Fish Story 

Soto, 357 Sixth Ave, 212-414-3088
Price range:  $45-$75

Too often, in a city of such diversity as ours, sushi is just Wednesday’s dinner, a healthy alternative to a burger or Thai curry. Cold, pleasant but tasting more of imitation wasabi and soy sauce than the sea. Some of us don’t know it can be any other way. Raw fish is raw fish, isn’t it?

Sotohiro Kosugi, a sushi master of the highest order, fled Atlanta two years ago, bored with making California rolls, reopening his eponymous joint in the Village, where he wields his blade with the assuredness of a samurai and the unerring focus of a Tibetan monk.

Chef Kosugi seasons each flawless piece of fish by hand (no dipping!), served one by one at the bar, to showcase the essence of every bite. Japanese white shrimp received a mere slick of vinegar and a dusting of zuzu zest, heightening the sweetness of the melting, gelatinous crustacean. Chyu-toro tuna and salmon are anointed with soy sauce and fresh wasabi, shaming the common dip. Past the seasoning, the fish is the thing. Flown in five days a week, each piece represents the pinnacle of the species. Even salt-water eel is on a different level, with none of the assembly-line quality it usually has. The rice at Soto is warmer than I’m used to, but when eaten immediately, it allows the flavors of each piece to burst forth. Maine uni (sea urchin roe) is one of Soto’s specialties, gracing many cold entrees. One, wrapped in thin squid, studded with seaweed and topped with a quail egg, appears to be a whole urchin, but the sweet, salty, luscious flavors melt into the impossibly rich uni ($24).

Kosugi-san’s wife, who heads up the kitchen, turns out a wonderfully fragrant, cloud-like  chawan mushi custard ($8) with razor-thin shiitakes, dashi, chicken and shrimp, served with tiny spoons. Even cold sesame tofu ($10), black and white, was a work of art, a checkerboard of the diverse tastes and textures of sesame and tofu.

As stunning as the fish is, so too are the prices, with single, Japanese-sized pieces ranging from $5 to $14. So those with heartier appetites will find themselves still wanting, or their wallets significantly lighter. And the décor, though elegant, is too spare. A slatted red and white entryway and red circular cutouts provide the only distractions from a clinical, overlit space. Still, while Soto doesn’t appear to be the most romantic of venues, nothing is sexier than cold artisanal sake and a bite of perfect o-toro, even if it’s $14 a piece.


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