Soba Ichi: From Grain to Noodle
The highly-anticipated moment has arrived: Soba Ichi is finally opening its doors next week – the Bay Area's first housemade soba restaurant. It is an opening that has taken years to create, a partnership between Shinichi Washino, Koichi Ishii, Christian Geideman, and Paul Discoe, who all met at Ippuku in Berkeley.
When Ippuku opened in 2010, it was a revolutionary moment for the Japanese dining scene in the Bay Area – transporting you to an izakaya in Tokyo, complete with yakitori, chu-hais, and dark, smoky interiors. I worked there as a server when it first opened, along with Washino (who had just arrived from Tokyo), and it became the center of our East Bay community and family.
Ishii came on to work at Ippuku in 2011, and having apprenticed with a soba maker for several years in his native Yamagata, Japan, he began making soba for lunch at Ippuku a few days a week. Word of mouth spread like wildfire that fresh, teuchi (handcut) soba was being served at Ippuku, and a cult following was born. But just like that, after only two years of serving soba lunches, it came to an end. There was not enough space in the kitchen for the intense preparation it takes to serve soba at a yakitori restaurant. But they promised that they would be back someday with more soba. And so we waited.
Soba is ubiquitous in Japan, but there are certain regions that are especially well known for soba, and Yamagata may be one of its most famous. The idea to open a soba restaurant in the Bay Area was ambitious – Washino and Ishii dreamed of creating a soba restaurant that emulated one found on the streets of Yamagata. They wanted to produce their own buckwheat flour and visited a farm in Washington to research the best the U.S. has to offer for this grain.
From there, they imported a Kokko grain milling machines from Japan, widely used to make soba flour. Washino traveled to Yamagata to source dishware and tools specific for soba, and finally, they secured a space in West Oakland, where they will open next week.
Yoko and I visited the restaurant to learn more about the grain, the flour, and the intricate soba-making techniques that will all be featured brilliantly, and masterfully, at Soba Ichi.
Soba Ichii sources the Kitawase variety of buckwheat, native to Hokkaido, grown in Washington.
There are only two companies that make machines for soba in Japan, and Soba Ichii has imported the Kokko machine to mill the grain to flour.
The machine has been adjusted to create a consistency in the flour that is optimal for Ishii's soba.
Once the flour is made, it is sifted through another machine.
Flour is set in a large lacquered bowl for mixing. Soba Ichi will serve two kinds of soba: ju-wari soba (100% buckwheat; gluten free) and ni-hachi soba (80% buckwheat, 20% flour). The ju-wari soba will be a more limited dish.
Once the dough is created, Ishii rolls it out by hand.
Cutting the noodles with a soba kiri knife.
Washino and Ishii sourced all of its dishes and serveware from Japan – much from the soba restaurant where Ishii apprenticed, in Yamagata.
Ceramic crocks where the soba tsuyu (broth) base is stored. "Top secret recipe," says Washino.
The celebratory red ita, is what the soba will be served in:
Hand-woven zaru (colandar) traditionally for serving cold zaru soba:
Ceramics from Japan:
Shichimi togarashi holders:
Woodworking and interiors by Paul Discoe:
Menu will feature soba (hot and cold), tempura, and other dishes commonly offered at soba-ya in Japan. Like my favorite, housemade itawasa (springy fishcake with wasabi).
Washino, certified advisor of sake and shochu, will oversee the drinks.
Congratulations to Ishii and Washino on your grand opening!!! Welcome to Oakland!
2311 Magnolia Street A
Oakland, CA 94607
Opening on Tuesday June 19 for lunch service only
Tuesday-Saturday 11am-3pm (last call at 2:30pm)
*Photos by Yoko Kumano