In a most welcome and unexpected twist, a new Edomae-style sushi pop-up has materialized at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica!
Soko Sushi is helmed by itamae Masa Shimakawa, who hails from Hakodate in Northern Japan. Masa-san’s latest stint was at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village.
The name “Soko” itself (‘soko’ means storeroom in Japanese) represents a lighthearted jab at its own origin, since very space the sushi bar currently occupies used to serve as a storage closet. Currently taking only walk-in customers, Soko was jumping when I first visited last week. There is no formal omakase here, and ordering is done via paper and pencil (KazuNori-style), so I took it upon myself to curate my own okonomi (a la carte) progression. The feeling is akin to Edo-era Narezushi in its “walk up and order” philosophy.
Let’s dive in!
Birru: Asahi and Sapporo are on the menu…
Classic sushi bar minimalism…
Cucumber salad with seaweed: Itadakimasu! This was a very refreshing and auspicious start to the meal. Spot on sensibilities with the profile and aesthetics.
The Daruma theme prevails here…
Masa-san, using samekawa to grate fresh wasabi…
Ready for nigiri!
Tai (red snapper): Super. The shiso and sea salt bring out the exquisiteness of the neta. I wanted to start my nigiri with this to gauge the chef’s sushi meshi (sushi rice). The rice at Soko is surprisingly good for a sushi-ya this casual in style!
Hamachi (yellowtail): Another winner. The nikiri (brushed-on soy) isn’t too heavy-handed here.
Hotategai (scallop): From Masa’s home prefecture of Hokkaido, the fluffy soft scallops were a dreamy delight.
Ora king salmon: WOW - Delicious! Though I admit, I was bit puzzled when Masa-san handed me this piece of sushi: Do I eat the entire yuzu slice? Or should I just squeeze the juice from the yuzu slice and not ingest the rind? Damn the torpedoes! I ate the whole thing in one bite, as Edo etiquette demands (even though technically, salmon is not considered a traditional fish in the Edomae repertoire). Nevertheless - Huge bite!
Sake time! I asked for a cold carafe of the house junmai (?) ginjo. It was good.
Tako (octopus): This was a daily special. Nicely cut, but not as tender as I had hoped.
Honmaguro akami (lean bluefin tuna): Excellent knifework and really deep in its taste. Huge bite! I love it when the itamae hits it out of the park with the tuna.
Ebi (Selva shrimp): These sustainable tiger prawns, raised in the mangrove forests of Vietnam, are firm and flavorful.
Ikura (salmon roe) gunkan: A wee tad dessicated, but overall still very nice.
Honmaguro chu-toro (medium fatty bluefin tuna): That was great! Once again, Masa-san’s nikiri brush beautifully brings out the complex character of the chu-toro. Huge bite.
Aji (horse mackerel): The only hikarimono (silver-skinned fish) on the menu at Soko tasted all the more divine. Huge bite!
Uni (sea urchin roe) gunkan: Hokkaido bafun uni and Chilean murasaki uni are both representing here… Unusual and intriguingly good combo!
Omega Blue kanpachi (amberjack): Raised in ocean opens in the Sea of Cortez, there is a very clean taste to this fish. Enjoyable.
Tamago (egg omelette): A bit too chilled, but otherwise fine.
Toro takuan maki (fatty tuna with pickled daikon cut roll) with shiso: A superb way to end the meal. Huge bite(s)! Bravo!
A walk-up okonomi-style sushi-ya with really well-procured neta, solid shari and refined technique, all located right at the ocean cliff’s edge in Santa Monica, and not priced at a king’s ransom… It seems that the Fairmont Miramar has a hit on its hands with Soko Sushi. The restaurant seats eight at the counter, and there are additionally two small tables (which can snugly seat up to four guests each) situated outside in hotel hallway. Soko operates from Wednesdays through Sundays, serving walk-ins only (no reservations taken; first-come, first-serve), from 5PM to 10PM. Masa-san says he doesn’t know how long the hotel will continue the Soko pop-up, but judging from the happy faces I saw among my fellow diners that night, I suspect this tiny venue serving up big flavors might be around for a while.
Soko Sushi (pop-up) at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows
101 Wilshire Bl.
Santa Monica, CA 90401