When I go out for Japanese, I usually go for sushi. I have nothing against tempura, udon, teriyaki, etc
good sushi is just so good. It takes something special on a menu to distract me from my usual maki obsession. Soba-ya, in the village on east 9th between 2nd and 3rd, offers a wide variety of items exciting, entertaining, and delicious enough to draw my attention from their sparse raw offering.
Even just the act of approaching the storefront is an engaging experience. Without close examination, it looks as if there isn't even any English posted on the signs and banners. Inside and out, it looks like one might expect a, 18th century Japanese sake house would have appeared. The staff is, it seems, almost supernaturally cheery and pleasant, and they shout hellos and good-byes in Japanese to everyone who passes through the door.
All that coolness pales in comparison to the food. Interesting appetizers abound. I reluctantly passed up the attractively named "salted squid with guts" in favor of monkfish liver with ponzu sauce. If you've never had monkfish liver, do so. Now! It's like the best foi-gras crossed with delicate custard. The sauce was citrusy and bold, but not overpowering generous portion, too. My dining companion ordered fried oysters and Chawan-mushi, both excellent. The oysters were piping hot, but as good an oyster as you could want. Chawan-mushi is a custard/broth/soup style offer, filled with edamame, and what I'm almost sure was lobster. Mmm.
As the name suggests, though, their main item is soba. Thin noodles served in soup. Seems simple, but they have a menu with hordes of varieties. I tried some of the soba with shredded yam; gooey, thick, and entirely pleasant. For myself, I had to try the Una-don a big, 'barbecued' eel steak over rice. Eel is a wonderful thing it's such a shame the so many people shy away do to the inherent creep-factor. I've had similar dishes at other places, and this was as good as any I've ever had.
The desert offerings were varied; I tried three types of ice cream. Soybean was probably the best like coffee ice cream, but earthier somehow. Japanese lime was good as well, although a little bitter. Good for the citrus lover, probably too much for anyone else. Honey-wasabi was well, it tasted like honey mixed with wasabi. Better than it sounds, but not something I need to have again too soon. Try it once, for the experience.
Support this place. If all you know of Japanese food is sushi and teriyaki chicken, expand your horizons a little. Soba is a great thing, no matter how timid an eater you may be, and there's plenty for the more adventurous diner to enjoy as well. I'd tell you how cheap it was, but I really have no idea I was treated. I recommend you do the same!