Long before I moved to Dallas, I had heard about Teiichi Sakurai, the owner of the Arts District restaurant Tei-An, who is one of only a handful of soba masters in the United States and a mentor to Japanese chefs and Japanese food lovers throughout the city.
After a couple of really transporting lunches at his serene restaurant, Sakurai told me that after 10 years of teaching Dallasites about finer points of soba, the toothsome buckwheat noodles he artfully makes by hand, he was ready to take it to the next level and explore buckwheat in all its dimensions.
What he had in mind was a zukushi menu — a variation on omakase, or seasonal chef's choice menu —that involves building every course around a single ingredient, in this case, buckwheat.
Zukushi is common at soba houses in Japan, but as far as we know, has never been offered to the public before in the United States. Now, as part of the Dallas Morning News' EatDrinkInsider dinner series, Sakurai has agreed to create four seasonal zukushi menus, beginning with a six-course soba zukushi fuyu, or winter soba menu, on Feb. 20, and progressing through a soba zukushi haru (spring) on April 17, soba zukushi natsu (summer) on July 17 and soba zukushi aki (autumn) on Sept. 18.
Each dinner will be prepared only once for 16 diners seated at Tei-An's counter. And each course will be paired with buckwheat-based drinks, including soba beer, soba tea and cocktails made with soba shochu or soba-infused spirits, such as an Old-Fashioned with soba whiskey, chocolate and black walnut bitters and Okinawa black sugar.
The Feb. 20 menu will begin with quick-fried buckwheat chips topped with ossetra caviar and will progress through a variation on sashimi where the fish is quickly poached in soba water; chawanmushi (egg custard) made with soba broth instead of the traditional dashi; tempura of shrimp, vegetables and possibly fresh bamboo shoots coated in a light soba batter; grilled fish marinated in sake koji and coated in whole, unground buckwheat; a bowl of Sakurai's remarkable soba noodles; and a dessert of soba ice cream sprinkled with kinako (roasted soybean powder), also one of Sakurai's signatures.
The winter, spring and summer menus are $175 per person, including tax, tip and all drink pairings. Because of the cost of seasonal ingredients such as matsutake mushrooms, the autumn menu is $200.
If you've been as captivated by Sakurai's soba as I have, here is your chance to delve more deeply into the ingredient and experience a menu that is almost never prepared in the U.S. And this month's menu will be even a little more special, beginning with sparkling sake in Tei-An's new rooftop bar, which will not be open to the public until March.
Tickets are $175 for the winter, spring and summer soba zukushi menus and $200 for the autumn menu. Each ticket covers the six-course tasting menu, all cocktail and drink pairings, tax and tip. They are available here.