Ippuku has a loyal following for its izakaya offerings. On most nights, you’d walk into a cloud of smoke in the Berkeley dining room as the grill masters cook up a variety of skewers.

But on Friday and Saturday, Ippuku opens up early and the grill is quiet except for a few snack items because the chefs are busy serving up hand-made soba noodles. The teuchi soba lunch service has been around for a few months, with the soba being made with buckwheat flour from Hokkaido province in Japan.

The menu is actually quite extensive for a soba-centric lunch. Soba is served hot in soup or cold alone (which is how I’ve eaten soba growing up in Hawaii). Ippuku creates variety by dressing up the soba with various toppings, such as tempura shrimp, seaweed, mountain yams, or natto (fermented soybeans).

Goma ae is sauteed spinach in a sesame-miso dressing

There are also a few snack items to fill out your lunch options, and even the simplest sounding snacks can be refined and perfectly done. Dashi maki ($5) is a Japanese omelet, simply cooked into a creamy folded omelet, almost like a French omelet except that it’s finished with a soy grill sauce.

Goma-ae ($4) is sautéed spinach that is cooked but still firm and made tasty with a sesame miso dressing.

I tried soba hot and cold on my two visits to Ippuku. When I went hot, I tried the tsukimi soba ($11), which is soba in broth with a poached egg. The tray of soba soup noodles came with pickled eggplant and grated daikon. The broth was nice and clean and the egg had just the right silky yolk, but the star really was the soba with its nice buckwheat flavor and cooked with the right bite.

When I went for the cold soba, I was intrigued by the tororo soba ($12), which is cold soba served with grated mountain yams. The grated mountain yams came in a bowl with a raw quail egg yolk on top. I quickly whipped the yolk with the yam, which created a frothy concoction that I poured over my plate of soba.

The frothy mixture gave the soba a slick texture like what you would imagine raw egg yolk to be like. Since I’m still not used to that texture (this is the restaurant that serves raw chicken as a delicacy) and the mountain yam was bland in flavor, I actually didn’t like that topping. I think I would be happy just ordering the plain zaru soba, which is the traditional cold soba served with a simple dipping sauce.

Ippuku’s soba lunch draws just as many eaters as its dinner service, even though Ippuku closes off the front of the restaurant early in lunch and only opens it when the number of people waiting grows higher, as it often does. The hand-made soba really shines with its definite flavor and perfect bite.

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps

 

 

Ippuku, 2130 Center St. (between Shattuck and University), Berkeley. PH: 510-665-1969. Teuchi soba lunch, Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. www.ippukuberkeley.com

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For lunch, Ippuku separates the dining room by half, filing up the back before the curtain comes down (if the crowd arrives)

Tsukimi soba is hot soba noodles with a poached egg

Dashi maki is a delicate Japanese omelet finished with a soy grill sauce

A quiet table at Ippuku

Tororo soba is from the cold soba section where soba is served with a topping of grated mountain yam and a raw quail egg yolk

Chefs making more soba by rolling out the dough and hand cutting each noodle

Ippuku’s teuchi soba lunch is only available on Friday and Saturday.

3 Responses to Grill Shuts Down for Soba Making

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    Cold soba with a raw egg topping? Hmmm, maybe a better breakfast for Rocky Balboa? ;)
    The egg omelet looks delightful!

  2. Foodhoe says:

    Oh I love the slippery texture of tororo, and mixed with raw egg and frsh handmade noodles. that sounds absolutely sublime! I must check this out! Do they now allow photography or did you have to use your secret infrared camera?

    • Ben Ben says:

      Well, you ate the raw chicken dish so you’d probably like the tororo soba! LOL. So for the photos, they no longer have that sign outside saying no photography (except they still have a ban sign against cell phone usage). Still, I didn’t want to be obvious so I took these photos with my iPhone because it looks less obvious. At the grill station, there is still a no photography sign there, I guess because they don’t want people taking pictures of the chefs while they work. But I ended up getting shots of the soba making because the chefs started rolling out the soba and the waitresses started telling regulars to come and look, and those people started taking pictures. So I just jumped in to and took pictures, but again with just my iPhone.

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