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Savoring Uni at Soto

November 19, 2011

Pushing through the door of an unmarked white store front with rectangular cut out on 6th Ave near Washington Square, I found myself inside a minimalist dining room.  Suppressing my excitement, I settled into a seat facing the sushi bar and patiently watched the chefs silently prepared plate after plate of deliciously looking seafood.

I was at Soto, a Japanese restaurant in West Village, for a night filled with uni.  I had my first taste of uni, the spiny ocean delicacy, a few years ago and until recently, one of my favorite uni dishes was the uni pasta with crab and tomato from Marea.  However there is something about the delicately sweet unadulterated taste of uni that can only be appreciated in its raw form.  So when I heard about Soto’s infamous creations with raw uni, I knew I had to spend a night here and see for myself.  It was a good thing that I didn’t have to wait long before the evening kicked off.

The menu at Soto is organized into small plates, from the sushi, from the kitchen filled with mouth watering creations most but not featuring uni.  There is also a more traditional sushi/nigiri section on the back.

We eased into the meal with two lighter and simpler dishes.  The kampachi was clean and delicate while the sea trout carpaccio was a little more intricate with notes of black truffle and sweet miso.

We didn’t waste too long before uni started appearing at our table.  The first of a series of uni centric dishes that we ordered was uni with yuba.  Yuba is simply a thin skin that forms at the top of soy milk and is so incredibly light.  Soto made their yuba with black sesame and a little bundle of yuba was tucked beneath two gorgeously golden lobes of uni.  A scoop of uni and yuba with a little bit of the shiitake broth literally melted in my mouth.  The uni hit my taste buds first, with a natural bitter and then faded into a subtle sweetness that arched beautifully into the yuba.  The shiitake broth lingered on the palate and left hints of umami.

I was really excited for our next dish, uni ika sugomori zukuri.  This was a rather long name and deservingly so.  At first glance, the uni ika looked like a small birds nest of seaweed with a tiny golden egg yolk nestled in the middle.  When we pulled it apart, the nest revealed thinly sliced raw squid wrapped tightly around fresh sea urchin.  The dish disappeared quickly as we slurped up the squid and urchin after mixing it with the quail egg yolk and soy.

The next dish, steamed lobster with uni mousse, was absolutely breathtaking and beautiful.  Steamed sweet lobster was filled with a light uni mousse and all of this was wrapped in thin slices of lotus root.  The lotus root were so thin that it was almost transparent and looked like Chinese paper cutouts.  And the piece de resistance was a small piece of smoked uni.  The texture was a little firmer than fresh uni and lightly smokey.

After the parade of uni, we moved onto a few selections from the sushi/nigiri section of the menu.  Each piece of the nigiri, salmon roe, uni, and sea eel, were simple and perch on top of perfectly packed nubs of rice as a good piece of sushi should.  And as for the negi toro roll?  I always appreciate a piece of fatty tuna with punchy scallion and this was no exception.

At this point, we had finished all of the dishes that we had ordered.  Glancing around, a beautiful roll wrapped in pale white kelp at the next table caught our eyes so we immediately put in one last order.  This roll was complex and full of flavor.  The spicy tuna tartar paired well with sweet Asian pear and the pine nuts was relatively subtle.  What was really interesting was the white kelp, softer and more tender than the black seaweed normally used.

After all of that, we were finally ready to call it a night.  Even though we had worked our way through an astounding number of delicious dishes, I felt still light on my feet.  That is truly the art of an amazing meal, isn’t it?  And for all of the uni fans, Soto is one not to be passed by lightly despite its every attempt to not draw attention to itself with its nondescript entrance.

Soto | 357 6th Ave,  New York, NY 10011

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