It’s not hard to miss the humble wooden gateway that marks the entrance to Dashin Soan. Overshadowed by the massive ginkgo trees of the temple grounds opposite, it is set back unobtrusively from the street, flanked by bamboo and shrubs.
Just a 10-minute walk from the bustling, souk-like streets around Shimokitazawa Station, you have arrived in the quiet, residential neighborhood of Daizawa. Pass through this simple, classic portal with its moss-flecked roof and long, lemon-yellow noren curtain, and you’ll find yourself in a garden courtyard, an oasis of green and calm. Now it’s time for noodles.
Dashin Soan’s specialty is soba. Since it opened some 15 years ago, connoisseurs have been making their way here from across the city, drawn as much by the setting as the reputation of the te-uchi (hand-kneaded, rolled and cut) buckwheat noodles.
After the cool verdancy of the garden, the dining room feels surprisingly plain and unadorned. This is intentional: Just like the tea ceremony, the soba aesthetic aims to elevate rustic simplicity and mindfulness. Nothing should be allowed to interfere with your appreciation of the moment — or the noodles.
Dashin Soan offers a substantial side menu of appetizers to nibble on ahead of the main event, the soba. These are also intended as sakana — dishes for pairing with sake or other alcoholic drinks — another key component of soba culture.
Dashin Soan prides itself on its excellent drinks list, with a particular emphasis on premium sake and fine wine. Sadly, these are precluded under the “new normal,” so, apart from tea, for now we must make do with non-alcoholic beer or sparkling wine.
But of course, no further liquid encouragement is needed to recognize that the cooking here is of an impressive quality. The simplest and best way to sample it, especially on your first visit, is to just order the hiruzen set lunch menu (¥4,000).
It opens with a selection of three otoshi appetizers. On the right you will find two slices of juicy duck breast, with a small dab of fiery mustard. This is kyōgamo (Kyoto duck), one of the most flavorful breeds in the country.
In the center stands a small bowl of freshly made kumiage yuba, soy milk that has been carefully heated until it starts to solidify and form a delicate, soft skin. Offset with just a few drops of shoyu (soy sauce) and a trace of freshly grated wasabi, it is rich and creamy, with a gentle sweetness and nary a trace of the beany flavor so prevalent in tofu.
And on the left, a seasonal ohitashi (simmered vegetable dish), which currently features a single plump tomato, cooked whole in dashi stock and sliced before serving. Attention taste buds: The juice explodes on the palate like a sweet-acidic-umami bomb.
Next up comes a small selection of tempura. This will include half a chunky scallop; a cut of hamo conger eel wrapped in fragrant shiso herb; a single young okra; tender baby corn the size of your pinky; and a slice of the sweetest orange kabocha squash.
Tempura has long been one of the classic pairings with soba noodles, and the quality of the deep-frying goes a long way to establishing the reputation of any sobaya worth its salt. It’s safe to say that with its light batter and excellent ingredients, Dashin Soan passes the tempura test with flying colors.
The ultimate criterion, though, is the quality of the noodles. Here, two different styles of soba are made each day. For the kake soba (hot noodles in broth), a standard 20-to-80 ratio of wheat to buckwheat is used to ensure the noodles hold together properly.
But for the cold mori soba, the noodles are jūwari, made from 100% buckwheat with no wheat used as a binder. Currently made from organic buckwheat grown near Narita, Chiba Prefecture, they are light in color, display a delicate, nutty flavor, and are expertly chopped to a very delicate thickness.
Interestingly, there is no single soba master in charge at Dashin Soan at present. Instead, the chopping and cutting duties are rotated and shared among a team of four artisans. On the basis of the excellent jūwari noodles that are currently being served, this does not seem to affect the consistency and quality.
Finally, a lightly sweetened dessert of tōnyū purin (soy milk custard) is served, topped with slivers of Yugawara lemon confit. As with the yuba, this custard is made from soy milk that is shipped daily from a specialist producer in Fukuoka Prefecture. It’s a suitably classy but understated dessert, and a great way to bring the meal to a close.
In April, the owner of Dashin Soan opened a yakitori restaurant on the other side of Shimokitazawa, close by Setagaya-Daita Station. Called Gasshin Yuan, it specializes in both chicken and kyōgamo duck, and is just as assured and refined as the parent operation.
Daizawa 3-7-14, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 155-0032; 03-5431-0141; www.dashinsoan.jp; open 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., 5:30-9:30 p.m. (Sat., Sun., hols. 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.); closed Tue.; noodles from ¥1,700, set lunch from ¥2,800; takeout available; nonsmoking; cash only; English menu; some English spoken
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