Good sushi is not difficult to come by in Syracuse. Great sushi, on the other hand…well, that bus doesn’t make it that close to the Salt City. It’s the downside of being at least five hours from a major fishing port.
Tokyo Seoul and Secret Garden were the best of the best for a long time around here. There are others that serve sushi, but those two reigned in terms of fresh fish and quality preparation. Koto, a regional chain with locations in Albany, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut, was a game changer when it came to town in 2010. It brought a menu of traditional and specialty rolls representative of sushi restaurants in larger cities.
Saturday’s visit with The Wife was not our first. When it first opened, you could sit right at the sushi bar — my preference — and order directly from the chefs (the seats are still there, but now you have to order through a server…meh). Since The Wife was paying and made the reservation (it was my birthday), we sat at a table.
The menu breaks down into four areas: appetizers, sushi, entrees and hibachi. Ten or so large hibachis ring the dining room and fill the back room of what used to be a Bennigan’s, providing a stage for teppanyaki-style dining. Most of those tables were in use on our trip. The sushi bar was empty and only a few tables were inhabited in the dining area.
The Wife and I started with cocktails; a Great Divide Samurai for me and something with blue curaçao drinks for her. The Wife started with a bowl of miso soup and we shared a pair of apps. Koto’s shiro miso soup offers a white base with large chunks of tofu. The serving of shumai offered six steamed dumplings stuffed with shrimp and tied into a crab-rangoon style purse (as opposed to the more traditional shaped dumpling). The tender, but not soggy, dumplings were packed with flavor and enhanced by a side of ponzu sauce for dipping.
Split and sliced calamari bodies were breaded and fried for the base of the wasabi calamari appetizer. After cooking, the squid pieces were tossed in a cool wasabi mayonnaise. The horseradish flavor was still evident, but the pungent sting associated with wasabi was countered by the creaminess of the dressing.
The Wife and I ordered five rolls to split. They are the same rolls we always order at Koto (we are nothing if not creatures of habit):
Crazy Tuna roll: spicy tuna with tempura, topped with peppered tuna, chili sauce, masago and scallions
- Spyder roll: fried soft shell crab, cucumber, avocado, lettuce, with masago, eel sauce and spicy mayo
- Rainbow roll: crab and cucumber topped with tuna, salmon, striped bass and avocado
- Angel Hair roll: shrimp tempura, cream cheese and avocado topped with shredded crab meat and spicy mayo
- Futo roll: jumbo roll with crab meat, egg and vegetables
Each of the rolls brought a different flavor or texture profile to the table. I passed on the Futo, due to my aversion to egg. The Wife opted out of the spicy Crazy Tuna roll. One of these days I’ll branch out and try something different.
Nigiri (one piece) and sashimi (two pieces) are on the menu, but toro, ama ebi and hamachi were not available.
Koto didn’t offer anything different than we had previously encountered. It didn’t overwhelm. It didn’t underwhelm. It was just good.
Koto Japanese Steakhouse is located at 2841 Erie Boulevard East, between Thompson and Midler, in Syracuse. The restaurant has a sister location at DestinyUSA. It is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Reservations are accepted by phone and OpenTable. Dinner was $93 before tip.