Soba Secrets

Go down the Japanese-noodle rabbit hole at Ippuku

One of the best aspects of Christian Geideman's Berkeley restaurant, Ippuku, has always been its narrow focus.

So it is fitting that on his new Friday-Saturday lunch menu, you can only order one dish: soba noodles, in 17 variations, served cold or hot. Unfortunately, there are no English descriptions on the menu, leaving you at the mercy of your patient server.

She explains the difference between mori soba ($9), the plainest of the options, which is nothing more than a twirl of the chilled buckwheat noodles and a sauce of soy, mirin, sugar and dashi for dipping, and the hot tsukimi soba ($12), in which the noodles luxuriate in hot broth, a poached egg bobbing on the surface (tsukimi means "moon" in Japanese).

The noodles, made with buckwheat flour imported from Hokkaido, Japan, are perfectly toothsome, with a mild, slightly nutty flavor.

While we appreciate the spare presentation of the zaru soba ($10), topped only with a flurry of nori, and the oroshi, crowned with grated daikon ($12), we can't help but love the kakiage soba (available both hot or cold; $14), in which the noodles are paired with an oversize, golden vegetable fritter.

Ippuku, 2130 Center St., Berkeley; 510-665-1969 or ippukuberkeley.com