I was taking CL contributor and local food blogger Jenna Weber to lunch and needed a place close to the office. Easy enough, but it also had to be healthy. That's Jenna's thing and, despite my devotion to bacon peanut brittle and beef in all its forms, I tend to eat healthy meals as well. Have to justify the occasional binge, after all. Sushi is a safe choice, especially with frequent Best of the Bay winner SoHo Sushi just a mile or two away.
Despite the awards, its popularity and its location in the heart of one of my stomping grounds, I'd never been to SoHo Sushi. I'd tried, on occasion, to visit after the restaurant moved from SoHo proper to Kennedy Blvd. after a dispute with its landlords. Problem is, every time I stopped by I'd either find the small parking lot full, or the tables full, or both. Popular place.
Thankfully, this time we quickly found a seat in the restaurant's pleasant dining room loaded with wood furnishings and the usual Asian decor accents. At lunch, SoHo has the usual array of bento boxes and cooked meat rice bowls which, it turns out, are the way to go despite SoHo Sushi's name.
Strips of beef and chicken teriyaki are subtly sweet, with a crisp crust of caramelized sugar and salt that's just about perfect. Panko-crusted fried chicken strips are fine -- adult fast food -- and SoHo is great with tofu, the exterior usually doused in tempura and fried to a crisp with a steamy, soft interior.
The sushi, though, is another matter.
During that lunch, SoHo's fish never managed to measure up to the quality that the restaurant is known for. Some pieces were exceptionally waterlogged, as if defrosted poorly -- or too quickly -- and left to marinate in their own ice water. Others, especially the salmon and tuna, lacked the fat that gives those fish the rich flavor and luscious texture that makes them worth eating raw. Even rolls, like SoHo's "salmon zest" topped by grated lemon zest and drizzeld with citrusy ponzu, came diminished by the the lackluster fish and flavors that seemed more from a bottle than from raw ingredients. It was disappointing.
Later, on a nighttime visit, I found it easier to see what SoHo is doing right with its sushi. The rice is perfect, warm and well-seasoned, noticeably sweet and tart but subtle enough to pair with other ingredients. So many sushi joints, especially those that cater to a more modern crowd, forget how important properly seasoned rice is. And the construction of the sushi and makimono is tight and composed. There's talent behind the bar at SoHo, but it's largely lost once you bite into the fish.
Again, the fish suffered from waterlogged slices and occasional pieces that were still firm in the center, almost giving under my teeth with an icy crunch. The quality was the same at lunch, as well, with salmon that took a little chewing and tuna that looked gorgeous but never released the unctuous fat that can sometimes justify the kind of sushi addiction that allegedly gave Jeremy Piven mercury poisoning.
Thanks to the great rice and the talent behind the counter, SoHo's rolls were far more succesful than the more minimalist sushi and sashimi. Veggies are treated with respect, like green beans and asparagus that are barely steamed to provide green crunch when wrapped in nori and rice. Fried items maintain warmth and profound crunch when stuffed into rolls here, and sauces tend to come with a pleasantly heavy hand to provide strong flavors to match the multiple textures SoHo pairs in their specialty rolls.
Despite those few accomplished touches, SoHo's cooked options reigned supreme at dinner. Although yasai tofu says it comes with "sauteed vegetables," the plate was overwhelmed with a mass of warm cabbage. No problem, since the fried tofu and cabbage tasted fantastic in SoHo's straightforward, peppery gravy. Udon soup is built on a deeply flavored broth, with thick noodles rendered gummy by absorbed broth but still with some bite at their core. Best of the bunch is thinly slice beef coated in a salty glaze heavily accented by garlic, the meat just sweet and oily enough to turn a crisp brown and lend accompanying onions some fatty flavor.
Tasty stuff, sure, but what to do with a sushi restaurant where the fish is the least desirable option on the menu? At SoHo, I'll order a bento box -- which comes with a vegetarian California roll.
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