Attempting to chronicle the comings and goings of neighborhood sushi spots can more reminiscent of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day than Peter Finch in Network.
They open, they close, and too often they are indistinguishable from one another Indistinguishable because they all seem to serve the same overtly boring, gussied up California rolls doused in three types of mayonnaise, and indistinguishable because the share the almost universal distance in simple quality from most of the Strip sushi houses. Part of this is because of a blend of the legendary favoritism in the fish market, the best stuff going to the biggest, richest outlets, and even sometimes the best fish going to whoever has the most palm grease.
Greenhorn sushi places don’t often have that relationship in place, but that is just one of the many exciting perks that come with an on-Strip sushi executive chef striking out on his own. Chef John Chien Lee helmed Social House at CityCenter for years and worked with the renowned Chef Joseph Elevado before setting sights on a Warm Springs Road and Jones Boulevard location. His laughing, warm countenance can be seen in the glass box kitchen, while he marshals his team of other Strip sushi veterans.
The style of food occupies a kind of sweet spot between the super-simplistic traditional style – Kabuto, Blue Ribbon, et al. – and the more off-the-wall over-complicated ones that make up the majority of the off-Strip places. You know the ones, where everything needs to be baked, fried, covered in multiple sauces, and covered in beef and roughly a kilo of orange tobiko? You’ll find none of that tomfoolery at SOHO Japanese Restaurant.
The difference for this Asian fusion restaurant is the quality of fish, and they know they don’t want to cover that up. They do the quality justice with minimal touches, like a razor thin wedge of lemon here, a dot of freeze dried miso there. It’s what one would call a creative use of fish.
Take their salmon sashimi ($9) for example. They have a rich, fatty salmon – none of that farm-raised and spray-painted orange nonsense – hit with a bit of wasabi crème, crispy fried shallots, and yuzu lemon vinaigrette. Or in the way of hot items, the garlic soft-shell crab ($7) is unique from other basic fried soft-shell crabs in that it doesn’t taste like a fisherman’s beard. The whole thing, thorax and all, tasted like crab. Unheard of, I know, but an interesting example of their quality.
As far as rolls go, they remain quite basic. You have your rainbow, your spicy tuna. All are fine examples of their style. One of notable interest is your humble California roll, commanding $7 for a roll that is entirely Alaskan king crab. You will not find imitation crab, the detestable nautical version of a chicken nugget, here.
They have something of an original, a kind of tostada of different fish and sauce mixtures, on a big fried slice of taro root. At $3, it’s a bargain, especially the shrimp tostado with mango salsa. It’s acceptable to just go nuts and fill up on them. Items like the hamachi collar have courteous little touches to them: the chefs partially break down the maze of bone and slice the meat up sashimi style. This goes well with their three house-made dipping sauces: garlic soy, shiso pesto, and their special ponzu.
One thing I absolutely love about SOHO is that you can tell nothing is coming in frozen off of a U.S. Foods palate jack. Chef John and his crew have it together every step of the way.
While just a touch pricier than your average all-you-can-eat place, that premium comes with a tremendous benefit in quality. There’s a certain satisfaction in knowing which of the mammoth number of neighborhood sushi places are worth frequenting.
I believe SOHO occupies a previously vacant position as a neighborhood sushi place that maintains not only very interesting dishes, but also – once again – has a level of quality that puts them head and shoulders above other off-Strip sushi.
SOHO JAPANESE RESTAURANT, 7377 S. Jones Blvd., Suite 116. Phone: 702-776-7778. Mitchell Wilburn is a food and drink writer in Las Vegas, and resident restaurant critic for CityLife. You can read his food news and reviews on EatingLV.com