Chef Jason Hauck would kindly like for you to disabuse yourself of the notion that Soma Sushi only serves sushi. Sure, it's a sushi restaurant. Sure, the word "sushi" is in its name. But as we discovered at a chef's tasting dinner on Tuesday night, there's much more than raw fish coming out of the kitchen.
When the restaurant first opened three years ago, Soma's kitchen was manned by none other than the infamous Robert Gadsby. Under his stewardship, it manifested an impressive display of French-Japanese fusion dishes that were inspired in their ideas, but not always in their execution. And although the elegant, airy and seductive interior remains the same at Soma, the Gadsby days are long over now -- something that Hauck and his staff are eager to impress upon their guests. The kitchen still turns out dishes that aren't quite sushi bar and aren't quite the deconstructed cuisine of Chicago's Alinea (as they were quick to point out), but somehow manage to work.
Over ten courses along with ten sake pairings (of which we didn't partake) on Tuesday night, it became clear that although Chef Hauck isn't running a traditional Japanese restaurant, the man knows what he's doing. On any given night, diners can walk in and request the chef's tasting menu -- which is roughly what we had -- and Hauck will tailor-fit a meal for that table, whether they want to binge on the finest o-toro or indulge in the more modern and more Western side of Hauck's repetoire. That side includes luscious adornments of Hudson Valley foie gras and strikingly American ingredients, like the Pappy Van Winkle's bourbon ice cream.
But diners who aren't out to splurge on a tasting menu can also order certain items that we tasted straight off the menu, like the butternut squash-ginger bisque, which was perfectly restrained in its roasted, autumnal sweetness, or a trio of sushi so fresh that only a scant dusting of pure wasabi root is all that's required -- no soy sauce needed.
Below is a recap of some of the many courses we sampled on Tuesday night (this was not a media tasting; this was a pay-your-own-way tasting). As strange as it sounds, we enjoyed the non-Japanese dishes every bit as much as the voluptuous, boundlessly flavorful sushi. That said, we're getting an all-sushi plate the next time we're at Soma -- which will be sooner rather than later.
Smoked steelhead roe on puffed black rice with creme fraiche, ponzu foam and micro dill. A tad too salty, but with that lovely, almost metallic bite of good roe -- like the taste of blood when you bite your tongue. An interesting hint of flavor combinations to come.
Seared ankimo (monkfish liver) with tobiko (flying fish roe, colored black here with squid ink). The first -- and most traditionally Japanese -- part of a three-part dish, a winter treat with a silken texture.
Hama Hama oyster, the second part of a three-part dish. An earthy and sweet, yet sharply spiced pea shoot salad was the third part.
An indecently large seared diver scallop in butternut squash bisque with Hudson Valley foie gras, hazelnut nibs and miso foam. Easily our favorite non-Japanese dish of the night.
Hauck's "a la minute" confit of monkfish, with baby shiitake mushrooms in a shiraz reduction with micro lemon balm and red miso paste. The monkfish was too mealy to have been eaten alone, but was saved by the mushrooms and subtle sauce.
Carpaccio of o-toro with Alba white truffles and a truffle soy vinaigrette. The musky smell of the truffles overwhelmed the delicate nature of the fatty tuna, but you can't really complain when you're eating truffles.
Wild Chinook (a.k.a. blackmouth) salmon -- caught the day before -- delicately poached in saiyako miso and dill oil, served with Perigold black truffle and snow peas. The second-best dish of the night, owing mostly to the unbelievably fresh salmon and its fluffy yet firm texture.
One of two desserts: the aforementioned Pappy Van Winkle bourbon ice cream with egg nog, covered by a crunchy sugar shield. Cracking into this was like delving into a creme brulee, only to be rewarded with cinnamon and nutmeg instead of vanilla.