Cocoron New York City
By Jennifer HoMay 26 2012 · 1 comment · Dining Out
The bright orange colour that seems hallmark to the cheery little soba shop is hard to miss walking down Delancey street. Cartoon figures welcome you from the windows and wait for you between the pages of the menu, helpfully pointing out nutritional benefits as well as tips and suggestions on how best to enjoy your meal there. Instructional cards are handed out according to the dish ordered, giving you a little bit of extra info on the history of the dish and the method of traditional consumption. Cocoron seats fourteen people at maximum capacity, all spots with a good view of the open kitchen. I remember sitting at the L-shaped wooden bar and watching the chefs prepare, cook and plate countless dishes over the late lunch hour at a precise, efficient pace. I and my fellow diners were completely mesmerized by their perfectly synchronized movements. In the tiny space that comprised only of several short feet by several even shorter feet, they were never in each others way – there were no bumps, hits or misses. Everything and everyone had their place, a purpose and role to play. Observing them brought about a sense of calm and order – a feeling that is hard to find in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Working with a practiced rhythm that I can’t say I’ve seen anywhere else, being able to be a part of that experience was amazing.
If you’ve read my post on Momofuku Milk Bar you’ll recall the reason for our trip to New York in the first place was the search for authentic, delicious Japanese food. Here was one of the places where we found it. The level and the quality of the food is virtually unavailable in Montreal, so I can tell you we were more than satisfied.
Looking through the menu, we decided on several of the daily specials. First up – the homemade silky tofu atop a thick green leaf, served with seaweed strips, bonito flakes and thinly sliced green onions. With just a pinch of each ingredient, every mouthful was smooth and soft and full of subtle flavour. We liked it so much that we ordered a second serving.
The pork and okara croquettes were perfectly crispy. Hot all the way through, the soft insides were firmly held together by a crunchy exterior. These went quickly – with only four on the plate and four people in our party, we each only had one. These are the kinds of poppers that you can snack on forever and still find them tasty and keep your appetite. The daikon mochi was served with radish, burdock root and yuzu pepper. You’ll be hard pressed to find a dish like this anywhere else. With a sticky, elastic consistency true to what you’d find at a local eatery in Japan, this rice cake was a favourite among us.
As little side dishes, we had the namuru – boiled watercress with sesame oil as well as the chopped wasabi. These are tiny things, fitting as accompaniments to dishes rather than acting as dishes themselves. The wasabi was particularly good – being homemade, it had a unique texture and a distinct spiciness that made your nose burn and your eyes water, if you weren’t careful. Take care to smear only a dollop onto your foods for the optimal spice level.
Onto the noodles. I had the cold natto soba which was said to help hangovers, revive the stomach and purify the bloodstream. I think this one was the most fun to eat out of all the dishes we ordered – first, I was given a tray with a raw egg, soy sauce, sliced green onions as well as a bowl full of sesame seeds, equipped with a pestle. I was instructed to grind my sesame seeds into a fine powder. Once that was done, my cold noodles came topped with heaping portions of natto, seaweed, cucumbers and bonito flakes. All the accoutrements were added and voila! There I had it. The most delicious soba noodle bowl I have have ever had. Strongly recommended! Here’s a tip – try not to finish all the leftover liquid at the end. You’ll be given a traditional red teapot full of boiling broth to add into the bowl in order to release the Vitamin C and rutin contained in soba noodles. Nutrient rich and delicious, this is something that you’ll only get with the cold soba dishes.
We also had an order of the yuba soba which came with homemade tofu skin and watercress as well as two special orders of the sansai soba with mountain vegetables, deep fried tempura, tofu and scallions. Noodles all around tasted slightly nutty in flavour and were cooked perfectly al dente. Whether served hot in soup or cold with a dipping sauce, every single dish we had that day was just phenomenal. Yum.
Not ready to leave just yet, we had to try some of the desserts. We had the tapioca with frozen fruits – which I know must sound a little strange. Usually, you’ll have fresh fruits garnishing your dishes, not frozen ones! But in this case, it worked wonderfully well. With a mint leaf on top giving the dessert a fresh flavour profile, the thing as a whole was refreshing and cool. The green tea ice cream with mochi, red beans and a thick, intense green tea sauce was complimented by a cornflake base and the ice cream mochi was a pleasant mouthful.
After eating here, I can understand why Cocoron was named the best soba shop in 2011 by New York Magazine. With a quiet, understated elegance and sophistication, Cocoron is a place that has been consistently written up about by critics in the restaurant scene with rave reviews. It is certainly well deserved.
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