"I always feel so virtuous when I have lunch at Cocoron," Ed said as he walked out of the doors of their new location on Kenmare Street.
We've been making the trek over to Cocoron's original location in the Lower East Side for over a year now to get our fix of their excellent buckwheat noodles, delicate and nuanced broths, and fresh-made custard-like tofu. (See our complete review here). Their new location offers two distinct advantages for us: it's slightly larger, and it's slightly closer.
By many experts, soba is considered one of the most difficult noodles to master. It has to do with the buckwheat flour they're flavored with. Unlike regular wheat flour, buckwheat doesn't produce a springy, elastic dough. Use too much buckwheat in a dough and it crumbles instead of stretches. Too little, and it lacks flavor. In this regard, it's similar to, say, Italian gnocchi, which faces the same texture vs. flavor issues.
The folks at Cocoron have got it down.
Their noodles are bouncy and resilient, with a deep, roasty buckwheat flavor. Unlike the rich, bombastic approach you'll often find with ramen noodle bowls soba accompaniments tend to be a refined affairs. Cocoron's noodles come served cold or warm in an aromatic, lightly sweetened dashi—a broth made with sea kelp and smoked bonito. (A whole slew of completely vegan bowls are also available) You can opt for add-ins like pork slices, steamed chicken meatballs, and natto (fermented soy beans).
The joy of soba is not in its crazy intense flavors, but in its subtlety.
The other big draw at Cocoron is their excellent house-made fresh tofu. If you've ever fancied yourself a tofu hater, do yourself a favor and taste theirs.
The tofu arrives on the table as a quivering block freshly scooped out of a batch that while not made-to-order, is as fresh as you'll find everywhere. Extremely soft and fragile, it has the barely-set texture of the best steamed custard, served with a small bowl of soy, grated ginger, finely sliced scallions, shredded seaweed, and shaved bonito flakes.
Try some on its own, then try a bit dipped into a bowl with the accompaniments. If only virtue could always be so damn tasty.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.