The udon at Azuki is decidedly rectangular, its corners distinct, its texture somehow both light and deeply chewy. Chef Ryuji Miyata rolls and folds his dough and cuts these flat-sided noodles by hand upwards of three times a day in his tiny restaurant in Madison Valley.
Azuki opened its doors in early March with barely a ripple, even in our food obsessed town. Of course, the city was increasingly distracted: Two weeks later, Covid struck, restaurants shut down. Through it all, Miyata’s been making his noodles—for takeout, and now also for Azuki’s minute number of outdoor and dine-in seats. His dishes combine the analgesic properties of noodles with an elegance not always inherent to a bowl of soup. The restaurant is a quiet bright spot in this grim year; I've replaced 2020 personal goals like "see my friends more" and "travel" with a desire to try every noodle creation on its moderately sized menu—which is a testament to udon’s versatility. Miyata serves his creations cold with dipping sauce, stir-fried, as a warm beef soup, bathed in curry, or as kamatama, where a raw egg transforms housemade dashi into a slightly thicker “sauce” that coats each noodle.
Miyata spent the first 20 years of his career making sushi (in other words, the handful of basic maki on the chalkboard menu is worth your time) but he grew up in Japan’s Kagawa prefecture, the nation’s heartland for this firm, square-cut sanuki style of udon. He started making his own noodles at home, business partner Andrew Lai told me, and found this new facet of Japanese culinary tradition filled with possibilities for invention. Thus you’ll see riffs like an udon-based version of zhajiangmian on the menu.
Recently I sat outside and ordered the mentaiko kamatama udon, which coated strands not only with that silky almost-sauce, but delicate cod roe. It came in a bowl big enough to toss a good-size salad, and was accompanied by a dish of sesame seeds and a tiny pestle for grinding. Miyata dispatches noodles and broth in separate containers for the to-go orders that make up the bulk of business right now, but customers who dine in, or in front of, the noodle shop get a handful of housemade extras. Seven months ago, an unexpected chawan mushi wouldn’t have lingered in my memory much longer than the time it took to devour it. Now, an unexpected bite before a meal of well-considered noodles is often best part of the week.