Specialty Kumamoto Oysters, Hamachi Carpaccio, Foie Gras, both nigiri and in a dessert, plus several items featuring truffles are featured along with over 60 varieties of fish and dozens of traditional Maki rolls. Chef / owner Andy Okamoto (the youngest looking chef behind the bar) has been at the helm of this northern outpost of wonderful Japanese food for just over four years.
If Soto was located anywhere near downtown Austin it would certainly be one of the more celebrated Japanese restaurants in the area. It’s location in a shopping center close to Lakeline mall on north Highway 183 makes the wonderful quality and creativity surprising and very certainly worth the trip.
As you walk in in to the restaurant, the clean modern lines, grays with swirls of gold on the walls and white orchids on the bar let you know that Soto will not be an average restaurant visit.
Chef Andy is from a family of chefs with both mother, Lin, father Keh and brother Ke contributing to the high standards of the restaurant. He studied Sushi in Kyoto Japan for four years under his uncle Chef Ke Okamoto and eventually spent two years working for famed Chef Masaharu Morimoto in Philadelphia. Chef Andy credits his greatest source of education from his respected uncle and a honing of skills from Chef Morimoto. Chef Andy’s attention to the freshness, variety and beauty of his dishes easily confirm his special background.
Although there are eleven magnificent dishes on the chef’s Omakase (trust) menu, a memorable dinner can be made by choosing from different parts of the menu. On the most recent outing we started with a half a dozen small Kumamoto oysters dressed with; ponzu, spicy daikon, a drop of Tabasco and sturgeon caviar. Each little oyster is a burst of flavor with a mild brininess and a bright finish. (you will crave these mid-week). The second course, Kinmedai (Golden eye sea bream), has become an absolute favorite. This dish was sashimi style fish on a bed of ponzu marinated cucumber topped with tangerine slices, golden tobiko and a chiffonade of shiso leaf. The flavors of the sweet fish, citrus and mildest mint make every bite an event. (Sea bream not surprisingly is Chef Andy’s personal favorite).
We followed the Kinmedai with a beautiful selection of sushi nigari; o-toro (fatty tuna) with a tiny mash of pickled, real wasabi root, fatty salmon with a sliver of strawberry, fresh snow crab with a tiny but powerful piece of yuzu and a few other wonderful items.
Our next course was a fan favorite at Soto; strips of wild King Salmon draped over a piece of lemon grass and suspended over a flaming dish of rum and coffee beans. The salmon is dressed with a thin eel sauce and dotted with edible flowers. The “Fire Salmon” is as photogenic as it is delicious.
On more than one occasion Chef Andy has presented a dish I may not have ordered otherwise, (trust).
In each case, it has been a game changer. Most recently, the Shima Uni – two delicate pieces of special mackerel topped with fine sea urchin roe and dressed with tobiko and microgreens, was unctuous, sweet and yet deeply flavorful.
Our last course before the dessert was two pieces of seared foie gras topped with black truffle on sushi rice. Though not a Japanese standard it is a terrific combination and perfectly right with the preceding courses.
Our last course cutesy of Chef Andy’s brother Ke was a small, phenomenal slice of cheesecake, served with a scoop of ice cream and a flourish of whipped cream all three flavored with Sapporo Black Stout.
You will wonder why more cheesecake is not made with any type of beer.
In addition to all the wonderful courses; our dinner was expertly presented by a very professional wait staff, some of whom have been with the restaurant since its opening.
In addition to Chef Andy, General Manager Craig Anderson makes constant rounds of the restaurant ensuring guests of a faultless dining experience.
Lastly and probably the most resounding affirmation of Soto is the ever presents of regulars. On every visit I have seen fans of Chef Andy’s work; guests I recognize, repeat customers bringing new guests or others there on the constant recommendation of friends; high praise indeed.
OTL Features Editor