… And now, back to recapping NYC!
Jay and I were pretty excited about hunting down Asian food while we were in Manhattan. Luckily, it wasn’t difficult to get our fix, being that we were staying only steps away from Eastern eateries of all stripes. We stopped by a mid-range restaurant and a low-brow shop for variations on a favorite: noodles.
In the American world of Japanese cuisine, there seem to be two top pasta players: ramen and udon. Jay and I have had many bowls of ’em, both in the Bay Area and in New York (hat tip to Ippudo for a pretty life-changing version). Now, we wanted to get acquainted with their less popular relative: soba.
If ramen and udon were people, they’d probably be boisterous, bodacious, bear-hugging — big, in every sense of the word. Soba, I picture, would be a leaner, meaner distance-runner, with an off-beat sense of humor and a designated parking spot at Whole Foods. Yes… This visualization is shamelessly based on a stereotype I have of people who enjoy soba (see also: the person I strive to be).
Anyway. On a slow weekday, we popped into Soba-Ya for lunch. The space, despite being pretty nondescript and artificially lit, was simple and clean; service was kind. We skipped over the lunch combinations for the good stuff: the cold noodles.
Here we have the uni: fresh sea urchin with grated mountain yam. The bowl came out with a teapot of hot water and a shallow bowl of syrupy, dark sauce. Nervously, I tried side-eying my neighbors to see how I should proceed. When that didn’t work (I’m not very good at subtlety), I flagged down a server for help. He seemed unamused by my amateurishness, but nonetheless explained: the sauce was for dipping; and the hot water was for pouring into the bowl at the end of the meal to make a soup. We were also free to mix in accompanying sides of negi (finely chopped scallion) and wasabi to taste. Cool.
Once I felt confident enough to start eating, I encountered another unexpected issue: gooeyness. I’ve had both uni and mountain yam before, but never in this manner. In the bowl, the two ingredients melded together into a thick, almost mucous-y slime. Good slime — very good slime — though likely off-putting to pickier eaters.
Our other dish was, by leaps and bounds, the favorite. The chirashi soba came composed much more conventionally: baby sardine tempura, Japanese omelette, shiitake mushrooms, fried bean curd, and fish cake. A miniature pitcher of dipping sauce was emptied into the bowl; the contents were emptied into our tummies. It was so very good.
We left satisfied with our meal, though with surprisingly lighter wallets. Our next noodle stop would be much easier on our bank accounts… and many degrees more flavorful, to boot.
Xi’An Famous Foods is, indeed, famous for bringing their intensely spicy, no-holds-barred, regional Chinese cuisine to NYC. For the staggeringly cheap price of $8, we ordered their signature dish. In return? We received a styrofoam plate heaped with springy, wide biangbiang noodles, chunks of lamb (sauteed with onions, garlic, scallions, and secret spices), and supple, stir-fried cabbage.
It. Was. Insane. Jay basically did a faceplant into the food, sweat dripping down his brow from the heat of the dish. Though I was already full from snacking, I snuck a bite, then two, then as many as I could before calling it quits. Jay, however, couldn’t get enough, even getting takeout for later. Be warned, however, when ordering out. Posted on their menu and website (multiple times) is the cautionary message:
Food tastes best when fresh from the kitchen. When hot noodles cool down, they get bloated, mushy, and oily. If you must take your noodles to go, please at least try the noodles in the store or right out of the to-go containers when it’s handed to you, so you can get the best possible Xi’an Famous Foods experience.
It’s true that the food was best piping hot, but Jay didn’t seem to care too much when, hours later, he neatly polished off our leftovers.
My only regret: I couldn’t make room in my stomach for the Anthony Bourdain-approved spicy cumin lamb burger, featuring diced lamb stuffed into crispy flatbread. Next time…
229 E 9th St
Manhattan, NY 10003
Xi’An Famous Foods (multiple locations)
81 St. Mark’s Place
Manhattan, NY 10003