Vongerichten Bets on Soba

Jean-Georges Vongerichten: In soba we trust.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten: In soba we trust. Photo: Getty Images

Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest venture, Matsugen, is essentially a high-end buckwheat noodle shop. What’s one of the world’s most famous French chefs doing slinging soba? We went to the source to find out.

Why did you make 66 a soba restaurant?
I met the Matsushita brothers and I thought that this would be a good time to bring in a more Japanese sort of space. We had no bar at 66; here, we’ve added a bar with a big list of sake and shochu. It’s been reported, mistakenly, by the way, that the Matsushita brothers are involved in a chain. They have nothing to do with a chain; they’re very boutique. They have two restaurants in Tokyo, the larger of which has 35 seats. They’re just small soba places, but very, very good.

What’s the soba like?
We’re serving three: a very fine noodle, called rin, which is almost white; seiro, a darker, medium-grind one; and the last, coarsest one, inaka, still has the husk in it. That’s really the peasant soba.

Which one is the best?
The inaka. That’s my favorite. It’s got a great bite to it.

Ramen’s been big in the last couple years, but not soba. Why will that noodle be successful?
For one thing, we have a lot of Japanese customers. The first few nights in here, 60 percent of the people were Japanese. But I think all New Yorkers will love soba. They’re the healthiest noodle you can eat. There’s not egg, just buckwheat and water. And our sushi is a serious program; 90 percent of the fish is from Tsukiji market in Tokyo. [Tsukiji is the largest fish market in the world.] We’ve got a great shabu-shabu salad…there have already been a lot of good responses. Nobu was in the other night; Wakiya was in. You can come in late, too: We’re going to stay open till two in the morning. The Matsugen in Tokyo stays open till four!

What ever happened to the plan to make a huge Japanese gourmet market?
It didn’t work out. That part of the deal fell through. It would have been nice, though.

Related: Using His Noodle [NYM]

Vongerichten Bets on Soba