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Review

Krescent Carasso

The Shota

Written by
Krescent Carasso

The first thing you eat at The Shota is a profiterole “sandwich” made with uni pate, yuzu persimmon marmalade, and caviar, and it’s so good that you’ll think there’s no way the rest of the food here will be able to match it. But it does. It’s the first dish of a 15-course meal that plays out like The Killers starting a concert with “Mr. Brightside” and then somehow managing to keep the hits coming until the last encore. Only in this case, instead of leaving a stadium with sticky shoes and a ticket stub, you walk away from The Shota with a menu of everything you just ate and an experience that only a handful of people get to be a part of each night.

The Shota is a 20-seat Japanese spot in the Financial District that blends two different formats into their set menu: Edomae-style omakase with simple sushi that’s been aged, cured, or seasoned in various ways, and kaiseki, a seasonal multi-course meal of intricately prepared and plated dishes. There’s only one menu option, which - before sake pairings or supplements like A5 Wagyu - costs $175 per person. And for that $175, you only get to make one real choice: what color chopsticks you’ll be eating with at this otherwise stark white sushi bar. After that, you’re at the mercy of that night’s setlist.

Krescent Carasso

That first dish, the sandwich, is brought out like a present inside a golden orb that’s been wrapped in a colorful scarf waiting for you to untie it, and inside the food itself sits on top of a piece of moss. As over-the-top as it looks, it’s nothing compared to how the rich uni pate, raw uni, salty caviar, and sweet marmalade come together when you actually taste it. And that’s pretty much the experience with all of the kaiseki dishes. Things are brought in domes full of smoke, sauces are poured tableside, and plates arrive and are taken away in unison by the incredibly attentive staff.

The omakase dishes that are weaved throughout are as different from the kaiseki as possible. All of the sushi is made by one chef standing in front of you who might only be preparing food for two or three other people at a time. He’ll hand you things like intensely sweet scallops, blowtorched goldeneye snapper that smells like a whole childhood of barbecues, and a trio of tuna from lean to fatty, ending with a phenomenal hand roll only after he pulls out a model of a fish and explains where each piece came from. The most any piece of nigiri gets is some freshly grated wasabi, Japanese sea salt, soy sauce, or a touch of lime rind, and it’s always just enough to make you think that the chef makes each piece, eats it to make sure it’s near-perfect, then rewinds time to give it to you instead.

Even with the chefs working directly in front of you and each prepared course being delivered with some kind of flourish, dinner here can be pretty quiet, but it never feels overly serious thanks to the friendly staff. And like a great concert, the only real talking you’ll want to do is a few quick words with whoever you come with about how good the last dish was before you start imagining what’s coming next. That’s how it lasts for all 15 courses at The Shota - from the opening profiterole “sandwich” that sets the tone for the two-and-a-half-hour meal, to the closing matcha dessert that isn’t quite “When You Were Young,” but is still a great closer.

Food Rundown

The set menu at The Shota is a mix of kaiseki and omakase that changes seasonally. You can expect to see things like this.

Sea Urchin

This “sandwich” of two profiterole halves is filled with uni pate, yuzu-persimmon marmalade, more uni, and topped with caviar. This is so good that if you stand up and leave after it, you won’t feel like you missed anything, even though you absolutely will.

Awabi

A small bowl of silky chawanmushi and seaweed puree with tender abalone at the bottom and a dollop of roe on top. The abalone’s texture is somewhere between steak and mushrooms pretending to be steak, and the roe’s saltiness takes this over the top. This is all-around excellent.

Ainame

This seabass is a little difficult to eat, but it’s delicious. It’s marinated in miso, placed in a pool of squash puree, and served with a salted zucchini-stuffed fried squash blossom on top with some onion foam for good measure. There’s a lot going on here, but it’s a great couple of bites.

Omakase

A little more than half of your meal here will be omakase-style, and you’ll get things like a trio of tuna that gets increasingly fattier and more tender until it has to be held together in a handroll with a bit of sorcery; a sweet rock prawn served with its crunchy fried head; and Hokkaido uni that tastes like getting hit with a water balloon made of ocean - in a good way. It’s all incredible.

Akahana Kanpachi

The kanpachi is topped with dashi gel, wasabi, and lots of pickled things, all of which makes it harder to really taste the fish underneath. This also comes with more instructions on how to properly eat it than that Ikea desk you’ve been waiting to tackle. Compared to the simple nigiri served beforehand, the kanpachi isn’t super memorable beyond being delivered in a dome filled with smoke.

Nodoguro

You have to order this seaperch nigiri as a supplement, and even after a meal where you think things can’t get much better, you should. It’s oily, comes off in big flakes, and is seasoned with just the right amount of lime.

Matcha

The last course is a matcha affogato with matcha ice cream and matcha tea poured over the top. When it melts, the puffed grains taste like cereal with the matcha and ice cream serving as the milk, and it’s a refreshing way to end this marathon of a meal.

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