Great Plates: SOTO

Inside an unsuspecting strip mall in Cedar Park, TX resides one of the Austin area’s best sushi restaurants. Helmed by Chef Andy Okamoto, Soto is a family restaurant in the truest sense – with Andy’s parents running the hotline and his brother handling desserts. There are literally generations’ worth of knowledge and passion behind the restaurant’s doors. Join us as we discover the fare for ourselves, uncover its great plates, and decide for yourself if Soto earns a spot on your short list of Austin area restaurants to try.

Great Plates

Soto

Fire Salmon

Fire Salmon

 
Two opinions are better than one.
 
In GREAT PLATES we offer two stories for you to enjoy. Get the gluten / dairy-free perspective from Jess and get the non-dietary restriction perspective from Chris. Read one article or read them both; either way, you’ll get a better feel for the atmosphere and food before you make a reservation.

 


Jess_Simpson_Gluten_Free_Citygram_austinWhat’s that old saying? “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”? I’ve never thought of that phrase in the context of restaurants, but it seems that even there the idiom holds true. Because you wouldn’t dare imagine a top-rated sushi restaurant to be located in a meh strip mall in Cedar Park, Texas, would you? Yet, that’s precisely where Soto can be found. Nearly hidden beside a beast of a Party City at a distance from downtown that might make the 78704’s tremble behind their mountain man beards.

As a Musashino diehard, I was flat out stunned to find a sushi restaurant that I feel surpassess my beloved Austin mainstay. I’m WAY, WAY far from a sushi connoisseur, but I do have some basic sushi restaurant “musts” when it’s time to feed my craving: 1) authenticity, 2) fish quality and 3) creative flavor-flair (which may or may not contradict my first precept). Soto is phenomenal on all three accounts and its superiority can also be attributed to the exceptionally warm, knowledgable service and crazy innovative presentation. I’ll venture out to the Lakeline Mall area any day for that.

the Soto folks acknowledged and responded to my dietary restrictions (gluten and dairy) with ease and complete confidence.

Additionally (and equally as important), the Soto folks acknowledged and responded to my dietary restrictions (gluten and dairy) with ease and complete confidence. With each dish presented, items were identified individually and confirmed to be something I could enjoy or should stay away from. The head sushi slinger/executive chef/owner, Chef Andy Okamoto is devoted, humble and brilliantly skilled in the art of Japanese cuisine. This was clearly evident with my entire Soto experience.

The Kawasaki Lunch had some great options for me, but the highlight was the spicy tuna handroll that I nearly sunk in tears. Chef Andy masterfully carved the roll out of a whole raw cucumber strip formed into the traditional cone and filled with the spicy tuna that stands unrivaled in my book.

Nigiri Sushi from top to bottom:O-Toro, Sake Toro, Madai, Suzuki (sea bass)

Nigiri Sushi from top to bottom: O-Toro, Sake Toro, Madai, Suzuki (sea bass). Gluten-Free. Dairy-Free.

We then sampled a variety of nigiri. Now shhh…I’m actually not a HUGE nigiri/plain ole slab of fish right down the hatch kinda gal. I tend to like my raw fish with a little somethin’ somethin’, you know? Maybe it’s a texture thing, but whatever it is, I consciously ignored my noisy intuition and opened my horizons and my mouth. The O-toro (fatty tuna) nigiri boasted some beautiful marbling and spectacular composition. It was, far and above, my favorite of the nigiri offerings. The Madai was magnificent and the Suzuki (sea bass) had a perfectly natural and fresh taste. Somewhere between these three pieces of nigiri, my fears withered away.

The Truffle Maki was prepared sans tempura to accommodate my gluten-free-needs – leaving only melt-in-your-mouth, angels-singing bliss. A spicy mayo and cucumber roll covered with seared hamachi, white truffle and sturgeon caviar atop was a bold and memorable dish that truffle-lovers will fawn over. If you prefer subtle flavors, back away. Or simply slide it my direction.

Yuzu Balls - Gluten-Free. Dairy-Free optional

Yuzu Balls – Gluten-Free. Dairy-Free optional.

For dessert, the Yuzu Balls are a great gluten-free option. It’s an intensely citrus sorbet-ball-of-sorts that’s covered in a hardened butter shell. To make them dairy-free, I opted out of the outer shell, but it was a delectably sweet ending to an exceptional meal.

Get Soto on your short list, friends. And hey, let’s carpool!

 


chris-perez-citygram-austin-magazineWorking in his parents’ sushi restaurant since he was 10 years old, Chef Andy Okamoto found his calling at an early age. While training under his uncle in Kyoto, Japan, Chef Okamoto got a thrill out of seeing the positive reactions on the faces of the patrons he served. With decades of experience under his belt, chasing that response is still something that fuels the imagination and creativity of the culinary artist – who is now behind the counter of his own restaurant (Soto) in Cedar Park. We as Austinites just have to sit back and enjoy the show.

Fire Salmon

Fire Salmon

The offerings at Soto are as bold and bright in flavor as they are in presentation. Start a journey for all your senses with the Fire Salmon – where, as the name suggests, sushi-grade salmon draped over a stalk of lemongrass (and ornamented with colorful edible flowers and micro-greens) is crisped beneath the crackling flames of coffee beans and rum. This dish is a delight for two to enjoy together, and it will set the tone for the avant-garde fare to follow.

The offerings at Soto are as bold and bright in flavor as they are in presentation.

Another show stopper we ordered was the Aji Tataki special. With fresh Spanish mackerel served atop blocks of ice in a filleted sculptural display, you’ll almost feel guilty about consuming it – almost.

A suitable dining choice for both a special occasion or a casual lunch, Soto demonstrates a versatility with its broad range of menu selections. Presented as a modular bento box the Kawasaki Lunch – with mini-plates of rocky unagi, black cod, lobster risotto, rock shrimp with lemonade sauce, and a spicy tuna handroll to name a few – is a bargain at $12 – $15.

Kawasaki Lunch

Kawasaki Lunch

Purists may opt for a plate of nigiri sushi, often a measuring stick for quality, and again something that is beautifully executed by Chef Okamoto. The marbling of the O-toro (fatty tuna) is something to admire before enjoying the buttery melt-in-your-mouth delight. The Botan Ebi (a large Japanese prawn) is also very flavorful as it’s complemented with a fruit-forward mango gelee.

Soto also offers a variety of distinct specialty maki rolls. One worth particular note for us was the Truffle Maki – a roll of spicy mayo, cucumber and shrimp tempura that sits beneath seared hamachi topped with white truffle and sturgeon caviar. The caviar provided a bold, yet pleasant pungency that had me reaching for more, but it might not be for everyone.

As we rounded out our final bites of the entree and sushi selections, we discovered that the visual decadence doesn’t stop at the savory component of the menu. Chef Okamoto’s brother puts on an equally impressive show.

Green Tea Tiramisu

Green Tea Tiramisu

The Green Tea Tiramisu is an arrangement that starts with lady fingers (soaked in green tea and rum) and a light cream filling layered inside a stemless martini glass – which is then topped with fruit and dusted with cocoa powder. The glass is then nested inside a bowl of green tea reduction – forming a moat around the perimeter of the glass that begs for each spoonful. I’d save some room for this.

The Wasabi Chocolate Truffle dessert pushes the envelope a little more with wasabi-spiced truffles in a wasabi cream sauce that chase the chocolate with just the right amount of heat. Along the shadow of the crystallized sugar tower you’ll also find a hefty scoop of ginger ice cream atop a mound of black sesame soil. A level of experimentation and artistry that reminds me of the likes of an Uchi or Uchiko.

Miles away from Austin’s most lauded mainstays – and in a building that shares walls with both a Hancock Fabrics and Party City – Soto surprises. Perhaps though, that’s exactly what Chef Andy Okamoto wants. Sometimes the biggest thrills are found where you least expect them.


 
 

Soto

11066 Pecan Park Blvd, Suite 402
Cedar Park, Texas 78613
(512) 257-0788

Make a reservation online.


This article originally published in The Wander Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine.
Explore the full issue on your desktop here or download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.


Photography: Chris Perez

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