Back in 2010, I went to a wine dinner at Uchiko that was so wonderful that by the end of the year, I was still sufficiently moved by it to declare it my favorite meal of the year. In 2011, I had another such meal at Uchi. Since then, I've been lucky enough to enjoy countless fantastic meals, but none have gone out of their way to suggest that they might qualify for "best meal of the year" status.
Soto, a Japanese restaurant in Cedar Park, has been open for two years, now, and has developed a loyal following amongst the Yelp crowd. I'd heard about it multiple times from various friends, but somehow I had never made it up there. So I was really glad when the King of Yelp himself and a Soto regular, Errol M., suggested that we grab lunch there one Saturday afternoon. I envisioned a nice little sushi lunch, perhaps a one-plate sushi combo, or maybe a bento box. We arrived, chose seats at the sushi bar, and Errol said to the owner, Chef Andy: "This is Michelle's first visit. Surprise us." And that's when the doors blew off the place.
The courses started arriving. And they didn't stop. Plate after plate of unique and stunningly beautiful food kept appearing in front of us. And somehow, I kept consuming every bite, gasping and clapping my hands together and "oh my god"-ing and all the while kicking myself for not having made it to Soto sooner.
We started with something that Chef Andy called "white salmon truffle" - delicate slices of white salmon topped with truffle, the most wonderfully crispy fried scallions and shallots, soy sauce, and a bit of truffle oil. The texture and flavor combinations this dish presented were a true delight; Chef Andy expertly balanced the light fish with the ethereal onions and the heavier truffle flavors, taking care to ensure that the truffle sang without overwhelming the dish.
White Salmon Truffle, $25
Much pomp and circumstance accompanied the flaming salmon, a dish that for good reason Yelpers and Instagrammers alike love to photograph. Thin slices of raw salmon are seasoned and draped over a horizontal stick of lemongrass under which lies a dish of flaming rum-drenched coffee beans. You can choose to leave it rare or let it cook a little longer if you prefer; either way, the salmon, by virtue of being so thinly sliced and well-seasoned, is succulent and delicious.
Chef Andy was determined to keep it interesting, and sent out a couple of pieces of nigiri next. Shima-aji, or striped jack, was topped with a little uni, microgreens, shiso, and gold leaf. Chef Andy does not miss an opportunity for show.
Errol wanted me to experience the Kawasaki lunch, so he ordered one for us to share. Various cuts of gorgeous fish prepared in several different ways were presented on a really cool platter - the white dishes had square feet that fit into the wood piece underneath. Ingenious! One of the dishes that came with the combo was a little ramekin of risotto. I was a little confused by getting a dish of risotto at a Japanese place, until I tasted it...and nearly fell off my chair. It was, hands-down, the best risotto I have ever tasted - creamy, rich, and earthy in a way that I felt from the back of my tongue to the tips of my toes. It was positively stunning.
A couple of oysters arrived next, served on an LED-illuminated bed of shaved ice that harkened me back to the days when I used to sling black lights at Spencer's Gifts.
Next I was introduced to my first taste of geoduck. The clam nigiri I've had in the past has typically been a little on the chewy side, but this was tender and mild. A little ikura lent the bite a bit of brinyness.
Errol must have mentioned to Chef Andy how much I love monkfish liver, because two gorgeous pieces of it arrived next, nestled in a cut crystal bowl.
All of my favorites made it to the menu. Chef Andy insisted we try his new foie gras preparation next - with a bit of white chocolate shaved on top and a glass of 20-year tawny port. I had given up on restraint about four courses back, so there was no point in resisting.
This was a meal I won't soon forget; the flavors, presentation, and service were all absolutely top notch. If you want an experience comparable to Uchi/Uchiko but don't feel like hassling with the crowds, the din, and the hipsters, I'd suggest that you get in your car, drive up to Cedar Park, grab yourself a seat at the sushi counter in front of Chef Andy, and hand over the reins. It won't be the cheapest meal you have all year, but it very well could be the best.
[Full disclosure: Chef Andy comped the flaming salmon and the two desserts for us. However, we paid for the remainder of the meal as well as my husband's meal, which is not shown because I was too busy swooning over my food to bother taking photos of his.]
11066 Pecan Park Blvd., Ste 402
Cedar Park, Texas 78613