Mutsuko Soma and I had a bit of a language barrier, but when I asked her about the menu at her impending gastropub on Wallingford’s main drag, she responded with a single, emphatic sentence: “I like drinking. A lot.”
Hence, I like this woman. A lot.
Soma, 30, was executive chef at Chez Shea, and before that cooked at Harvest Vine. Recently she has been building a reputation with her soba noodles, made with Washington buckwheat and painstakingly kneaded, rolled, and cut by hand in her Fremont studio. They're as much art as sustenance, and she serves them in nearly 20 preparations, both hot and cold. But Miyabi 45th, located at 2208 North 45th Street, isn’t a noodle house. Soma has applied her experience in French- and Spanish-leaning kitchens to her Japanese small plates—like a monkfish karaage or pork belly braised in ginger and soy, served with a marinated egg—that are designed to keep the company of libations. A cheese plate bears a piece of French brie, cured in miso and lightly torched, and a cube of fermented tofu, “like vegan cheese” with a gentle funk mingled with a tangy fermented flavor. These highly techniqued creations are hardly drunk food, but should be consumed in the same convivial abandon as a plate of really good 2am nachos.
It's a different scope from its popular sibling, Miyabi sushi restaurant in Tukwila. Soma met the owners through mutual friends, did a soba pop-up there, and the two parties clicked. Here at Miyabi 45th, bar manager Sean Becktel (most recently of Bisato) keeps watch over the sip-friendly house infusions, which include garlic vodka, a sweet milk liqueur, coffee vanilla cachaca, bacon and black pepper bourbon, and a horseradish shochu. By the time the restaurant opens its doors—hopefully later this week—he will have finalized a cocktail list highlighting these creations and some housemade shrubs.
So, let’s talk about the bukkake. Yes, there is an alternative definition that does not involve noodles. Look it up on the internet and you might get a visit from HR. Here, bukkake means “all together,” or “all on top”—essentially soba and its accompaniments all in a single bowl with the broth poured over it. The rest of Soma’s soba dishes involve a small tray of unadorned noodles and an accompanying sauce, hot or cold, for dipping and slurping. At the end of the meal, a server brings a pot of sobayu, the water in which the noodles were boiled. Pour some in the dipping sauce to transform it into a soup of sorts.
Soma studied the art of making soba in her native Japan; hers is a rare talent to find here in Washington, which coincidentally is the country's largest grower of buckwheat.
Soma has trained her staff thoroughly in the art of explaining how she makes her soba, its health benefits, the techniques behind the food, and how to explain bukkake “nicely.” On Friday night I stopped in for an interview that turned out to be part of a friends and family test-run evening. Even the Caucasian staff members say sumi masen when they brush past each other. The former Rain sushi address got a major update inside, and while the long, low counter may look a little bit like a sushi bar, there’s no sushi on this menu.
Miyabi 45th will hopefully open its doors (softly) later this week. Stay tuned for more specifics when we get them.