Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Westside's Soba Specialist - Yabu

In my search for great Soba Noodles over the summer, I heard about Yabu, a Soba specialist in West L.A. (with a second branch in West Hollywood) that made their Soba Noodles by hand every morning. Chilled Soba Noodles are the perfect remedy for a hot summer day, and I was more than happy to try out another Soba restaurant with the heat wave. (^_~)

Note: For more info on Japanese Soba Noodles, I wrote a small blurb about it here.

On my first visit, we arrived a little before noon to enjoy a relaxing lunch. Yabu on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles, is their "Honten" (Original Branch), and they occupy a beautiful, simple space, with a large open dining room, a nice semi-circle wood bar area (that doubles as their Sushi Bar), and simple tables along the edges of the restaurant.

Glancing over their menu, Yabu serves a variety of Cold Starters like the standard Japanese classics of Edamame Soybeans and Kimpira Gobo (Stir-fried Burdock Root), some Salads, Sashimi, Appetizers (including some popular Small Plates from a standard Izakaya (Japanese Pub)), Tempura, Fried, Steamed, and Broiled dishes. This is before finally reaching their specialty section: Noodles (Cold or Hot). This had me slightly worried, but not surprised: While it would be ideal to focus only on your specialty, to stay in business and expand, a restaurant sometimes needs to cater to as many popular tastes as possible (within reason).

For my first visit, I had to try the style of Soba that I used to benchmark all the Soba specialists I've visited: Zaru Soba (Chilled Buckwheat Noodles served atop a zaru (a bamboo slotted "plate")) .

Zaru Soba is usually served with a little bowl of Tsuyu dipping sauce, made up of a soy sauce-type base, mirin and dashi. The Soba Noodles looked good and I quickly took some of the Soba and dipped it in the Tsuyu and took a bite. The thinness of the Soba was nice and something I appreciated, but there was an unfortunate chalkiness to each bite, as if the Soba was slightly undercooked. It had a good buckwheat aroma, but ultimately, the chew and texture fell short of both Otafuku and Ichimian, the top two Soba specialists in L.A. The Tsuyu sauce itself was a nice blend and not overly salty at all.

After finishing the noodles, Yabu serves you their Soba-yu (Boiled Water used to cook the Soba Noodles), which you traditionally add to your Tsuyu sauce bowl, to create a hot broth that you can drink and enjoy after the noodles.

On the second visit, I invited one of the most discerning Soba Hounds I knew to get their thoughts in addition to a chance to try out some other Soba variations. :) We began with their Kamo Seiro Soba (Broiled Duck and Scallion Buckwheat Noodles). It should be noted that while Yabu lists this dish as a "Seiro Soba," their manager clarified that it was just their regular Soba Noodle.

The Kamo (Duck) was presented in a nice, hot bowl of Duck Soup, which was used in lieu of the normal Tsuyu dipping sauce. Their Kamo Soup was wonderfully fragrant, with Green Onions and Cilantro adding a fresh, herbally note to each bite of the Soba that was dipped in. It was a tad too salty unfortunately. Their Soba Noodles tasted the same as the first visit, but dipping it into a hot broth helped to soften the Soba a bit more than their regular Zaru Soba presentation.

The other dish we tried was offered as part of their Lunch Specials menu: So-su Hirekatsu Don Setto to Mizore Soba (Fried Berkshire Pork Tenderloin Rice Bowl with Marinated Salmon Caviar with Grated Daikon Radish over Buckwheat Noodles).

The Mizore Soba was Yabu's counterpart to Ichimian's Mentai Oroshi Soba (Marinated Pollock Fish Roe, Grated Daikon Radish Soba Noodles). The Ikura (Salmon Roe) used in Yabu's dish was decent - not bad, but nothing outstanding - with each bite of the Ikura bursting with its inherently salty liquid center. When eaten with the Buckwheat Noodles and Grated Daikon, it balanced out a bit more, but was still saltier than what I'd prefer. Ultimately, Ichimian's use of Mentaiko is a better choice, but this is still a nice healthy dish that's a better option for those looking for something more flavorful than the regular Zaru Soba.

The Soba Noodles themselves were just like the first visit: Slightly chalky, and lacking the wonderful bite and texture that Ichimian's version exhibits.

The Hirekatsu Don (Fried Berkshire Pork Bowl) was surprisingly decent: A good, tender cut of Berkshire Pork, with a nice outer crust. The fried breading tasted of older oil, and it fell off the Pork rather quickly, which isn't ideal. Otherwise, it was a nice option for those looking for something in addition to the Soba Noodles.

Service was to be expected at a Soba eatery, with us having to get the server's attention to refill Hot Tea, or for any of our other needs. They were attentive, but not proactive (for example, I had to ask for the Soba-yu, even though the Soba was finished and they could see that we were finished). Their Hot and Cold Noodles range from $6 - $16. For two visits, we averaged about ~$11 per person (including tax and tip).

Yabu (on Pico) provides some decent Teuchi (Handmade) Soba Noodles at a generally good price. Made fresh every day, they are one of only a few restaurants around L.A. that make their own Soba Noodles on the premises. While they fall short when compared to Otafuku, and especially Ichimian (Honten), if you're in the mood for some simple, refreshing Soba and happen to be in the area, Yabu is worth a visit.

Rating: 7.0 (out of 10.0)

Yabu Restaurant
11820 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Tel: (310) 473-9757

Hours: [Lunch] Mon - Sat, 12:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.
[Dinner] Mon - Sat, 6:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sun, 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.


Secret Asian Man said...

Thanks for reviewing this place. Its under-rated for sure. But is it your favorite soba place in LA?

Exile Kiss said...

Hi secret asian man,

Thanks. No, Yabu isn't my favorite. If you missed the Hyperlink in the review, my favorite by far is Ichimian (Honten) in Torrance. Reviewed here:

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