Cocoron, A Soba Standout in the LES
Fresh (cold) soba noodles from Cocoron.
Of course it was silly to think I would get into Uncle Boon's, the tiny Thai outpost hidden a few steps below street level in the Bowery, so soon after Pete Wells gushed about it in the NYT. So okay, we didn't get in to Uncle Boon's. We wandered aimlessly at first. Then, as we followed Elizabeth Street south to Kenmare Street, I recalled a noodle shop that I had walked past numerous times, a place I didn’t even know the name of, just that I wanted to go purely because it was always packed, which is a positive sign, even in the tourist season.
Here it was, along with the name on the door: Cocoron. Another good sign? There were two open stools at the bar with a king-sized view of the twin-sized kitchen. I spun side-to-side taking in the scenery, but really just looking to see what everyone was eating. Large black stoneware bowls were everywhere, some people had teapots, some had tiny thimble-sized bowls with mystery ingredients, maybe a dipping sauce or sesame seeds to be ground up.
My companion quickly determined what she would order: daikon mochi––a chewy, gelatinous dish that takes a brave palate, and miso coleslaw––dark purple cabbage that was dressed in a nutty brown dressing and sprinkled with sesame seeds, which was delicious. I made a mental note to make it at home. I flipped back and forth through the menu, overwhelmed by the numerous soba options: cold, warm, vege, and dip (their names, not mine). Did I want vegetarian, meat, cold, ohfortheloveofgod. The menu read like an Emoji version of a psychiatrists diagnostic book. Did I need mental clarity or did I have a cold? It was sweltering outside so I ordered a cold bowl of vegetarian noodles.
While I waited, I discussed the merits of the buckwheat noodles with my gluten-avoiding friend. From what I know buckwheat is gluten free, as long as it hasn't been contaminated in the growing or milling process. Then, at the kitchen level, there's the next question: does the soba shop make their noodles with any wheat flour, to make up for the lack of gluten and to help bind the noodles better. Before I could inquire about this question my bowl popped out from the kitchen. Atop the noodles were fist-sized clumps of daikon, chickpeas, shiso, green onions and tempura crumbs (little crunchy bits adding texture not unlike the job of croutons in a salad). I used my chopsticks and my soup spoon for a combination ladle and slurp approach. The broth was rich with umami complexity, more clear and brothy then meaty and dense like I've had at ramen shops. The different toppings jumped on my spoon until they were gone, and I was sad.
The night was most notable because I did not ask for any hot sauce. At the end of the meal the server brought me a teapot. They asked if I knew what it was for. I nodded, and I'll tell you why. You're supposed to pour the soup broth into your bowl and then drink the remainder down. I was already mostly full but didn't want to miss out on this part of the ritual.
There are other soba shops dotted around the city that I'll have to try next: Soba Totto, SobaKoh, and Soba-Ya. But this one is in my neighborhood, and I can hover over the kitchen and swivel on stools, which is all pretty cool.