was the "age-soba" or deep fried soba. Small pieces of soba noodles are deep fried and topped with seaweed. These light, crispy snacks were a perfect complement to a glass of beer or the "frozen sake."
The organic tofu was both silky and creamy. Served with katsuo (bonito flakes) and green onions and a special sauce, this appetizer melts in your mouth! Also delicious was the grilled miso with vegetables. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was a wooden rice paddle covered with miso and placed under a grill. Sticks of carrotts and yama-imo are used to scrape off the yummy miso goodness!! The miso was definitely high quality!
The light and crispy tempura was prepared with precision. Unlike the heavy, greasy tempura that you would find at an okazu-ya, this tempura was perfection! The assortment included two shrimps, a piece of fish, squid, shiitake mushroom, okra, onion, sweet potato, kabocha, and parsley. Delicious!
Now for the SOBA! :) Let me tell you, these noodles exceeded my expectations! I would suggest trying the basic "mori" soba first. The noodles are served on the traditional bamboo mat. I carefully dipped the noodles into the sauce and slurpped them into my mouth. The noodles were both firm and chewey with a slightly nutty flavor. Mmmm!! If you want to try something a little different, but still basic, you could try the cold "inaka" soba. This soba is slightly darker in color and includes the " outer shell" of the buckwheat. These noodles have a grittier texture and is a little more nutty in flavor. Both are great choices.
Being the Natto-lover that I am, I had to try the "Natto Bukkake." This soba is served cold and topped with natto, yama-imo, okra, shiso, green onions, katsuo, wakame, and a soft-poached egg. This was a mouth-full of natto heaven!! :) Each element of this dish had a different texture and flavor to combine into one magnificent masterpiece! I know I must sound crazy, but I LOVED it! To top it all off, this dish comes with "soba-yu" at the end of the meal. The waiter brings a small teapot filled with the water that the soba noodles were boiled in. The soba-yu is poured into the remaining soba tsuyu (sauce) so that you can drink it. The waitress said that its a great way to end the meal and its also very healthy!
The second time that I visited Matsugen, I tried the hot soba. I selected the special for the night, which was "Sansai Yama-imo." The soba noodles were in a hot broth and topped with sansai (mountain vegetables) and yama-imo. The soba served warm takes on a completely different taste and texture! Rather than the firm, chewey texture of the cold noodles, the warm noodles are delicate and tender.
My grandma's selection was the "kamojiru." This was a bowl of steaming hot soba served with tender pieces of duck. The broth was much richer than the "sansai yama-imo" broth, as it had hints of duck in it. She was thoroughly impressed with the dish!
I can honestly say that this was the best soba I have ever tasted. Matsugen is the soba version of my favorite udon restaurant, Jimbo! I will surely be visiting Matsugen again!
255 Beachwalk Ave.