Seattle has a fair number of restaurants serving steamy bowls of pho, ramen, and udon, but our options for authentic soba are scarce. When Mutsuko Soma hung up her chef hat last year at Miyabi 45th, many feared the Seattle soba scene was coming to an end. But Chef Soma is back in action, and she’s preparing to open her new restaurant Kamonegi, which will take over the old Art of the Table space in Wallingford. “I’ve taken some time off to have a baby and spend time with family,” she says. “I’ve been wanting to open a restaurant in Seattle with a new concept, something that’s not been done before, and it’s taken time.”
I don’t know anything about noodle quality. I’ve been known to throw Top Ramen in my leftover pho broth and love it all the same. But I know you can’t fake soba (which Soma says is NOT the shit you get at the Safeway deli). “When people in the US hear "soba," they think of the soba you find at the grocery store. This is a whole different animal,” she says. Soma’s soba is incredibly labor intensive, carefully rolled out, measured, and hand cut into 1/16-inch thick noodles, and you can thank Soma’s grandmother for the tender love and care that goes into every bowl. “My grandmother used to make soba by hand for large family gatherings in Japan and I wanted to bring the traditional Nihachi style to the US,” she says.
Nihachi soba combines buckwheat and wheat flour (usually 80 percent buckwheat and 20 percent wheat) and water. You won’t find buckwheat in very many kitchens around Seattle, but the majority of American buckwheat found in Japan is sourced right here in Washington state. “People in the US aren’t using buckwheat as a staple to consume,” she says. “But many of the varietals exported all over the world are coming from Skagit and western Washington.” Soma has partnered with Washington State University’s research lab to experiment with different varietals of buckwheat at Kamonegi. She also plans to let seasonal NW ingredients shine throughout her menu.
If you loved what Soma was dishing up at Miyabi 45th, Kamonegi won’t disappoint, and she’s introducing a concept all her own that blends tradition and new age. “We’re bringing in new techniques to traditional dishes to make them special,” says Soma.
I sampled the natto soba (pictured above) served cold with a sous vide egg, seaweed, and spicy purple daikon, and a NW delicata squash tempura lightly braised in dashi drizzled with a caramel sauce and foie gras ice cream. I could eat both for any meal of the day, and am drooling on my notes reminiscing about it. Soma will have no problem getting a line of patrons at the door, and Art of the Table regulars will find she’s made the once funky space very inviting.
“It’s a super weird little building that had a very European feel,” she says. “We wanted it to be simpler, from the lighting and paint to accents.” They’ve also dropped the counter down considerably at the entrance so you can see the magic happening right when you walk in.
Kamonegi will have a soft opening next week, and the soba isn’t the only thing that should get you in: Soma’s dipping sauce is insane. "We’re importing different kinds of bonito flakes for the sauce, and mackerel bonito makes it slightly sweet." she says. "My sauce is super special. You’re not going to find anything like it in Seattle."