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Friday, Jan. 7, 2011


Slurping soba in more formal surroundings

There are a number of places around the city these days that combine carefully crafted te-uchi handmade noodles with refined Japanese cuisine. Few, if any, do it with greater accomplishment than Sasuga Hanare, the third in this group of innovative, stylish soba restaurants.

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Where the original Soba Sasuga and its recent spinoff, Sasuga Bekkan, are more casual in style, bridging the gap between sobaya and dining bar, Hanare is much smaller, more formal and even further off the beaten track. The feel is as intimate and exclusive as at a high-end sushi shop — a single scrubbed-wood counter seating a maximum of eight, and a compact kitchen/serving area where you watch your meal being prepared.

There are just two chefs. One prepares the multicourse kaiseki cuisine, serving a succession of exquisite dishes of great quality featuring seafood from the nearby Tsukiji market. The other is the soba master, who prepares the noodles from scratch in front of your eyes, starting by grinding the buckwheat — by hand — then forming the dough, rolling it out, chopping it into fine strands and gently cooking it. It's a fascinating floor show, and some of the finest, most fragrant soba you will ever taste.

Sasuga Hanare is not a place you are likely to find unaided. It lies hidden down a pedestrian alley in a residential area on the far side of Tsukiji. And be warned: Meals must be reserved at least a day in advance.

Sasuga Hanare, 3-13-15 Minato, Chuo-ku; (03) 6228-3870. Open Mon.-Sat. 12-2 p.m. and 6-8:30 p.m. (last seating); closed Sundays and holidays. Nearest station: Shintomicho (Yurakucho Line). Reservations required. Dinner courses ¥8,000 and ¥10,000; lunch from ¥5,000.

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