Imose, a genteel soba restaurant, shows its character from half a block away. It’s a short walk from Tamatsukuri Station on the Osaka Loop Line veering away from Nagahori Dori into a quieter residential zone with a handful of businesses.
Rather like an oasis — except here it’s in a cement and gray desert — Imose stands out with its verdant entrance, complete with a wooden well covered over with a Japanese maple tree and vines that grow untrammeled. The noren curtain-covered entrance is set back from the street and there’s a wooden bench and some stools for waiting.
Inside the bucolic theme continues. Imose is essentially a long narrow restaurant; it’s also the home of the husband-and-wife team who run it. It’s not uncommon to find a line of people waiting by the well outside Imose, and even when you do get a seat, the waiting time can continue, as it’s a small team.
So, bear with them and enjoy the surroundings, or feel free to take a magazine from the mound at the end of the long single table hewn from a great hulk of enoki (Japanese hackberry). Throughout the restaurant, little trinkets and plants are placed on shelves giving Imose a homely, cozy feeling.
While you peruse the menu you’ll be served warm tea — given the season — and the soba equivalent of fries. In this case its fried soba served cold with a generous shaking of salt. They are an addictive snack.
Soba purists you might want to go with either inaka soba (a dark variety) or the jūwari soba (made with 100-percent soba flour), both of which are served cold on the curved bamboo baskets known as zaru.
Another area on the menu you might want to explore are the appetizers. The kaki no hazushi (¥400) can be ordered in a set of three, or singly. It comes gift wrapped: Unwrap the generous persimmon leaf and inside you’ll find a serving of rice clamped together with a shard of cured mackerel. This is one for those who like strong bold flavors.
In contrast, the soba broths (tsuyu) at Imose are more delicate. There’s also a few soba dishes here that you won’t come across too often. If you’re a fan of yuba, the delicate gossamer-like sheaths of tofu, definitely order the yuba tōji soba (¥1,200). Unlike most of the other soba dishes, it’s served in a delicious warm broth with a tiny hint of yuzu. Layers of the pale yellow yuba cover the buckwheat soba, which is cut quite thin but has a sturdy al dente texture once cooked.
Another standout was the suzushiro soba (¥1,000). Served in a gallant earthenware bowl, the buckwheat noodles are mixed through with strips of thin Chinese radish, myōga (Japanese ginger), perilla and sesame seeds, and topped with a slice of lemon. The tsuyu comes separately. Once mixed, this is a radiant and punchy dish. After you finish, drain the remaining sauce into your cup and fill with soba-yu (soba water). Or you could take up the menu and turn to the sake pages for an aperitif.
2-9-2 Tamatsukuri, Chuo-ku, Osaka; 06-6762-5147; www.geocities.jp/soba_imose; nearest stations Tamatsukuri, Morinomiya; soba dishes from ¥800; open 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday; no smoking; Japanese menu
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5