Sarahina Horii, I’m not sure what to make of it right now.
I’m part of the group that still mourns the loss of Honmura An. We found some respite when Matsugen opened. But it could never fill the void that was left by closing of HA. But as we didn’t have an alternative, we went to Matsugen often. I recall they had a fabulous sake list and that is where a somm turned me onto nigori. Then Matsugen closed. I cursed JGV for not having renewed the lease.
So when I found out that Sarashina Horii was opening a NY branch, I quickly made a reservation. Walking up Park Avenue one fine summer evening, its was as though a party had spilled out into all the streets. Even though I was outside, the buzz on the street made me feel like I was practically in a club. I turned the corner and all the sudden realized that our destination was across the street from Gramercy Tavern. My dear wife says that’s a place we need to get back to.
Walking inside, its calm and quiet. Serene away from the cacophony on the street. On the right is a large bar with bottles of sake arrayed in colors lining the walls. On the left across from the bar are some table that are set up under a series of wood slats that make the space intimate. We are seated there.
Perusing the menu, there’s the typical choice of hot or cold soba. Unlike at most places there are two styles of soba offered. The pale version which is almost white from the buckwheat being highly polished to a darker more robust noodle. I also see that you can order a standard serving size or a large.
I order the pale noddles cold with the dipping sauce and shrimp tempura. My wife orders kamo nanban (her default choice) with the darker noodle. We choose butter clams and fish cakes as appetizers. The start of the meal is very auspicious. The serve comes out and places a small bowl in front of each of us. Then she places this tiny white disk in the bowl. She pours in cool water and the disk swells into a small cool cloth to wash away grime from your hands. A fun parlor trick.
The starters come. The fish cakes are cold, sprinkled with fresh wasabi and very refreshing in an austere way. They’re followed by the clams which are rich in that buttery way you would expect from the name. My wife and I had to share using the large wooden spoon to scoop up the last bit of the broth.
Then we had a wait. And waited again. Then finally my cold soba is placed in front of me. The server said she would bring the other dish soon. Another wait. At least my food wasn’t getting cold. My wife tells me to start. I choose to wait. After what seemed like 5-10 minutes her soba arrives. It smells marvelous. The broth is intensely dark and ducky. I pour some of the sauce from the little pitcher into a bowl. Mix in some wasabi, green onions and grated daikon. I pick up some noodles and dip and bring the bowl to my mouth and slurp. I pause. The sauce is quite good. The fresh wasabi provides the right amount of excitement. But the noodles are wan. They seem over cooked. My wife has started her dish and she asks me if the noodles seem a little short, as if someone cut them up. I sample her dish. The broth tastes as good as it smells but her noodles are lacking too. And short. The shrimp tempura on the other hand are very good.
So the odd thing about our meal is that the weakest link was the noodles. At a noodle place. I’m hoping this is due to it being just open and that things get better. Its not that this was a bad meal. Not by any means. But we were comparing it to the places that had been before and at this point, it doesn’t measure up.
Oh, by the way the rest of the dining room is odd. Its a massive space with huge ceilings and some architectural elements hanging from above. But the space feels a little too clinical. Not that warm vibe Honmura An gave off or the cool city chic that Matsugen had. I’m glad we got our table. Much warmer there.
We will go again and hope it gets stronger.