Atariya makes stopping at Shin-Osaka Station a treat

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

For most people, Shin-Osaka Station is a transit stop rather than a destination. That’s understandable as there’s not too much to stick around for. But if you’re at a loss for food options, at least there’s Atariya, a family-run soba restaurant that’s a 10-minute walk from the station.

Like many good soba places, Atariya has a nice homely feeling to it. The austerity of the bare cement walls and chunky wooden tables and chairs is offset by shelves that display sake cups and cooking pots. There’s a few tables and a long counter from where you can peek into the kitchen where chef and owner Yasuhito Doi is busy making, and tasting, stock.

When visiting for lunch it’s worth it to try and beat the afternoon rush to secure one of the tenshin lunches — there are only 10 served each day, and it’s first come, first served. As soba lunch sets go, it’s varied, creative and at ¥1,800 it might the best value lunch set in Osaka.

With the tenshin lunch, the soba comes after a plate of Japanese-style hors d’oeuvres. The standout dish for me was perhaps the simplest: yakimiso (grilled miso). Doi’s miso mixture is, from what I could discern, a mix of the white and red varieties and the result, after a quick grilling, has a deep umami-filled fruity flavor. I’d wager it’s not an Atariya innovation, the yakimiso is served on a rice paddle and while it’s a small serving it’s nonetheless beguiling. I even ordered seconds.

The appetizers also include a dish of creamy tofu, lightly seasoned with soy sauce. The servings here are uniformly small, but ordering off the menu is an option if you want more. That may be the best strategy for the duck, which is a few slices that are quickly seared and topped with miso. Alongside the duck and tucked into a separate bowl are squid tentacles hidden beneath a plum sauce. Whereas the duck is tender, the squid offers more bite, a nice side-by-side contrast.

The main event is the soba, served hot or cold depending on your preference. The morisoba is cooked al dente and served chilled in the usual basket. Soba is a simple dish and Doi does little to detract from this. The scallions and wasabi are served separately, and the tsuyu dipping sauce is a finely balanced mix of dashi and soy sauce, with the saltiness toned down. Also worth a taste are Doi’s seasonal soba dishes, especially the sudachi (citrus fruit) with duck, and the oyster and leek. But it’s the tenshin lunch that is worth turning a stopover at Shin-Osaka Station into a detour.

In line with the nationwide state of emergency declared on April 16, the government is strongly requesting that residents stay at home whenever possible and refrain from visiting bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.
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