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Soba and Wine: Saving Food from the Foodies

“I’m easy going. We were actually introduced as “a restaurant that doesn't really care too much” in one of the magazines,” Mr. Tatsuzawa Kota, the owner of the Soba and Wine Restaurant Kichi, said with a laugh. Tatsuzawa, 32 years old, operates the restaurant day in and day out with his wife, Tatsuzawa Iyori. He does all the cooking, while she mainly serves.


Mr. Tatsuzawa not only takes a pretty relaxed attitude towards how people label his restaurant, but he also seems to thumb his nose at the gourmet culture that pervades the gentrifying restaurant scene in Nishiogi.


It's not that he doesn’t care about food, he just doesn’t care for some foodies. Though he lacked restaurant experience, Tatsuzawa said he opened this place out of his passion for soba and wine. “To be honest, I wasn't really thinking much when I started. I had no experience as a soba cook. I just wanted to make a space where people could casually have a drink with soba. Usually soba shops are standing places for middle aged men. I just wanted to create a different image of soba.” 


The cozy bar-like space was designed by one of Tatsuzawa’s friends. He was inspired by a restaurant in Katsushika ward in the old center of Tokyo. “The place I used to go to a lot was an oden restaurant. They serve oden, but they also had wine.”


People might not think of soba and wine together, and for that matter, Tatsuzawa doesn't presume to offer the wine that matches perfectly to soba. Rather, he believes this should be up to individual tastes.


He adds, “Well, yes, at first there were many people who presented themselves as soba experts (soba-tsuu) or wine experts (wain-tsuu). Eventually those people quit coming. But now I have costumers whom I can tell that the wine I have in the restaurant is not selected to match the soba. So it's much more comfortable. But if people tell me they were expecting something that matches, I would try to make a recommendation.”


As Iyori pointed out, the restaurant emphasizes natural sakes and wines along with hand-made soba. Kichi offers only biodynamic wine (bio wain) and pure rice sake (junmai shu). Both sake and wine are bought from small-scale sellers, and the choices are limited.


Everyday, Kota makes the pure buckwheat soba noodles, rolling and cutting them by hand.


Now, two years after opening, most of the customers are regulars from Nishiogi. Tatsuzawa continues, “I don't remember having a very hard time trying to advertise the restaurant. I think naturally the people who have come here will spread the word  about the place. Also, people around Nishiogi love coming to newly opened restaurants and bars. Besides the magazines and websites, a lot of people come in spontaneously, after just walking by. So I think a lot of them are from Nishiogi.”


Kichi has also become a place for other restaurant owners in Nishiogi to gather and have a drink. “It is only natural that owners get to know each other in this neighborhood since there are many restaurants and bars,” Tatsuzawa said. “Rather than a central place, we alternate drinking at each other's places. If we have the same day off, we will go drinking in Kichijoji. But if I have work and they don’t, they will come to drink to my place. So yeah, the bond between the other owners of the neighborhood is pretty strong.”


Tatsuzawa says he sources ingredients from the Nishiogi area as well. “Most of the food, vegetables, tofu and chicken, I order from around here.”


The most popular wine costs 500 yen a glass. Other wines and sake cost from 700 yen to 1000 yen per glass. The specialties of the house are mori soba – cold soba noodles served with a dipping sauce – and kake soba – noodles served in a warm clear broth.


Overall, Kichi is a deliberately unpretentious and friendly, somewhat hipsterish place. The young couple seems to price their menu to appeal to young people in the neighborhood who need a casual meal and a place to socialize. (James Farrer, Arisa Matsumura, Nov. 16, 2016, edited March 14, 2017).

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