Learn Your Way Around Soba at Miyabi 45th

There's a Japanese restaurant in the International District whose door bears a sign that bluntly states, literally in black and white, "We do not serve sushi." At Miyabi 45th, the serving staff attempts to be more elegant in refuting the automatic identification of Japanese food with sushi. "It's an oyster bar," one hostess said, her voice tinged only lightly with defensiveness, to a patron inquiring about a seat at the "sushi bar." The specialty at Miyabi 45th (unlike their sister restaurant near Southcenter) is not raw fish, but hand-crafted buckwheat noodles called soba, as the hostess explained to me (among many other things) while seating me.

Miyabi 45th is not a complicated restaurant. It is simple, it is elegant, and it specializes in a simple, elegant food: soba noodles. Yet much of my experience there felt like a class in Japanese dining. Perhaps because it's new, and the eagerness to please has not yet worn off from the servers, each step, from where to sit to how to order, was explained in great detail. By the time my amuse bouche of buckwheat tofu arrived, a soft square cradled in a light broth, I was in need of the relaxing effects of such intricate flavors in a tiny bite. Like soy tofu that's received a little extra oomph, the whole-wheat bread to soy-tofu's Wonder bread, it was a signal of the kitchen's message: Miyabi 45th is an establishment of flavor and of style. The kind of place where you receive an amuse bouche (far too rare in this city), and the kind of place that doesn't care if you didn't like the bland tofu salads your vegetarian friends fed you in college.

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Each dish, from cocktail to check, arrived in its own beautiful vessel. My water glass was practically a vase, seemingly designed to hold something much fancier than tap water, another touch that spoke to Miyabi's desire to bring both elegance and education to the dining experience. Soba noodles and sauce arrived on a traditional bamboo mat, with the accompanying broth in a small ceramic bowl. While I was aware that the noodles were to be dipped, it was nice at this point, to receive the now expected instructions from the waitress. Later, the soba cooking water was poured into the leftover broth to drink. In the measured, informative amounts, it was helpful to be told how to eat the dishes properly. Since this is Seattle's first soba noodle restaurant, it sure beats the alternative: leaving diners confused and enjoy their meal.

At the end of the evening, I certainly felt taken care of, but I was left wishing a little bit more of that attention had gone into the food. The sauce on my uni starter was so salty that it overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the sea urchin, while my chawan mushi had a watery layer below the custard, presumably from the mushrooms releasing some of their moisture during cooking. The soba, the star of the show, was spot on, though, and with the many things that were well executed--including the aspirational design and service--I am left with watering-mouth to see where this restaurant will go in the coming months and years.

Follow Voracious on Facebook & Twitter. Find more from Naomi Bishop on her blog, The GastroGnome, or on Twitter.

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