Lunch Out @ Soho Sushi

Soho Sushi is not your typical sushi place, and they're not trying to be.  They opened recently in the Tower Place Mall (with a storefront on 4th Street), and although we were a bit skeptical about the concept - they use a few machines to automate the process, and are arguably more like a Chipotle than what you probably know as a sushi restaurant - it was actually pretty darn good.  We'll have to try the chicken or steak on a roll on a future visit, but some more familiar options were quite tasty.

The Food:  We've done a handful of sushi reviews in the past month or so, and I've found the bullet formatting you'll find below to be the best way to talk about each item in an easy to read format:

  • Soho California roll - The use plenty of crab, and in general they don't seem to skimp on the ingredients at Soho.  There are some places lately where I've had a hard time tasting the fish or crab, so its nice to have it loud and clear here.  Not too much rice, which again is appreciated.  If anything we've been overwhelmed by it recently.  It does stand out that these are not particularly good looking rolls - the ends are messy and even the best pieces aren't particularly tight and compact.  But, that's not why you should go to Soho Sushi.  This roll had avocado, cucumber and sesame seeds in it and was topped with wasabi mayo and yakisoba sauce, and was truly full of flavor.
  • Spicy salmon roll - Sarah particularly liked the cream cheese, but there was too much scallion in a couple of my bites (I suggested they cut it more finely to ease the texture).  This was another across the board comment - bite to bite things can vary quite a bit, as the construction of the rolls happens so fast.  You know when you're at Chipotle (or any build your own place) and they put most of one ingredient on one side and you're in a long line so you're trying to decide whether to say anything - that will happen to you here.  But, you'll get over it because they used lots of salmon and carrots (yes, carrots) and topped the roll with spicy mayo and a sesame seed mix (black and white) that was delicious. 
  • Tempura shrimp roll - Not much to say here except the roll had avocado and asparagus in it - I've never seen the latter before in a roll.  This was one of those times that I thought maybe I would try a steak roll sometime soon - its not the norm, but it's not bad either. 
  • Spicy tuna roll - Like with the salmon, lots of thick cut scallion in some bites.  Again with plenty of tuna to match the avocado, cucumber, and a spicy mayo topping.  Not my favorite spicy tuna roll ever, but satisfying nonetheless.
The Ingredients:  With only 2 raw items on the menu (the back of their shirts read "not just raw fish" and "that's how we roll") - tuna and salmon - that is what stands out as far as ingredients go.  They're talking about doing seasonal ingredients, and would like to buy local (I'm starting to hear this from most everyone at every restaurant I go to - which is a good thing!  But, I'm certainly planning to follow up and see what follow through is like as well).  After some feedback they got different nori, are changing their process for rice (see below), and definitely seem open to ideas.  You may also be interested to know that they can indeed do inside out rolls, and you are encouraged to make whatever roll you'd like out of the ingredients.  We saw one guy make what was dubbed on the spot "The John Roll" - if I remember correctly it had steak, tempura chicken, and salmon (maybe there were vegetables too, but I was too amazed at the meat additions to pay attention after that).

The Story, Setting, & Service:  A friend of ours went to school with one of the owners of Soho Sushi, so we had it on our radar for a while.  We also told them about our connection after we got our food, so a couple of the co-owners did come by and chat with us.  They've been fairly active on Twitter and Facebook as well, so tracking their progress from before opening has been easy for anyone.

The most notable thing about what they're doing is their technology, which their staff uses efficiently to make the speed of ordering quite impressive.  Once you tell them what you'd like, you'll have your food in hand almost as soon as you pay.  It made me wonder how fast other sushi places downtown go at lunch time - anybody ever tried to get in and out of Mr. Sushi in a hurry?  They have a machine that puts the rice on the nori, a machine to cut the sushi, and even just invested in a rice tumbler after hearing concerns about the heat of the rice from some customers and a Metromix review (see the slideshow below for photos of the machinery).

Their space is open and clean - it's where that tea place used to be (I never did go in there) in the mall.  They've got crisp images of Shun knives on the walls - this was pretty cool for us because our main chef's knife is a Shun - and a fountain adds to the Asian feel of tranquility.  The menu board is big and bold when you walk in, and they have clear glass that separates you from the handiwork that goes into creating your rolls.

At $26 for 4 rolls, it's not exactly cheap.  But, they are quite generous with their portions of meat and other fillings, so you'll get more bang for your buck than at other sushi places.  They told us they know that its hard to get full on sushi, so they wanted to try to have larger helpings.

And the owners, both from Dayton, clearly have their eye on something bigger than just downtown Cincinnati.  They're thinking about expanding to other parts of the city, and there was definitely a glimmer in their eye when they mentioned growth.

Lastly, if you're not walking from downtown, street parking can be hard to find, so aim for the $1 city parking lot at 5th and Race, or park under Fountain Square.

The Last Bite:  Soho Sushi is clearly worth a trip, and if you're a downtowner looking for quick lunch options, your choices just expanded in a cool new direction.  If you're a sushi traditionalist, Soho is probably going to drive you a bit batty - the rolls aren't perfectly crafted, and there are no sushi chefs in the first place.  But, if you can get past that and just focus on what's in your mouth, I think you'll have to admit its good.  Who knows whether they'll be able to sustain and expand, but from an outsider's perspective it does look like they're on to something.  Sarah and I will be back, and we're likely to jump on the Soho California roll again because they give you plenty of delicious crab meat.

Soho Sushi on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I went to Soho yesterday and yes, I was a little "weirded out" by the non-traditional sushi. However, once I put that aside, I took the time to think about what I liked and made myself quite a nice meal. The rolls are HUGE, sloppy, and fun. For 15 bucks I had so much food I was full and had enough left over for sharing. I am pondering going back today to experiment with the rolls. If you put aside the idea of sushi as a large expenditure of fancy food and put this in a fast food version.. it's really pretty decent. Would I call it good high-quality sushi? No. Would I call it a tasty alternative lunch with sushi like qualities? Sure.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Anonymous - your thoughts make sense to me. I'll definitely head back for lunch as a downtowner...

Anonymous said...

"Four rolls for 24 dollars....so it's not exactly cheap"

Are you kidding? 40 pieces of sushi for 24 dollars is a steal. I love Soho because I can get full off sushi for like 6 bucks! How many other places around Cincinnati can you do that?

I will agree that they need to work on the rolling, but they are much better than they used to be.

Gavin DeVore Leonard said...

Anonymous #2 - I hear you, maybe "not exactly cheap" wasn't well worded. But rolls for $6 are quite readily available - lots of places have 1/2 price all the time or on certain days. Ichiban is one such option. Most of those roles don't have the sheer mass that the rolls at Soho have, but many aren't too far off.

We just had Soho the other day though - it's a great option in the city, but you do have to take it for what it is and not expect it to be like a "normal" sushi restaurant.