photo credit: Nate Watters
There are several ways to deal with severe dinner indecision. You could flip a coin, or play the insufferable “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” game for hours until a sack of Skittles becomes your only sustenance. You could also release some baby turtles with restaurants written on their shells and see which one waddles the fastest. But if you don’t have any quarters from living in a primarily cashless society, or the turtles ask if they’ll be compensated for their work, you should just go to Kamonegi in Fremont to eat a fantastic combination of soba and tempura.
Chances are, it’s not that you can’t figure out where to eat. It’s more likely that you already made enough decisions today and have temporarily reverted to a helpless childlike state. This Japanese restaurant will take care of you. You’ll be welcomed by extremely friendly folks the moment you walk in, surrounded by circulating soba steam and golden brown batter smells. Dinner here is pure, encapsulating the feeling you get when someone simmers you homemade soup if you’re sick. Except, the soup here happens to have duck breast or poached oysters, and chewy buckwheat noodles that you dip into highly-concentrated stocks flavored with things like rich curry and mozzarella or gochujang. And when the noodle-eating starts to wind down, the servers bring you a kettle of starchy soba cooking liquid to dilute the broth for optimal sipping.
photo credit: Nate Watters
The soba here is restorative for your soul, but we’ll admit that it’s not quite as memorable as some of the small plates—but that’s just because those dishes are spectacular. A truly successful dinner here rides on your ability to mix and match the non-soup items. That way, you can experience the phenomenal kabocha tempura arches tossed like chicken wings in a sticky duck demi-glace, delicately battered shiso leaves topped with custardy uni and ikura, or coffee-marinated salmon tartare with pork floss and a wave of chive-speckled sour cream. It’s an all-star ensemble that pairs perfectly with glugs of habanero plum sake that zings through you like an electric current. It all makes it a bit too easy to almost forget about the soba’s existence. Almost.
A meal at Kamonegi is undoubtedly something you can reserve for a big night, but it’s disguised as a tame one, with their hushed dining room giving off the kind of relaxed mood where you could feasibly wear sweatpants while knocking back that fresh sea urchin. And with a menu that changes with the seasons, we urge you to experience this place over and over again, trying new additions while peppering in some older reliables—or make it a one-two punch with some snacks and sake flights at their next door sister bar Hannyatou. After that, the only thing left to do is decide which dish is your favorite. Baby turtles, get back over here.
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Yakitori Duck Tsukune With Soft Egg
When you have the right to order moist duck meatballs coated in a yakitori sauce alongside blistered shishito peppers and a soft egg, it’s best to exercise this right. Every table should have these.
Beef Tongue Katsu
Kamonegi’s katsu has a great crunch, with just enough oil seeping within the shards of panko. It’s delicious slid through the creamy lacto-fermented beet sauce, and the tongue isn’t too tough—but you should focus on the other plates before ordering this.
With tiny cubes of raw salmon marinated in coffee and soy, a swipe of chive sour cream, furikake, and pork floss, this tartare might seem like the result of pulling ingredients out of a hat, mixing them in a bowl, and by the divine powers of coincidence, succeeding. But the excellence of this dish is no coincidence at all. Just when the combination of soy sauce, coffee, dried pork, and roasty seaweed starts to get bitter, the fish, sour cream, and fresh pop of chive save the day. This is a must-order.
You know the social contract we all have as humans where we hesitate to take the last bite of a restaurant sharable to avoid being “that person” at the table? You can ignore that nonsense when it comes to these battered kabocha pieces. Coated in a duck demi-glace and toasted sesame seeds, we hereby consider these crunchy squash strips the greatest tempura item in Seattle. Oh, did you want the last one? Fight us for it.
Uni Shiso Bomb
This is a fried shiso leaf topped with sea urchin, salmon roe, and a dollop of wasabi—and we can’t imagine a world without it. Even though this tiny bite of food costs $17, the bubbly tempura batter on the fragrant shiso leaf, creamy uni, and briny marinated ikura that pops with each bite could convince us to pay double for it.
Lightly crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and served with a salty dipping sauce. We’re always tremendously happy after eating this, but keep in mind that your entree may include a piece or two.
A cold, light plate of soba with avocado, tempura shrimp, puffy tempura flakes, strips of nori, cucumber, and wasabi. While not groundbreaking, it works well for the times when you’re not feeling soup—like summer, or if you had soup yesterday.
If you’re in the market for a warm liquid that has the same emotional effect as burning a bergamot candle and watching the episode of Frasier when Niles and Daphne finally get together, look no further. This rich curry broth accented with globs of mozzarella and potatoes is our favorite soba here. The curry is deep and intense, the tender potatoes act like flavor sponges, and the melted mozzarella is so taffy-like that the cheese strands become indistinguishable from the noodles. Order a side of crunchy pork katsu or housemade fried spam and dunk your heart out. Just note that sometimes they change up the broth ingredients.
If you’re a duck lover, we’d steer you toward Kamonegi’s namesake soba. With a dark soy-flavored broth, it’s filled with exceptionally-cooked duck breast, duck meatballs, leek, mitsuba, and yuzu zest. The same meatballs you may have already eaten earlier with yakitori sauce and runny egg taste just as great soaked in salted broth, and we particularly love how soothing it is to sip from the bowl after pouring some of that starchy noodle water inside.
House Infused Habanero Umeshu
If you can handle a hefty jolt of capsaicin throughout your entire body, an ice-cold glass of this sweet and spicy homemade habanero plum sake is the best way to cap a meal at Kamonegi. Yes, it’s better than the tempura-fried girl scout cookies.