Soup’s on at Negi-Ya (aka Washoku Cafe)

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The random swings in temperature over the last few weeks probably have a lot to do with the coughing and hacking I’ve been hearing up and down the rows of cubicles at work. It’s getting to be about that time when the office cold starts spreading. Hoping to preempt the first cold of the season, I headed to Negi-Ya (on 37th btw. Mad+5th), formerly Washoku Cafe, to fortify myself with noodles and rich, warm broth.

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According to luncher ‘hungryk9′ in the comments last week, Negi-Ya does table service in the evenings. I’ve only been here for lunch, so I’ve never seen it, but I imagine the experience is a little more sensible that way. During lunch, customers line up at the back counter and order either with the cashier or the person behind the display counter. It can get a little confusing as there are a couple different menus scattered behind the counter and the items in the display case aren’t listed. I know I’ve missed items in the past by ordering from one menu before discovering an entire other list of options available. So, fair warning… look around behind the counter for two menus in order to see all the offerings.

Once you order and pay, it takes between five and ten minutes for them to make your food. The staff may not inform you of it, but your number is on the ticket with your order (not the receipt), so you’ll need to listen out.

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On my first visit, I went for the tonkotsu. They offer two options, a lighter version at $9.50 and a richer one for $10.50. I don’t really do ‘light’ anything, but I stuck with the ML price range and got the light version hoping it wasn’t just a watered down version of the porky deliciousness I love in tonkotsu. I needn’t have worried. If it hadn’t said ‘light’ on the menu, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. The broth was creamy and intense and makes me wonder how much better that rich broth could be.

My main complaint is that the serving was fairly light on the pork and the noodles. For $3 more you can add more of each, but that’s a just too pricey for me (even though it needed both.)

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I’ve been a big fan of curry udon ever since my first introduction to real Japanese soups at a ramen shop in Hawaii. When I ordered Negi-Ya’s curry udon ($7.50), I had a particular idea of what I thought it would be: a thick, spicy, warming broth almost dense enough to be a sauce. That’s not exactly what this was.

Instead, the soup had a regular broth with curry sauce poured into the middle. It definitely warmed me up on a chilly fall day, but it wasn’t quite as satisfying as what I had been hoping for. They also don’t offer it with meat, like the fried chicken at Udon West, so the udon is the meatiest part of the meal.

Even so, the soup was very good. Carrots, onions and potatoes added a depth of flavor and even though the curry wasn’t as thick as I’d prefer, it still gave an underlying heat that I liked a lot. The real problem was that they only gave me a tiny plastic spoon to eat it with. That was less an issue with the tonkotsu, which I could mostly eat with chopsticks, but the bits and pieces in the curry udon required a little more equipment.

With all the other options at Negi-Ya- including many non-soup ones – I’ll be stopping back in to follow up soon. I may even come in after work one day to see how much table service makes a difference and to partake in the $2.99 Saporro Drafts (available all day).

The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • Even the light tonkatsu is hearty and rich.
  • The curry udon is exactly what a rainy day needs.

The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • For $9.50, you could give me more pork and noodles.
  • I need a real spoon.
  • Ordering is confusing and the staff doesn’t always make things clear.

Washoku Cafe, 9 E. 37th St (btw. Mad+5th), 212-686-2233

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