In about 2008, when Mutsuko Soma decided to spend months learning how to make soba in Japan, she did so because she missed eating the buckwheat noodles her grandma made and she couldn’t find them in Seattle. (Because Soma’s grandma had only one arm, she had developed a unique noodle-making technique, but it wasn’t one she could teach Soma.) Soma’s reason for going to Japan for soba lessons was self-indulgent more than altruistic. Little did she know how much Seattle would applaud her efforts.
Soma, who attended culinary school here before moving back to Japan, first made a splash locally in 2013 as the chef and co-owner of Miyabi 45th, a since-closed Japanese restaurant in Wallingford. She stepped away from that restaurant in early 2016 to focus on her daughter, born that year; the restaurant industry is notoriously difficult for parents, mothers especially, and soba making—done by hand rather than by machine—is incredibly labor intensive.
But when her daughter turned 2, Soma found she was ready to start again. She opened her own place last October: Kamonegi, a soba and tempura shop with the same name as the pop-ups she launched before she started Miyabi. She found the perfect home in the angular, narrow Fremont/Wallingford space left vacant when Art of the Table relocated. Soma gave the space a fresh coat of paint and lowered the counters, built for Art of the Table chef-owner Dustin Ronspies, to better match her shorter stature. Here, she’s able to continue her artistry—more akin to throwing pottery than making pasta—from an open kitchen. Sit at a counter stool if you want a first-rate view.
Soba, clearly, is the focus here. Soma makes hers with an 80/20 blend of Washington-grown buckwheat and all-purpose wheat flours. Most of the variations can be ordered seiro (cold, with a warm, concentrated dipping sauce) or nanban (hot, in a soup broth). The eponymous kamonegi ($20) features a singular duck tsukune (meatball) so intensely flavorful and packed with addictive umami, I could have eaten a dozen. Order the tsukune appetizer ($14), prepared yakitori style, for a few more of them. And don’t forget the seasonal tempura ($7–$14)—its coating crisp and dainty, an outcome not frequently achieved in Japanese restaurants in America.
Wallingford 1054 N 39th St.; 206.632.0185;
Soma is also a certified sommelier and knows her way around booze. Pair whatever meal you choose with the blowfin sake ($12), warmed with a traditional Japanese sake warmer and served with an actual fish fin (“It has so much umami in it!” she says) at the bottom.