A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Friday, March 18, 2005

Mar. 18.

Sogo and Yellowtail

Tuna tortilla pizza and Honey Nuts Roll

Spicy Dynamite Roll and Sushi-Sashimi Combination

Dinner -

Sogo NY - 337 W. Broadway, Soho
BBQ-Marinated Yellowtail in Wasabe Soy Sauce, Tuna tortilla pizza with creamy spicy sauce, Alligator Roll (Shrimp tempura, mayonnaise and tobiko topped with eel), Honey Nuts Roll (Roasted honey nuts, avocado and cucumber topped with avocado), Spicy Dynamite Roll (spicy tuna, spicy salmon and spicy yellowtail topped with eel, spicy crab meat and tempura flakes), Sushi and Sushi Combination Sampler, Sawanoi sake, Lychee martini

Growing up on late-era Reichl, I’ve often wondered what the life of a food critic is like. That’s why I was happy to acccompany Jennifer Blowdryer from the New York Press and one of her Japanese students to Sogo NY as their expert in Japanese fusion. Going behind the scenes also turned out to be one of the most informative dining experiences I’ve had thus far this year.

Some of the things I learned: The restaurant was selected because of a press release. The owner was expecting us and came over a painful number of times to check on us. The food was comped. The owner just recently hired a publicist after being open for a year because he found out that was the best way to drum up business.

I can understand the need for publicity of course. Sogo NY is a nice Japanese restaurant with typical trendy décor and a fusion-heavy menu, but it’s unassuming and easy to miss. I was surprised that it’d already been open for a year since I’d never heard of it and could barely find any online information about it. And while the public rarely considers the process of how stories reach their eyes and ears, public relations is often at the root.

As I said, Sogo is easy to miss because it’s neither amazing nor terrible. It tweaks some dishes in great ways while others are only average or not properly proportioned. The chef’s efforts are apparent and the presentations are impressive and thoughtful, but whenever Sogo attempts too much creativity, it can fall short. For instance, one of their hyped maki, the honey nuts roll, which unites roasted honey nuts with cucumber and avocado, could’ve been very cool. But the exterior wrap of avocado was too dominant of a flavor and texture, dulling the novelty of the honey nuts (which I’m not sure would’ve worked anyway). Also, the barbecued yellowtail, which owner Sunny recommended as his favorite, was disappointingly bland, with no discernible trace of the wasabi its description promised.

When Sogo went spicier, it did better. The most inspired and successful dish we tried was the tuna tortilla pizza, which playfully updated the Mexican pizza with tuna and ponzu. Visually, the creamy orange ponzu sauce was a clever allusion to the gooeyness of cheese and the base of pink tuna fittingly stepped in for the red of the tomato sauce. It was also delicious, with all of the very distinct flavors and textures (tortilla, tuna, ponzu, scallions) making their presences clear. Also very good was another one of their specifically-mentioned maki, the Spicy Dynamite Roll, which had a center of spicy tuna, salmon and yellowtail and was also topped with ponzu. The surprising element introduced here was tempura flakes, which gave the roll a welcome crunch.

To see how their more traditional side of the menu was, we also ordered a sushi-sashimi combination that was atttractively presented on two tiers. The fish itself was good and reasonably priced, but nothing stunning. Aside from its fanciful appearance, the quality was about what you’d find in any sushi restaurant.

And what’s how I would categorize Sogo NY. It’s like an average sushi restaurant with similar prices trying to stand out with fusion elements and a Soho-friendly ambiance. It’s definitely worth a look for the level it’s on and it does try hard to please. The tuna tortilla pizza is also very much worth checking out. But what ultimately distinguishes it from the Japanese restaurant glut may just have to be the publicity. 6/10


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