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Soba Ichi

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Chef Koichi Ishii handmakes the jyuwari (100 percent buckwheat flour) and nihachi (an 80 to 20 percent mix of buckwheat and wheat flour) soba at West Oakland's Soba Ichi.

 

Here’s a question: Why is ramen a local fetish while its buckwheat cousin, soba, has been overlooked, relegated to a role as packaged dry good or a limp bento-box side dish? The answer lies, in part, with ramen’s salty, fatty profile and its rightful reputation as lusty, late-night booze food. Then there’s the matter of learning curves and labor. Soba is, at its best, handmade—but handmade soba does not come quick or cheap. The good news is the dining arc bends toward better, broader options. And, these days, it points to Soba Ichi in West Oakland. Chef Koichi Ishii, who staffers describe as a “soba master,” goes about his noodle-making duties in a glassed-in nook just inside the entrance. His diligence gives rise to two kinds of soba: jyuwari and nihachi. Both are nutty in flavor, though that nuttiness runs deeper in the all-buckwheat jyuwari. The kitchen also doles out soba as hot soup, which comes in variations on a theme: one brimming with spindly nameko mushrooms and grated daikon, and another with green onions and Japanese parsleylike mitsuba. The menu features an array of spot-on Japanese starters and share plates—ranging from rice dishes to eclectic tempura. One of several musts is the mushidori: slivers of poached, chilled chicken breasts gussied up with a shiso-perfumed ginger-and-herb salad, and garnished with a sticky sauce of salted plum. For dessert, sobacha mousse, or buckwheat tea, is crowned with sobacha gelee—a sublime dish with hints of toasted grains. 2311 Magnolia St. (near West Grand Avenue), West Oakland, 510.465.1969

 

Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco 

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