We walk in, are greeted by a friendly female server, and hang up our coats on the wall. We get lucky-- two counter seats just opened up -- and we are seated with full view of the chef and his assistant at work. English menu is not available here, nor does the server speak English but don't let that intimidate you. The chef speaks English and pleasantly says to us "How may I help you?" so we end up ordering directly from him. We have in mind to order some of the specialty items which we learnt how to say in Japanese prior to coming to Narutomi (thanks to helpful online reviews!). We sit back, enjoy the lovely afternoon, and watch the kitchen.
At Narutomi, cooking the soba comes down to precision to get the desired consistency of the right texture for the noodles. The process of boiling the noodles is an uninterrupted routine. Unlike the dried and packaged uncooked soba we commonly see at stores, the sous chef takes a bunch of the soft and fresh uncooked soba out from a box, with still some excess flour on the soba. He gently loosens and unclumps the noodle in his hands before dropping the soba into a big pot of vigorous boiling water. Right away the timer is set to count down from 2 minutes. Just as the rising layer of thick foam (from the excess flour from the noodles) threatens to flow out of the big pot of boiling water, the timer rings for the assistant. Perfect timing at its best. He scoops out the soba, rinses it in a colander over cold running tap water, and dips it into the pot of boiling water again but just for one second before placing the noodles onto a bamboo basket for serving. The process repeats as orders come in.
One of the favorites at Narutomi is the kamo nanban which is soba served in duck broth with slices of duck breast and negi (Japanese scallions). The medium rare duck breast is sliced and placed over the noodles. Hot broth is then poured over the meat and noodles, turning the duck from medium rare to medium with a light pink center. The duck is unbelievably tender and the broth is a delight to drink them all up. Despite sitting in a bowl of hot broth, the firmness of the soba is perfect- soft yet firm.
Best known for their scallop tenseiro, this platter of tempura includes scallop, lotus root, and shishito peppers. The tempura is served the purist way with a side of salt. Tempura purists like to eat their tempura by sprinkling some salt over the pieces instead of dipping them into the sauce. If you just want a side of vegetables, the tempura moriawase (chef's selection of vegetables for the day) include burdock root, shishito peppers, and baby corn.
Zaru soba is probably the most simple, popular, and enjoyable way to eat the noodles. Most people are familiar with zaru soba as it is commonly served at Japanese restaurants outside of Japan-- you take some of the soba from the bamboo basket tray, dip them into the small bowl of dipping broth, and slurp up. Then repeat. At Narutomi, the simple ritual of enjoying zaru soba is made a little more special. When you've finished with your noodles, ask for soba yu which is the water that is used to cook the noodles. Add the soba yu into the dipping broth, dilute it, then drink as broth.
Futaba Bldg. 1F, 8-18-6 Ginza,