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Matsugen: When Good Noodles Go Vong

Expense-account soba in Tribeca

All the hot soups are served with seiro, the soba made with the medium amount of husk. It has a mild buckwheat chew. The soup can be augmented with egg, tofu and scallion, prawn tempura, grated yam, or duck. The tofu-and-scallion is ordinary in the extreme, but the duck-scallion soup bobs with delicious slices of duck, and the prawn option gets you crustaceans that are enormously pink and fat beneath their tempura batter.

As for rin, the delicate, white soba, Andoh said that although many Japanese establishments do serve a white soba, the term "rin" is not common terminology. "Their use of the word (written as it is with the calligraphy) has a very fashionable sensibility to it (though it strikes me as a bit too precious)," she wrote. At least it's not just me.

Call Matsugen for a reservation and you'll likely be told that there's nothing available between 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. I suppose this is a coy bit of marketing: How embarrassing would it be for a restaurant to admit to having, say, an 8 p.m. spot open? What's really annoying, though, is to make your early-bird reservation and then walk in to find the place nearly empty—and watch it remain that way all evening. But you can relieve your irritation with a Crystal Tomato cocktail: Like a Bloody Mary gone to detox, it's an effervescent, vividly flavored concoction of clear tomato water, vodka, and humongous cubes of ice.

Peasant food moves into the castle.
Emily Peet-Lukes
Peasant food moves into the castle.

There are several places in the city that devote themselves to homemade soba. Soba Totto and Soba-Ya come to mind as two of the best, and both are much more reasonably priced than Matsugen: Soba bowls (even those with sea urchin) top out around $18. I'm not against fine dining—sometimes you get what you pay for. But sometimes you shouldn't trust nobles who come bearing soba.

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