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Muto

Review excerpt: It’s not the sort of place where you order, slurp and then dash off back to work. It feels cozy and comfortable, a place where you can settle in for a bit, even at lunchtime. And that is just as well, since Muto now only serves its noodles as part of multi-course set meals.

The omakase (chef’s choice) lunch is a five-course banquet in miniature. It starts with a couple of light appetizers: perhaps a classic sobaya snack such asyakimiso — rich, savory miso mixed with buckwheat grains and grilled until its upper surface is nicely crisped — or soba-dōfu, buckwheat flour set into a small tofu-like cube that comes adorned with uni (urchin) or tiny shrimp, or bathed in a thick, clear ankake sauce rich with crabmeat, depending on the time of year.

This is followed by a light fillet of grilled fish, tempura of sansai (wild plants such as fiddleheads) or bamboo shoots or, come autumn, mushrooms aplenty. At dinner, the central “main” dish is invariably a nabe hot pot — currently featuring delicate shirauo (whitebait) — which is cooked in front of you at the table. All is light, flavorful and prepared with finesse.

The culmination of every meal, though, will be the soba noodles that Muto still prepares daily in the tiny workshop at the back of his kitchen, and which are usually served in the seiro style — a tangle of cold noodles on a tray of woven bamboo. Light gray-brown in color, al dente in texture and with a subtle, nutty earthiness, they are simple, satisfying and wholesome, though gone in an instant.