The last time I was at Cocoron I had one of the best meals of my life, an impressive feat given the 1-hour wait I endured. This small Japanese spot on the Lower East Side serves up soba, thin noodles made from buckwheat flour. Because of this, soba—unlike it’s cousin ramen—has a reputation for being healthy and delicate in flavoring. Lacking any sign outside, Cocoron is easy to miss despite the bright orange door and manga cartoons on the window. For a long time it was a hotspot, but the hype seems to have passed on to other establishments. For most of yesterday’s dinner, Kim and I were the only people eating there.
If you have the opportunity to choose a seat, pick one of the stools with a direct view of the kitchen. Japanese kitchens are always buzzing with energy, and you can see the attention to detail the chefs put into every dish. I went with a Stamina Dip Soba, which was a steal at $9.80 for a large ($1 less for regular). If you decide to go for a dip soba, Mika Ohie, the adorable wife of owner Yoshihito Kida, will come over and explain how the process works.
I was given a bubbling, meaty broth of pork, minced meat, chicken meatballs, scallion, and shiitake mushrooms in a bowl, under which the waiter lit a small blue flame. Right beside the clay pot was a pile of cold, slightly-undercooked soba. The noodles are supposed to be dipped into the broth for 5-10 seconds to soak up and soften. If you remember not to lose track of time, you’ll end up with springy and supple noodles. The experience can be quite satisfying if you do it properly, but you shouldn’t expect the entire meal to be similarly delicious.
The flame eventually dies out and the meat inevitably goes from tender to chewy from swimming in the broth. To maximize the enjoyment, you’ll need to eat quickly, but not so fast that you miss the aroma of the noodles. After I finished my noodles, Mika came back with more instructions and a pot of Soba-Yu, the water used to make my meal. The broth, which was quite salty and cooled down by now, was pretty delicious after pouring the water in and stirring with the wooden spoon.
I was curious about the Soba Tea, which is made with the same buckwheat used to make the noodles. Only $1.50, I didn’t hesitate to try it. The tea tasted (and looked) like lightly toasted sesame seeds. I enjoyed it, and it went well with the noodles.
What I didn’t get to try yesterday, but enjoyed the first time I was at Cocoron, was the Annin Tofu. At $4 for four small scoops of tofu, it’s certainly is on the high end of dessert. I’m normally averse to tofu, but it tasted more like soft vanilla gelato with scents of almond. It’s a nice end to the meal.
Cocoron is a nice spot for a date, especially if you’re on a budget. They accept cash only, so stop at an ATM beforehand. The one warning I have is that the meal won’t (and shouldn’t) last very long, so you’ll need to do something else afterwards. The Lower East Side isn’t the most romantic to go for a walk at night. If there’s a long wait for Cocoron, I’d recommend going to Berkli Parc Cafe a few doors down. Afterwards, you should watch a movie at Landmark Sunshine theater a few blocks north.