A dad and his daughters, loving life in New York City

Wednesday, July 4

Soto

Unbelievably sad over a no-longer anniversary (on July 3) and sensing that I should nonetheless celebrate a still-active one (on July 4... call it my own personal Independence Day), it seemed like I had two perfect excuses for treating myself to Soto last night. And so treat myself I did.

In case you don't know the backstory: Soto is run by sushi chef Sotohiro Kosugi (his wife Maho is in charge of the kitchen), who has made a name for himself in raw-fish circles both for his prickly demeanor and for his pristine, flown-in-from-Japan creations, served for eleven years out of an Atlanta strip mall. This spring he brought his show up to the big city, and though his new address—a particularly unlovely stretch of lower Sixth Avenue—isn't much of an aesthetic upgrade, there's no question that Soto has become an instant contender for best sushi in town.

First, let me say that there was no evidence of Kosugi's legendary grumpiness last night. Really, he couldn't have been more smiley and helpful throughout my entire 90-minute meal, which I spent seated right in front of him at the sushi bar. Second, don't let Soto's dreary location discourage you, either. This is a very pretty restaurant inside, all light wood and dark slate; simple, cleanly lit, and designed by Hiro Tsuruta, who also did Momofuku and ChikaLicious.

Anyway, the food. I started with two from the kitchen, beginning with a sort of mini gazebo's-worth of the tastiest tempura I've had in years. The generous sampling was lively and light, wonderfully crispy and full-flavored, and included a pair of perfectly-cooked white shrimp (superb when splashed with lemon and dipped in sea salt) as well as pieces of kabocha (a Japanese squash, similar to butternut), asparagus, renkon (those wagon-wheel-looking lotus roots), a shiso leaf, and a fat shitake mushroom. This was excellent. Then came the Chawan Mushi, which was a cup of rich egg custard studded with bits of shitake, chicken, an unfortunately bland shrimp, and two delightful ginko nuts. Although I've never had this "traditional" dish before, I feel like it shouldn't have been as oily as mine was toward the bottom... as if the mixture had separated. But the firmer top half was unusual and delicious.


Then Kosugi unleashed his sushi deluge upon me. I ordered the 12-piece Sushi Nigiri Omakase, wound up getting 14 pieces in all, delivered one- or two-at-a-time, and each was a singular slice of raw fish heaven. You don't get any soy sauce or wasabi at Soto, as each piece arrives seasoned as the chef would have you eat it. And believe me, he knows what he's doing. My feast included incredible slices of a buttery Toro; an explosive Madai, or Japanese Sea Bream; a sweet raw Shiro Ebi; a brilliant Sake Yakishime, or scotch salmon, seared exactly right; an orgasmic Uni; a nicely-gamey Aji (horse mackerel); a melty Hamachi and a firm Mirugai (live giant clam); and a spectacular Hotate, or Japanese scallop. Every bite made me want to close my eyes and enjoy a small moment of private ecstasy.


Soto is located on Sixth Avenue between West 4th and Washington Place. I made a same-day reservation for 6:00, and when I left at 7:30 there were plenty of empty tables and seats at the bar, but by then the whole city had pretty much cleared out for the holiday.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful review. My sentiments exactly.
BTW, it's "ChikaLicious", not Chick....

My appetite is again wetted! Thank you.

7:22 AM, July 05, 2007

 
Blogger Scott said...

Thanks for the comment, and the correction.

Always appreciated.

10:35 AM, July 05, 2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like a wonderful meal - how much did it set you back?

5:19 PM, July 06, 2007

 
Anonymous dbird said...

Anonymous: it's whetted, not wetted. Or at least, I trust that's wot you meant. The photos are, in fact, luscious.

Scott: how nouveau did you find the sushi and other items? I thought Soto was supposed to be more in the Nobu vein but the sushi depicted looks more Edo. (Which is generally a good thing in my book, but I'm also measuring against Yasuda).

Hope it lifted your spirits at any rate.

7:30 PM, July 07, 2007

 
Blogger Scott said...

@dbird There's a whole side of the menu with 14 different nouveau sushi small plates, most of which sound amazing. For example:

"Fresh west coast sea urchin wrapped in thinly sliced aori squid and shiso, served with quail egg and tosa soy reduction"

or

"Chopped hawaiian kampachi jack fish with wasabi tobiko, pine nuts, served with soy foam".

And, thanks, it did help my spirits on what was a really bad day, so at the time it seemed worth the (@anonymous2) "special occasion" price tag.

12:33 AM, July 08, 2007

 
Blogger wayne said...

the best seat is right next to Sotohiro, at the "4 top" at the end of the bar. He is an amazing craftsman to watch. I spoke with him briefly after dinner, asking about his knives and he was very curteous and genial. Although, watching him work, as with most committed chefs/cooks, he was serious and often stern. You have to be to get it just right. The food was amazing, and you won't hear me say that too often.

1:13 PM, July 09, 2007

 

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