September 27, 2011
Sotohiro Kosugi was born a third generation sushi chef in a fishing village in northern Japan. In 1997, after ten years experience at home, he opened a restaurant in a shopping center in Atlanta. In 2007 Food and Wine Magazine named him one of the best young chefs in the U.S. In that same year he closed in Atlanta and opened Soto in New York. Michelin gave him a star in 2010 and a second star in 2011. To celebrate my 71st birthday on July 27, 2011, Karyn and Blair joined Linda and me for dinner at Soto.
It is on a downscale commercial block of Sixth Avenue, north of Fourth Street. There is no sign in front, just the street number and a zen arrangement of rectangular cutouts in a white wall.
Karyn and Linda in front of Soto.
On entering one sees the sushi bar down the left wall. On the right are tables. We were seated in the back near the kitchen. The decor is plain with one Japanese emblem on the right wall.
This was the view of the sushi bar from our table. The chef works there with two sous chefs, preparing the sushi and other raw dishes. His wife, Maho, supervises the kitchen in back where the cooked dishes are prepared.
The menu, which is reprinted each day, is quite extensive. The first page had twelve “small plates.” The second, “From Sushi bar” had thirteen elaborate uncooked, non-sushi dishes. The third, “From Kitchen,” showed thirteen cooked dishes. The fourth page listed the many Sushi nigiri and roll offerings of the day. Eight and twelve piece sushi nigiri omakases are offered. We chose the “Omakase Course,” which combines dishes of the chef’s choice from all four pages. As they were served, the listing on the printed menu was shown to us. The titles below are exactly as they were on the menu which I took home and scanned into my computer. Some of the spellings may seem unusual, but they may be a better conversion from the Japanese. The sake descriptions are taken directly from the sake menu.
We ordered a bottle of Kansansui dai ginjyo sake: Fukuoka, semi-dry, sharp, clean; “shizuku-shibori brewing method, soft touch in contrast to the sharp taste, has elegant and fruity aroma.” We thought that it had a nice flavor, but was too much of a “soft touch.”
The first course was
Black sesame and white sesame tofu, served with wasabi soy sauce and soy foam.
There were nicely varying sesame flavors here perked up by the mild soy on top and below.
thinly sliced fluke with chive, ginger shoots, shiso leaf, under mizore ponzu sauce
The flavors here were quite delicate, as is appropriate early on in the meal.
traditional organic egg custard soup with shrimp, chicken, shiitake, mitsuba, ginko nuts, yuzu zest
This was still in the delicate flavor phase; it was nice to get away from the soy/ponzu sauces, although they were enjoyable in the first two courses.
uni and yuba
black soy bean milk skin with finest Japanese uni, served with shiitake broth
This was served in a large martini glass, which is not evident in the photo. Soto is known for its uni, or sea urchin, dishes. This was superb.
uni tempura with uni powder
deep fried finest sashimi quality sea urchin in tempura batter, flavored with home made uni powder.
Tempura deep-frying is not the best way to treat good uni, but this was an interesting variation with the somewhat cooked-out flavor of the uni enhanced by the concentrated powder made from uni that had been smoked, steamed, baked, dried and grated. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice sparked it up and cut the richness.
sea trout carpaccio
cured tasumanian sea trout with black truffle sea salt, sweet miso mustard sauce, served with sesame cresoon
The truffled sea salt brought out the flavor of the sea trout. The watercress with sesame dressing was particularly good and provided a fresh contrast to the rich fish.
scallop shiso and fluke agedashi
deep fried shiso wrapped scallop and fluke, served in dashi broth
I have never understood the Japanese idea of putting a very crisp hot deep-fried ingredient into a liquid which makes it mushy. This is not a good way to use contrasting textures. Fortunately the top half of the fried tempura batter was still crunchy. The flavors were nice.
wild snapper carpaccio
new Zealand sea bream with aged vinegar and sea salt, sesame oil, garnished with chopped ginger shoot and cilantro
The garnishes dominated this interesting sashimi dish.
thinly sliced surf clam with myoga ginger shoots and sesmaem, marinated in sweet miso mustard sauce.
The marination of the clam slices had made them more tender and brought out the flavor. The lime cup added as much citrus as you wanted.
minute steamed tai
lightly steamed Japanese sea bream with ginger scallion oil
As the meal progressed the fish was becoming more substantial, as was the saucing. Very good.
steamed lobster with uni mousse
layers of steamed main lobster and uni mousse in lotus wrap, garnished with smoked uni and caviar
Up until now we had each had our own serving of each dish. This was served for the table in the middle and we each helped ourselves. The lobster with sea urchin mousse was very rich and very delicious.
live soft shell crab
crispy deep fried live soft shell crab, served with ponzu sauce
This crisp, good course was served on two plates for two.
braised black cod with Japanese vegetable
soy broth braised sable fish with Japanese satoimo, shimeji mushroom
The soy broth braising of the fish chunk made it rich and salty without hiding its flavor. The simmered taro root alongside was a nice bland counterpoint.
At this point we started on a second bottle of sake: Kura, “Hiroshima semi dry, full body sake with rich umami taste yet soothing and fresh aroma.”
This was our favorite sake of the evening. Its full-body combined well with the cuisine.
cyu toro tar tare
chopped fatty part of big eye tuna with avocado coulis, garnished with caviar, chive, served in sesame ponzu sauce
This elaborate dish was also served on two plates for two. Luxurious and excellent.
uni ika sugomori zukuri
finest sea urchin wrapped in thinly sliced squid with shiso. served with quail egg and tosa soy reduction
This lovely faux sea urchin was decorated with thin strips of nori. As if the sea urchin and squid inside were not rich enough, one mixed in the raw quail egg and continued the delicious, rich luxury effect which had already been created by the lobster and big eye tuna dishes. Excellent.
lightly broiled new Zealand langoustine under shiitake sauce.
I would not have thought of garnishing a plain, good langoustine with shiitake shards, but they are mild and the combination worked very well.
Our waitress said that the chef wanted to know if we would like some sushi. We were having a very good time and so ordered four pieces each and a bottle of Mansaku No Hana from Akita; “yamahai brewing method, excellent aroma and mellow touch of dai-ginjyo.”
It was mellower than the Kura and so it went well with the sushi, but would not have been sturdy enough for the preceding courses.
We each received a small bowl of fresh pickled ginger, but no soy sauce or wasabi was brought as the chef had seasoned each piece of sushi properly. There were small scores on top to hold the small amount of soy sauce he put on some of them.
On the left is saba, mackerel from Norway. It had the good oily flavor that I like in mackerel. On the right is chutoro, midfatty big eye tuna from Ecuador: luscious. As with the tartare, the chef does not use endangered bluefin tuna. Big eye is not endangered.
On the left is unagi, smoked fresh water eel from Taiwan. the flavor was just what I was hoping for when we ordered it. On the right is tai, Japanese sea snapper with a little powder of pickled wasabi on top that made it more interesting.
To finish we had two plates with six ice creams wrapped in mochi half shells. They included red bean, green tea, strawberry, vanilla and mango.
The meal concluded happily with a cup of roasted white rice tea. It was not just each dish that was well composed. The entire meal made a logical progression from lighter dishes to more substantial ones. There was no need for a meat course near the end. The four pieces of sushi introduced rice where it would appear on a traditional kaiseki menu.
The service was always friendly and efficient, although sometimes we had to surmount the language barrier. Fortunately we could always refer to the printed menu. The pace of the meal was just right. We were told when ordering the Omakase Course that it would take at least three hours and it did. The noise level was nicely low. The presentation was always elegant with the dishes carefully arranged on lovely, varied plates.
Much of the clientèle seemed to be treating Soto as their neighborhood sushi bar, which is extraordinary for a restaurant with two Michelin stars. They would take a place at the counter or a table and just order two or three dishes, leaving quickly. But we were very happy that we had chosen the big menu and spent our evening at Soto. We will be back.
357 6th Avenue, New York
http://www.sotonyc.com/ (under construction as I write.)
To see Chuck’s typically philosophical thoughts on Soto click here.
To see Docsconz’ report with great photos click here. Even though it was from a year and half ago, many of the dishes are the same.