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A Little Bit of Soba Here and There: Soba Totto and Cocoron

August 28, 2011

So I have been sitting on these two reviews of Soba Totto and Cocoron for almost 3 weeks now.  I wanted to compare them head to head to see who has the best soba but it has been a rather difficult entry to start.  The more I think back at the two meals, the more I realize that both restaurants are great, just depends on what you are looking for.

Let’s start with Soba Totto (simply because it was the first one I ate at).  This one dates back to my birthday dinner.  I was searching for a place to seek out for some noodles – a tradition for birthdays in China.  After contemplating briefly the possibility of waiting in line at Totto Ramen in the humid August heat, I decided that I wanted comfort more than ramen.  Soba Totto is in a neighborhood that dies on the weekends, losing the normal weekday work crowd.  Lucky for us, this meant no wait as we were led through the spacious yet cavernous restaurant.

Being part of the Totto family means that there are a lot of familiar items on the menu including Yakitori don and chicken meatball.  The main attraction here which took up majority of the menu is, of course, soba.  If I remember correctly, there were more than 20 different types, divided into cold and hot.  I was a little baffled at where to start but JZ offered some good guidance and I found my soba of choice, Kamo Shio soba – a hot soba with salt and lemon broth and duck slices.

First, a little chilled salad of snow crab legs and scallops with vinegar.  The perfect little light bite to share before the noodles.

While JZ and I went with soba, the roommate stuck with an all-time favorite at Yakitori Totto, the Yakitori Don.  The Kamo Shio soba (salt broth with duck slices) was light and savory.  A light citrus flavor perked up the broth and the duck slices were tender and melted in my mouth.  I snuck a bite of JZ’s Towari soba, one that they only make a few bowls of each day.  The cold noodles retained a great bite and was perfect for dipping into the hot sake and duck infused broth.

The best part about this meal was that it was so light that we still had room for dessert.  I have to admit that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we went with the trio of dessert tasting.  Now it wasn’t so much a tasting as it was three full sized dessert! Everything was beautifully presented and I just loved the frost on the blackberries and the raspberries, highlighting each kernel.  The desserts were more westernized that I had wanted and sadly, nothing really stood out to me flavor-wise.

Overall, I really liked my meal at Soba Totto – great noodles in a nice spacious setting.  I guess the taste of soba really stuck with me because merely 5 days later, I found myself at another soba joint.  This time, we were all the way downtown in Lower East Side by Allen and Delancey at Cocoron.   Interior wise, Cocoron was a stark contrast to Soba Totto.  I counted the seats while we waited in line outside and there were a grand total of 15 seats, with 9 at the bar and 3 sets of table for 2 to the side.  I secretly hoped that we were going to get a seat at the bar so I can see the chefs in action and my wish was granted, 45 minutes later.  By then, I was ravenous from the delicious smells that snuck out whenever the front doors opened.

We started with two appetizers: pork and okara croquettes and tako wasa (marinated raw octopus).  Now, the pork and okara croquettes were pretty straight-forward – fried balls of creamy pork and okara puree.  The tako wasa is a little more of an acquired taste.  I had it for the first time at Yakitori Totto and it was weirdly delicious – chewy bites of raw octopus with big punches of wasabi.  The tako wasa at Cocoron was fresh and bright and I was glad that my dining mates didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for this particular dish.

Now Cocoron does only soba and does it a few different ways.  At the suggestion of our waiter and various reviews I had read, AD and I went with the Stamina dipping soba.  The dipping sauce came in a little pot perched on top of a bed of gel like coals that lit without smoke, keeping the broth piping hot.  The sauce was filled with pork slices, chicken meatballs and mushroom slices.  The soba noodles sat on the side in a mat, just asking to be dipped in the broth.  Cooking it for 5-10 seconds made the slightly undercooked soba noodles just the right texture.  We were all silent as we buried our faces into the noodles.  While our broth and LC’s kimchee pork soba were deliciously flavorful, DK’s chicken soba didn’t quite measure up.  I could just tell the disappointment on his face when he had a sample of our broth.

As we finished up the noodles (a large for me – all gone within minutes), the waitress came around to drop off a red wooden pitcher and spoons.  She also gave us a laminated instruction sheet on how to enjoy the soba.  Following the instructions, we each poured the soba water into the remainder of our sauce, diluting it into a light broth that warmed my stomach.

Desserts choices at Cocoron weren’t quite as numerous as at Soba Totto.  AD and I zoomed in onto two, a green tea affogato and a coconut tapioca, right away and the boys had really no say.

Imagine my delight to find that these two desserts were almost replicas of two desserts that I loved from Yakitori Totto (no longer on the menu)!  The coconut tapioca is a creamy pudding with frozen banana pieces and various fresh berries nestled in and topped with chiffonade of mint leaves.  The frozen bananas and berries punctuated the sweet coconut tapioca pudding with freshness.  I could eat a whole bowl of this all by myself.

The green tea affogato was built up with corn flakes on the bottom, filled with green tea ice cream and topped with red beans, mochi bites and condensed milk.  It came with a little cup of concentrated matcha and we watched it seep through out the dessert and dug in.  The  flavors and textures all balanced each other out, sweetness from the red beans, the bitter from the tea, the creaminess cold from the ice cream and the crunchy corn flakes.  Unfortunately, one downside of the hot matcha was that it left a few undesirable bitter bites of soggy corn flakes at the bottom.

So my thoughts overall after writing this long entry?  Still conflicted but I can say that both meals were delicious.  Soba Totto is elegant and quiet for when you want something light and minimalist.  Cocoron, just like its name means in Japanese, is heart warming and cozy with heartier dishes.  Both restaurants have delicate and handmade soba noodles that will pull me to travel outside of my normal haunts.  You really can’t go wrong with either but you should be prepared to wait outside in the elements when you head to Cocoron, regardless of the day or time.

Soba Totto | 211 East 43rd Street, New York, NY 10017 | http://www.sobatotto.com

Cocoron | 61 Delancey Street, New York, NY 10002 | http://cocoron-soba.com/

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