Japanese comfort food at Takashi

September 23, 2009 (CHICAGO) Noodles may be a familiar food, but they are far from easy to make. Just look at the Sunday lunch menu at Takashi in Bucktown. There are no less than a half-dozen noodle dishes-- from thin and curly ramen, to the thicker, chewy udon. There's even the hard-to-find buckwheat-based soba.

What separates these noodles from the store-bought variety? Most of them are hand-made.

Takashi Yagihashi's idea of comfort food comes in the form of noodles. He loves them so much, he wrote a book on the subject this year, entitled simply "Noodles." More recently, he began serving handmade noodles at his namesake restaurant in Bucktown a few weeks ago, during the regular Sunday lunch service.

"In Japan, every day I eat it. But I didn't eat it every day same noodle. Sometimes buckwheat - the soba, sometimes udon, the thick wheat noodles (and) sometimes ramen," Yagihashi said.

The key to his soba noodles is a Japanese root called yamaimo, which he grates, then adds to a mixture of buckwheat and all-purpose flour. Drizzling in a little bit of water, he forms a dough, then kneads it out for just a few minutes. He runs the dough through an attachment on a stand mixer, thinning and elongating the dough. He then adds a noodle attachment, and feeds the dough through, cutting it into perfect, even strands, dusting them with a bit of flour. Back in the kitchen, they're boiled for just a few minutes, then plunged into an ice water bath to immediately cool them off.

He serves the soba on a woven mat, topping it with sliced nori - or seaweed - and some grated yuzu peel. At the table, you add some wasabi, scallions and oba leaves to a dish of soy sauce and sweet sake, then dip the noodles into it as you wish. They are simultaneously earthy, salty and satisfying.

As for his miso ramen - one of four ramens on the menu - the noodles are boiled briefly, then placed directly into a homemade stock.

"We make the chicken stock here, that's the base; then we add miso, a little bit red miso, white miso combined together, then grated pork," Yagihashi said.

Toppings include braised pork, sweet corn, fish cakes and marinated bamboo shoots; all typical of a certain region of Japan.

"This ramen from North of Japan - Hokkaido - and this started 30 years ago," said Yagihashi.

Yagihashi says it's a lot of work making the noodles from scratch, by hand, but it reminds him every Sunday, of just how good the food from his childhood can be.

"...it's my soul food," he said.

Takashi is open for lunch on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.

1952 N. Damen Ave.


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