If you are looking for traditional Japanese fare in an Americanized concept, go to a cozy lounge at the top of Boulevard Place on Post Oak Blvd. The manager and managing partner, Phillip Wimer, is affiliated with 20 restaurants, all having a Japanese theme using the hibachi. Sozo was designed to be more intimate and the very definition of a fine lounge. He and the other two chefs who have worked with him before concentrate on simple ingredients utilizing the best possible techniques for the very best in Sushi and Roles. Most other restaurants do mix up fruit for crazy fusions, “but that is not where we’re going,” says Sozo manager Phillip Wimer. “You could be in LA 30 years ago and see the same style menu, because it’s not about the mixing of sauces poured on different classic rolls. For us it is the best possible ingredients and quality of fish. That was our concept, and if one were to read a review on Yelp and see these great images and words, and then expect crazy fusions, that would be a misconception … we’re about keeping it classic with the quality of service that the area expects and 100% about the quality of fish. They that dine with us have an educated palate and are cultured.”
To say that the first dish offered took me back a little is an understatement. I wasn’t quite ready to be taken on an adventure. Grilled Squid, (Ika Teriyaki), is the name on the menu of the whole squid broiled teriyaki style. This is one of the more traditional dishes that they offer. This isn’t something you’ll see everywhere; it is the whole squid grilled over an open flame robata-style. Seeing the presentation of this dish in their exotic style gave the experience added drama. Usually, we Americans, if we order Squid at all, get it in the form of Calamari, with the little legs barely visible. My photographer said, “Smile, Sonia” and I reassured her and my hosts that I am ready for a taste adventure. So, I want to assure any doubtful readers that it was very tasty without the usual coating and very tender.
It lived up to their standards of freshness. There was none of that rubber texture that we have come to expect. The IKA (Japanese for squid) Teriyaki had smoky hints that went well with the beautiful drink that was presented to me just prior to the first course. The popular cocktail paired with this is a Smokey Old Fashioned that includes a Woodford Rye Classic whiskey modified with Mathilda Peach liqueur lightly smoked in Hickory and served on the rocks.
I jokingly told him that I am an old fashioned kind of gal, and this is not what I would typically order. However this pair, the Ika Teriyaki and the Smokey Old Fashioned, can grow on you. I do know that the drink is one of the most popular. Phillip responded with, “Well, food and drink is all about the senses, so the presentation includes the smell, and the taste.” The other signature drink offered was called an Eastside Martini that had a mix of lemongrass and mint shaken with Hendricks Gin, a clean & crisp concoction. He had heard I like Gin. So, Sozo gets more points for a good memory. This makes for good P.R. with in their clientele.
The second dish was their Lobster Roll. This gourmet delight consists of luscious Lobster tail meat taken out and fried, rolled in soy paper, with snow crab and sweet eel sauce on top of upside down shrimp. Ebi, shrimp in Japanese, and chopped tempura fried lobster, used in a few different ways are on the chef’s special. The display on the plate was well done with focus on Daikon (classic Japanese sweet dried) radish garnish for the sashimi.
Fresh Sashimi Nigari (Salmon Sushi) was presented in a fan style. The Salmon, like every other fish, came in the delivery that morning. Tai (Red Snapper), lighter fish ponzu, citrus drizzle & wasabi on top, all looked like part of a forest. The happy combination worked together well. Philip’s comment on this dish was stated,” Regarding this one, we are making sure we have not gone for overkill. But there are slight differences combined to create one taste.”
Kobe beef was a part of the most interesting roll. The role tastes as unique as the marbling design it showcases. It was like a steak sushi! Philip told us how you hear about Kobe cows get massages and music during feeding. The cows drink beer and sake to get them ready. We were laughing at the imagery his stories conjured up for us. He said when he visits a Japanese restaurant he measures the quality of the sushi on the kind of tuna it utilizes.
Other taste delicacies include:
Cherry Blossom roll — Fresh Salmon, Tuna, Yellow Tail, Avocado, Spicy Sprout and Jalapeno Rolled in cucumber skin, served in homemade vinaigrette sauce.
Hamachi Kama — Fresh Yellowtail Collar to perfection, served with Teriyaki sauce.
Hamachi Coma takes a bit longer to prepare. The bottom of the yellow tail jaw is the most flavorful. They only make a couple a day because they sell out of them so quickly. A light seasoning of salt and pepper may be used over an open flame. A side of teriyaki is used when serving.
When thinking about a place to take a date, enjoy the Japanese atmosphere, be treated royally, and dine on excellently prepared dishes, think of Sozo Sushi.
Restaurant Review by Sonia Guimbellot