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).
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