As a vegan, people are always shocked to learn that I am a fan of sushi restaurants. I understand that surprise comes from the assumption that sushi equals fish. And that is mostly true; however, most of the time a vegan gal can get a delicious veg-filled meal at any sushi joint. Soto is no exception. In fact, they elevate the experience to fine dining and Friday night we were ready for another one of these experiences.Our dynamic duo had a third of the carnivorous persuasion join us for this meal. He began contributing right away through the drinks. I ordered my go-to, the Nashi. Normally we don’t mention the drinks much but this drink is noteworthy. Light and crisp based in Asian pear-infused vodka with a splash of St. Germaine and Prosecco, this drink is a lovely compliment to this food. Our third, being knowledgeable in Sake, ordered one and shared. Not knowing much about it, I learned it too was light and complimentary. I look forward to learning more about this genre of beverages.
Nate, our waiter, brought the amuse-bouche along with the drinks. This citrus-y Jello-like (but not gelatin, vegan-friendly) bite was lovely though it will be gone soon to be replaced by a creamy edamame bite that I hear is amazing but is not vegan-friendly my friends. Soto is great about informing us about ingredients.
Our next course included two appetizers – Gyoza and Edamame. I, of course, enjoyed the edamame as I always do. I don’t have a much to discuss about that but I will go into my order. I ordered three pieces of each of my favorite Nigiri – Inari, Kampyo and Shitake Mushroom. For those who aren’t familiar, I will give a brief description. First Inari is a tofu skin pouch full of rice. Second Kampyo are strips of gourd on top of rice. Finally Shitake Mushroom is simply the mushroom cap on top of rice. Of course you could order them Sashimi style without the rice. But what would you use to soak up the wasabi-laced soy sauce?
I have loved this order so much that I took a picture of the menu so I would remember to always order these pieces. I found this meal to be a little less satisfying than other meals here. This is why I can only award Soto three rutabagas for this round. All of my food was colder than normal (the edamame and Shitake mushroom typically are very warm) and the Kampyo had a fishy taste. I don’t know if they store it near fish or something but this is not typically the case. I am sorry because I normally would award more for Soto. Hopefully next time will be back up to its normal quality. In the meantime I know my dining companions had a much better experience and that makes me very happy.
Please allow me to start this post by telling you that I LOVE sushi. I have eaten more raw fish than the average great white shark and pelican combined. So when I tell you that I have found the best sushi in greater Austin, I do so with 100% conviction. Is it downtown? No. Is it in Westlake? The Domain? No. It is tucked away in a strip center near Lake Line Mall next to a Party Center and a Best Buy store. Stop laughing! It’s the truth. The name of this hidden gem is Soto Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar.
The vegan and I have enjoyed several meals at Soto over the past year. We dined there again on Friday night with my best golfing buddy, and it was FAN-freaking-TASTIC!! We started with the pork gyoza for me and a dish of edamame for the plant eater among us. The gyoza was the best I have had in town. The edamame was as tasty as a steamed soy bean can be, but seriously, it’s hard to get worked up about a legume. Still, they were devoured quickly and before long we had an empty plate where gyoza had once been, and a bowl filled with empty soy bean carcasses. The second course was a tasty treat called Spicy Toro Gunkan. Though this was not the main entrée, it was my favorite part of the meal. It was so good in fact that it became the 4th course as well. My buddy and I ordered a second round after we enjoyed the main course, but I am getting ahead of myself.
For the main meal, my buddy and I each opted to go with the Chef’s Choice Sushi Special. At some sushi bars this option is risky because it is often the least desirable pieces of fish that the chef selects. More often than not there will be a piece of shrimp (cheap), some sort of egg piece called Tamago (yuck) and a piece of tuna or salmon that looks more like bait than a meal. This is not the case at SOTO. The chef’s selection was absolutely exquisite. 10 pieces of the very best cuts of fish that I have ever enjoyed. One piece had a sliver of lime. Another had a sweet sauce that tasted of ginger. And another had a sliced strawberry perched atop of a sake salmon. Whomever thought to blend these two tastes together is a genius and deserves to have a day of the week named after them.
After having ordered the second round of Spicy Toro Gunkan, our waiter, Nate, tempted us with dessert. Usually the answer is an abrupt “NO” because Key Lime Pie is the only must have dessert and rarely do you find that in a sushi restaurant. But Nate sold me on a quality alternative called Yuzu Balls. These were ping pong sized balls of lemon sorbet that were somehow infused with white chocolate. An order consists of two and, because I am polite, I insisted that the other carnivore at the table try the second one. I kinda wish he had declined because they were incredible! Damn manners!
And finally, there is the aspect of carnivores and vegans dining together. Soto scores very highly on this front. There are actually vegan options on the menu and, I am told, they are quite tasty. As the wait staff is often key to these interactions, I have to give Nate high marks on his service. He has actually waited on us a couple times and provided quality ideas for the vegan. We have never had a bad meal at Soto, and the wait staff is always a quality enhancement to the incredible food. Soto gets a solid 4 cow faces from this carnivore, though I have challenged the vegan to use fishes instead of cow faces for this post.
If you don’t agree it is the best sushi in town, I will eat a bug.