Sanuki Udon at Kagawa-ya in SF

by foodhoe on May 3, 2017

I have to tell you about a new udon restaurant Kagawa-ya that opened up in the mid-Market area of SF recently.  It’s named for the Kagawa Prefecture in Japan which is known as the udon prefecture because there are over 600 udon shops and the region’s per capita udon consumption is seven times that of the national average (even though it is the smallest prefecture in the country!).  Sanuki udon noodles are its soul food (named after its historical name), the thick long flour noodles have a soft and silky quality combined with a springy elastic texture.  They are usually served in a hot dashi broth with toppings such as tempura fried seafood or vegetables or cold with a dipping sauce.  Kagawa-ya emulates the classic self-service style of Sanuki udon shops in Japan, offering fresh, high-quality food at reasonable prices in a location that is conveniently close to bart and public transit.

It’s in a bright airy space with high ceilings, a modern, minimalist style that includes a little bit of nature.

The owners, chef Sean Lim and his wife Katherine Chiao traveled to Kagawa prefecture in Japan to study the fine art of making udon noodles so they could share this delicious regional specialty with us.  It is a fast casual restaurant where you walk up and take a tray, peruse the menu, place your order, pay, and then carry your food to your table.  Behind the counter is an exhibition kitchen where you can see the noodles being made from scratch.  Be prepared to make important decisions about your bowl of noodles.

You choose from a variety of styles, the classic Kitsune served with warm dashi, or a cold version, one with sliced beef, a beef curry udon, a creamy kabocha udon or a vegetarian mushroom curry over rice (prices range from $9.50-14).

Chef Sean Lim has a degree in the culinary arts and worked at the Palace Hotel as a sous chef and also trained with Master Sushi Chef Akifusa Tonai and Executive Chef Kuni Oshikawa at the now closed Kyo-Ya Restaurant (which was our favorite Japanese restaurant because of their exquisitely refined cuisine.)  His background and training shows in the fine quality in every aspect of each bowl of noodles, which are made from scratch daily.  You get to choose your toppings for the soup (green onion, pickles called fukujinzuke that are a traditional accompaniment for curry, grated daikon – a must for the tempura dipping sauce, and the fried bits of tempura batter that brings richness and texture to the bowl.

Then you can choose additional items like tempura made from a selection of fresh local vegetables (green beans, kabocha squash, eggplant or potato), tamagoyaki (sweet egg omelette), prawn, zucchini, chikuwa (chewy fishcake-super yum), Korokke, a panko-crusted, creamy potato croquette, or soft boiled egg at an additional $1.50 per piece.  There are a variety of rice balls too, including the amazing spam musubi, priced at $3 each.


Now that you have your noodles figured out, and have decided on sides and drinks, you slide your tray over to the register to pay, and then you grab your condiments and eating utensils.  Around the corner they have sriracha and shichimi-togarashi (7 spice powder) for those who like it spicy.

The tempura was lightly battered and crisp, almost a meal in itself!  I had a spam musubi and totally forgot to take a photo, which is unfortunate because it was a beauty, the spam was griddled and crisped on the edges and the rice had a lovely sprinkling of furikake.  You’ll just have to take my word that it’s a thing of beauty and you should order it if spam musubi is your thing.  Here’s a link to a photo from their instagram feed.

I had the Kitsune Udon, a classic combination made with clear dashi made from sea kelp and shaved bonito flakes, both ingredients are full of savory umami flavor that pairs beautifully with fresh green onion and the slippery noodles.  The soft boiled egg was perfectly cooked, the yolk was like liquid gold, that along with the fried tempura bits added a velvety glamour to each delicious bite.  This was a soothing bowl of comfort.

Underneath that layer of tender richness are two thin slices of fried tofu skin (abura-age) that has been simmered in a sweet and savory dashi.  Abura-age in Japanese mythology is thought to be the favorite food of the fox that’s why it is called kitsune udon.

The Curry Udon is a tasty Japanese style curry with beef, potatoes, carrots, and fresh noodles. The soup was thick and rich like a stew, the meat was really tender and flavorful and those noodles are to die for.  The pickles add a bright zippy flavor and have a lively fresh crunchy texture.

I grew up eating udon and loved everything about this place.  Kagawa-ya offers an elevated bowl of Sanuki udon noodles with all the bells and whistles done right.  Their noodles offer a refreshing change for jaded palates, and especially as a lighter option to all of the rich and fatty bowls of ramen around.  Go there now!  I got the chef to smile for me, if you get there early you can watch him make the fresh noodles.

*disclosure that I was invited to dine as a guest of the house, and note that I would happily pay for the pleasure of eating these excellent Sanuki udon noodles.

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1455 Market St #3A, San Francisco, CA 94103
Open M-F 11A – 7P | website | instagram

Trust the japanese to make movie about their udon obsession, it’s even weirder than the one about their collective ramen obsession, Tampopo

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