Up and Udon

by James Boo on September 15, 2009 · 4 comments

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Onya Osaka Udon - Midtown East - New York City
Fall has hit New York, cutting through the humidified fog of summer with a much needed breath of fresh air. Just a couple of weeks ago I was scouring the internet for tips on cold soba; in adjustment to the change of seasons I’ve inverted course, browsing Manhattan’s udon menus for a satisfying bowl of hot Japanese noodles.

Neither soba nor udon seems to get much airplay in this city, which is understandable considering how simple their preparation and presentation is in comparison to a fully loaded bowl of ramen. Still, given the relatively large proportion of Japanese denizens and Japanese food lovers in New York, an event like the arrival of Osaka based udon chain Onya is hard to miss. Tipped off to the opening by Mr. Midtown himself, Bobby Digital and I caught a train up Lex yesterday to be a part of Onya’s first New York lunch hour and walked away pleased if not overwhelmed.

Making Udon Noodles - Onya Osaka Udon - Midtown East - New York City Onya Osaka Udon - Midtown East - New York City
In the league of Japanese restaurants that gleefully merge tradition with technology, Onya features a single assembly line service counter headed off by a noodle maestro in a glass booth. While the aid of an automated rolling pin renders him slightly less impressive than the soba stretchers at SobaKoh, the udon noodle maker here is no less charming as he flours, flattens, stretches, cuts and tosses the noodles that will soon adorn your service tray.

More importantly: He’s good at his job. Onya’s noodles are thick but not pasty, springy but not overly chewy, and overall a nice note in the key of slurping. Given that Onya’s only been open for a day and a half, I’ve only been able to try their noodles two ways: in curry broth and in the apparently-chortle-inducing style of bukkake.

Bukkake Udon (Hot) - Onya Udon - Midtown East, New York City Curry Udon - Onya Udon - Midtown East, New York City
Onya’s curry udon, starting at $6.95 per bowl, is one of Onya’s most expensive options. Its broth, a simple beef based Japanese curry thinned out to a stew like consistency, is certainly well done; I could see this kind of broth easily going down the path of too thick or too salty, but Onya’s preparation avoids these pitfalls to give us a hearty udon option. Still, even in cool autumn weather I would find it hard to spend upwards of seven dollars on curry udon when classic kake udon is offered at almost half the price and Go Go Curry is a brief-but-noodleless trek across town.

Onya’s bukkake udon, starting at $5.95 per bowl, is tasty but a bit deceptive. When ordered without tempura (which cost $2 per two items), the minimalist serving of noodles, dressed scantly with grated daikon, scallion, dried seaweed, sesame seeds and a splash of hot or cold broth, comes up a bit wanting. Adding a kariage nest, pumpkin or any of the other tempting and delicious tempura fried toppings solves this problem but ramps up the bill in the process.

At the end of it all, griping about a few bucks brings me dangerously close to the truism that these dishes are “good for Midtown.” What matters most is that they are good. I wasn’t at any point disappointed by the food, which is likely to improve as the kitchen staff finds its bearings here in New York. The sheer diversity of menu items and sizes makes a meal here extremely convenient, and I’ll be going back soon for the cheaper udon and mini donburi options. If fate smiles kindly, I’ll also get a chance to try Onya’s tempura soft boiled egg!

Udon - Marumi - Greenwich Village, New York City Tempura - Marumi - Greenwich Village, New York City
Although Onya is the perfect spot for days when I need variety, when I crave udon and udon alone, I’ll head to Greenwich Village for a bowl of noodles at Marumi. The udon here is a heartwarming bowl of firm, springy noodles, a light, flavorful broth, two slices of fish cake and a crest of chopped scallion. Pure, simple, perfect.

Tempura udon, priced at $9, is accompanied by impeccably fried shrimp and vegetables of the highest order, including green bell pepper and a nice cut of yam. The bowl Marumi uses to serves its udon keeps the soup blisteringly hot, acknowledging how futile it is to fight man’s original sin of mouth burning when thrown into a room with hunger and heat. I’ve heard that Marumi’s other varities of Udon are even better, but haven’t been able to tear myself away from the sweet, scalding moment that I race to eat my freshly fried shrimp and slurp up those first noodles knowing full well the roof of my mouth will hate me for it more than it hates Cap’n Crunch.

I doubt that the presence of Onya will do much for udon as a flash point. In the end, udon is just not exotic or sublime enough to make the grade as a trend worthy meal. When it comes to simple comforts, though, I’ll always think of those thick noodles before my mind jumps to the more tantalizing prospects of hand pulled noodles, ramen or pho. And now that the fall season is widening its stride, I’ll be thinking of udon quite a bit.

Tempura Udon Noodles - Marumi - Greenwich Village, New York City

143 East 47th St.
New York, NY 10017
546 Laguardia Pl.
New York, NY 10012


Danny September 16, 2009 at 8:40 am

oh nice, a spot on Laguardia Pl. Now I have something to check out by NYU!

Humble Reader September 16, 2009 at 8:36 pm

James! I’m so glad to see that you also agree that tempura shouldn’t be drowned in the udon broth during the meal. What’s the point of eating soggy fried goodies?

foodhoe September 19, 2009 at 6:54 pm

oh, serious noodle jealousy! fresh handmade noodles… dang. I’d gladly pay those prices for a good bowl of udon.

wasabi prime September 21, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I need to give udon more opportunities to make appearances in my meals. I remember having it as a kid, but not liking it as much as the ramen noodles, just for texture reasons — I’m just a fan of dainty noodles, what can I say? But the last few times I’ve had it, I’m always reminded, dang, this is truly comforting! This post caused another internal monologue with the same result.

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