Jul 01, 2023

Katsuo + Kombu opens for fresh Japanese Udon noodles in S.F.

Fresh, chewy Japanese udon noodles are arriving on Divisadero Street with the opening of Katsuo + Kombu, a new fast-casual restaurant that specializes in making its own version with imported Japanese wheat and a special noodle machine.

Acclaimed sushi chefs Jiro Lin and Takashi Saito of Hamano Sushi in Noe Valley are behind the new business, whose grand opening is June 9. Lin, who trained in Japan for over 10 years and spent time at San Francisco's Michelin-starred Saison, recruited Saito (who was opening chef at acclaimed S.F. izakaya Yuzuki before it closed) to help at Hamano in 2018. It was then that they started offering an udon course at the omakase counter in lieu of the miso soup that's typically served towards the end of the meal. The udon dish became highly popular with customers, so they started adding it as an a la carte option for dinner service in the larger dining room as well.

"We were selling a lot, and I couldn't make any more by hand — I was getting tennis elbow," said Saito. "That's when we started talking about making our own individual udon space."

Partially boiled udon noodles rest in a net at Katsuo + Kombu. Chefs Jiro Lin and Takashi Saito of Hamano Sushi in Noe Valley opened the new restaurant to focus on an udon dish that was a hit there.

To help make noodles for the masses at Katsuo + Kombu, Lin and Saito imported a special, all-in-one machine from Japan that does the mixing, kneading, sheeting and cutting. The machine will be able to produce 300 servings of noodles per day made with specially imported wheat flour from Japan.

Katsuo + Kombu will specialize in Fukuoka style udon, which Saito says is "softer and a little bit skinnier" than the thicker, gummier Sanuki udon served at popular udon chains like Marugame and Mugizo.

But the noodles are just one component. "The main important thing is the broth," said Lin.

The dashi broth is made with a combination of imported katsuobushi — paper thin shavings of dried, smoked bonito fish — along with imported wild kombu (dried seaweed) from Hokkaido. This is steeped in warm but not boiling water along with dried sardines and anchovies, plus some other secret seasonings to form a light, golden-hued, oceanic broth.

The tan tan dry udon noodles at Katsuo + Kombu contains kurobuta pork, with eggplant and a custardy egg in a spicy sauce topped with nori flakes.

When the restaurant opens, diners will have nine options to choose from ranging between $13 and $18. The initial menu is divided into a hot section, which includes bowls filled with broth and noodles topped with kakiage (a type of tempura with mixed root vegetables and shrimp) or filled with sliced Wagyu beef ribeye. Cold dashi with noodles and different tempura options will also be available.

On the drinks front, there will be both local and imported craft beer and cold sake on hand. Initially the restaurant will focus on dine-in customers in the small 20-seat, 10-table dining room, with an online ordering option for pickup; Lin says he plans to introduce delivery later. The space was previously occupied by the short-lived Pizzadero Slice House.

When asked about the future of Katsuo + Kombu, Lin is thinking big. "This is one of many," he said. He's already thinking about a location in the South Bay and considering upgrading to an udon machine that can produce up to 800 servings per day.

Curry udon with vegetables in a spiced beef dashi curry broth. While noodles are a major component, said co-owner Jiro Lin, "the main important thing is the broth."

But for now, Lin and Saito are starting here to see how it goes, one noodle at a time.

Katsuo + Kombu. Opening Friday, June 9. 559 Divisadero St. Monday-Saturday, 4-10 p.m.

Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.