I had been passing the nondescript storefront (near my home) at 357 6th Avenue for some years. Previously, Ony was located here, a Japanese restaurant I frequented, featuring delicious noodle soups. Now, there is neither signage nor a menu posted. Peeking in through the cutouts I was able to see that it was also a Japanese restaurant. See photo in Part 1 here.
I was intrigued, however, a number of friends and I are regulars at Marumi (see here). We all love the food there and have been eating there for so long, it feels like a second home. There was no compelling reason to investigate another Japanese restaurant, particularly with no menu posted.
One does tire of the same routine, though, so on Tuesday, a friend and I stopped by and asked to see a menu. The restaurant's name was Soto. Surprisingly, the prices seemed reasonable. We decided to try it the following night. When we arrived, we were asked if we had a reservation, which on the surface seemed rather silly, since the place was virtually empty.
After ordering, we were informed by the waitress that what we had selected were actually very small appetizers. She recommended following with something from the next page of the menu. Now we were beginning to see the full picture. We asked the waitress to give us a few moments to regroup. My dining companion offered to leave if I felt we were getting in too deep for a casual dining decision. I suggested we stay - the pricing would still not break the bank.
We shared an extraordinary parade of dishes as they came out, one by one. I will not describe each dish here but suffice it to say that the food was truly sublime and exotic - nothing like anything I have seen before. It was easily the finest Japanese food I have ever had. My companion, who has had much more experience eating in upscale restaurants, agreed.
A man arrived alone and sat at the table immediately next to us. This gentleman (and I use the term loosely), however, did not appear pleased with anything he ordered. He complained about and returned every single item brought to him without exception. Some items were returned twice. He complained that the soy sauce was too salty, the Sake was not to his liking and he did not want wasabi in his sushi. Every bite he took appeared to be an exercise in scrutiny - this was not dining, it was a forensic autopsy. It was excruciating to watch but the waitress did an admirable job trying to please him. The customer also made trouble regarding the bill, which totaled $142 for one person (our check was $133 for two).
My friend and I both felt compelled to speak to the waitress and offer our condolences. After he left, we pulled her aside. Winnie, a young girl who hailed from Indonesia, appeared very eager and pleased to talk. We apologized for her customer and assured her that this man was completely unreasonable. I told her that not only was the food amazing, but this was a man who could not be pleased and perhaps someone who needs to show off his "sophisticated" palate for all to see. She had maintained composure throughout this entire affair, but now put her hand on her stomach and politely told us how stressed and tense this experience had made her. We concurred.
That night at home, I did a little research on Soto. I learned that it is owned by celebrity chef Sotohiro Kosugi. It is considered one of the two finest Japanese restaurants in New York City and one of only 10 restaurants in the city to hold the coveted Michelin two star rating (much harder to earn than a one star rating). Only four restaurants hold the highest rating of three stars. Soto is also one of a tiny group of restaurants to get a Zagat survey food rating of 28 - the highest possible.
The stakes are high for all in a restaurant of this caliber. Diners are quite experienced and often much more critical and demanding, voicing their complaints about things that to most, might appear to be extremely picky. In spite of the fact that I believe our diner was unreasonable, this type of person and his behavior is to be expected in a restaurant of this caliber.
Some may argue that the owner and staff are well compensated for incidents of this nature and that it comes with the territory. However, regardless of any expectations or diner's rights, the behavior we observed was excessive and in my opinion, mean. I don't believe that customer was so much displeased as he was trying to inflate his ego - at other people's expense. Poor Winnie :(