I made no secret of how much I love Mom’s, Kelly Ijichi and Randi Howri’s yoshoku tribute to Japanese comfort food in Politan Row. But I will admit suffering some disappointment when I first showed up and learned that their soba noodles were not freshly handmade, as advertised on their online menu. That’s OK—the Spam musubi, katsu sando, and fresh handmade udon more than made up for it.
But it outlines a black spot in Chicago culinary firmament. For all the great pasta makers in town, as far as I can tell, no one is making fresh Japanese-style buckwheat noodles. (If I’m wrong about that, I’ll be happy to be corrected.)
That doesn’t mean commercially made soba noodles can’t be inspiring. Fast-forward to the wind down to last weekend’s Green City Market Chef BBQ. I was already uncomfortably stuffed and trying to go unnoticed, creeping by the station populated by the chefs behind Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Sunday Dinner Club, Camchi Kimchi, and TriBecca’s Cubano. They busted me and called me out, so I snatched a plate and scurried away into the trees like a wet rat.
What I found before me and ended up polishing off in seconds was a soba noodle salad of such varied and extraordinary textures, flavors, and temperatures that it’s stuck with me ever since. Cold noodles tossed with roasted peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, and raw carrots, along with Cam Waron’s fermented snap peas, all dressed in a spicy ponzu dressing, garnished with crispy fried noodles and nugs of fried chicken
Later, after some pestering, HBFC chef Christine Cikowksi told me it’s inspired by a fresh soba noodle salad served at the late Soba Nippon in Manhattan (it’s survived by Nippon, on 52nd Street, which is still serving it). Though Cikowski says she’s come close to replicating the ponzu dressing of the original, this dish is an original. A keeper. Please say there’s more.
The annual Green City Market Chef BBQ is a pricy event, but it’s a great one. Just as it gives you a chance to taste what some of the city’s best chefs are working on for the future, it just as often lets you try amazing things you’ll never encounter anywhere else. I was worried this soba noodle salad was a unicorn, never to be seen again. But as it turns out, you have a couple shots at trying a version of it. Some form of it will be served as a third course at this week’s remaining Sunday Dinner Club Japanese-style steak-house dinners, along with fried shrimp with green-tomato cocktail sauce; zucchini and summer squash okonomiyaki; miso-marinated strip steak with sweet-and-sour eggplant; and black-sesame ice box cake and raspberry ice cream.
That’s Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM, at a location disclosed when you reserve your seats, which are $75-$85 per person. Tickets are here.
No unicorns will be served. v