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Soto

Address: 357 Sixth Ave., at Washington Place
Phone: 212.414.3088
Cuisine: Japanese/sushi
Vibe: Unadorned serenity
Scene: Serious sushi endeavors
Hours: Dinner, Mon – Sat, 5:45pm – 11:45pm.  Closed Sundays.
First Bite Impressions:  Transcendent tryst
Inside Scoop: Omakase service begins later this month
Note to Self: BYOB (If you forget, Waverly Liquors is nearby)
Don’t Miss Dish: Steamed lobster with uni mousse
Price
: Appetizers, $10-20; Entrees, $20-30.
Reservations: Reservations recommended.

After eleven years of sushi service in an Atlanta strip mall, chef Sotohiro Kosugi has shut his doors and set off for the big city.  The notoriously temperamental, “sushi nazi” wrangled a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 1997 for his masterful way with creatures of the sea.  But after one too many tantrums, the chef wanted to start with a clean slate.  And that’s exactly what designer Hiro Tsuruta (Chickalicious & Momofuku Noodle Bar) created for him – a naked studio to experience the artist’s work.  Cleanly accented with slate tile floors, a maple sushi bar & cloth banquettes, the serene space appears blatantly out of place amidst the tattoo parlors, head shops & raucous bustle of Greenwich Village’s 6th Avenue.

But Soto seems completely unconcerned with his surroundings as well as the patrons.  Isolated behind the sushi counter, he remains distant, far off his own world – just him and his glass case of gleaming raw fish.  Don’t disturb him and definitely don’t touch the glass.  As if acting as an aquatic medium, he mysteriously summons the most enchanting subtleties from all his fish.

Take glossy strands of nearly translucent stripe jack – while delicate to the eye – it boldly unravels in a truffle-perfumed cloak of
ginger & soy, rendering its blissfully savory essence. 
Or the most enchanting of all, a barely steamed lobster layered with uni mousse in a lotus wrap.  The culinary equivalent of an orgasm – this dish was a miracle of sweet, delicate bits of lobster brilliantly played against the lush, briny sea flavors of a custardy uni, all gloriously complicated by smoky uni & salmon caviar garnish.

I’ll concede to snobbery when in the face of puffy inside-out concoctions (that often muddle or even mask mediocre fish), so it was nearly shocking to discover one on Soto’s daily-changing menu of the fresh fish from around the world.  But my companions insisted on sampling this spicy tartare tuna roll.  Encased in perfectly cooked rice, luscious toro bewitchingly mingled with diced cucumber, crunchy pine nuts & honeyed pears.  Soto’s take raises the inside out roll to a refined plane.  I’m aroused just thinking about a beyond fresh sea bass that renders even the most well-traveled palate weak in the knees.   

He leaves the cooked dishes & the kitchen to his wife, Soho, whose delicate
hands evoke the feminine undercurrents of a gently
braised black cod.  Bathing in an earthy & faintly sweet dashi broth, tender sable embraces earthy accompaniments, highlights being a barely bitter turnip and vibrant fuki (a green rendition of rhubarb).  

But Soto does have an occassional flaw: an overly chewy flounder from Long Island; a dried-out sea eel topped with a mucky puree of uni & shitake.  And then there was a chutoro tartare (tuna belly), which while artichecturally exceptional, seemed unremarkable and all too common for such a gifted chef.

There’s no
dessert.  That would be sacriligeous in this holy fish grail. 
While there are rumors of fits & ejections from the mere mention of a coke, Soto seems curiosly content in his new home.  So did Barry Wine & Paul Liebrandt, who were also in the house Friday evening as well as a couple of long-time Soto devotees.  And me, don’t think I didn’t toy with the notion of getting Soto tattooed on my stomach as I headed back out onto 6th Avenue, past the neighboring tattoo parlor.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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