We arrived on a cold January 1 evening and I honestly did not do a lot of planning. Fortunately there were quite a few bookmarks I already made from the past, and as this was very close to John Wayne airport, off we went.
Meiji Seimen (Costa Mesa). Gotta love it when you just get Japanese kanji, and in English “Japanese restaurant” for the signage. If you know, then you already do and come here for in house made noodles. Interestingly, they do both soba and udon. Without doing any further research, and having been here once before some years ago, I have a different perspective of this place.
It was probably around 8 pm and there were quite a few people ahead in the waiting list. After about almost 40 mins wait, our table was ready
It was New Year’s Day, and there was a special “Kachin Udon” $9 posted on the wall. Wanted to try it, so hopefully it was not sold out by the time the table was ready. On a side note, Japanese people celebrate the crossing of New Year’s eve by enjoying soba (Toshikoshi soba), so I am sure the night before soba orders were double if not triple… anyways going back, this Kachin udon looked like a spinoff of ozoni (New Year’s eve soup of dashi, mochi, and other ingredients)
What was also interesting was that the evening of 1/1 also had a special event/offer: Furumai sake. Upon inquiring after sitting down, there would be free small pours of sake from a traditional vessel (scooped into a lacquered square drinking cup). Though perhaps not quite the traditional Furumai (can’t complain!)
Meiji Seimen also prides on the quality of its soup base, dashi. It is the soul that drives pretty much everything noodles in the restaurant. Hopefully in the future I’ll get to try a cold noodle dish, just to see how their dipping sauce (tsuyu) tastes and if they prepare that in house. It was pretty cold and windy outside, so no cold noodles at dinner for us.
Biggest joy upon sitting down was the discovery of an oden checksheet menu, oh hell yes!!!
In the corner was the Furumai sake, which the restaurant obtained a large sized. Room temperature Kurosawa (Nagano prefecture). I am not a huge fan of the retail bottling, logo, and packaging, as it seems a bit Fu Manchu like…but at least this vessel looks far more Japanese. This sake is a Junmai, and would be perfect at room temperature and probably warm.
It’s a small pour and it was quite light and semi aromatic, a bit light bodied for me but maybe more medium for beginners. It hit the spot even at room temperature. I would later ask for a get a refill at no extra charge, bless the restaurant!
Oden was excellent. Japanese mustard brought on the side without even asking. Broth was very mild savory and perhaps just a touch sweet, but enough dashi / umami flavors. I wanted to try more, but couldn’t be too greedy.
I took the small refill of sake and poured the remaining oden broth into it (Japanese people in Japan call this “dashi wari”, or cutting sake with dashi). Super tasty if you are into this kind of combo! Even better if the sake was hotter to begin with. Warms you up nicely too.
Kanchin udon was very pleasant. The udon texture surpasses the crap in San Francisco (including Marugame Udon). The broth is just a touch sweet for my preference, and the mochi in this bowl was great. Very festive!
Dashimaki tamago also hit the spot, piping hot, though also a touch sweet but good dashi flavor. Perfect side dish since I was getting soba afterwards
Inaka soba - this caught my eye right away on the menu. I got a hot version which has a bit of broth to keep everything else warm, but the toppings are nori, katsuobushi, daikon oroshi, hanjuku tamago, and some marinated shitake. Toss it all up and it’s a wonderful combination of textures. A friend in Japan had something like this not long ago, except it was with udon and it had tempura batter.
It’s no wonder this place is a hit with the locals. Friendly efficient service, and very tasty true to form no BS food. Plus events and special offerings during the holiday season to celebrate Japanese style.
If anything the dashi was just a touch sweet overall, and ordering soba hot is not the best idea if you prefer your noodles with better chew or bite (that award actually goes to the udon), but hopefully I’ll have a different opinion if I ever get to try cold soba.