We Tried the Seven-Course Chef’s Table Dinner at Sho’s Kitchen
The tiny bento shop goes upmarket every Friday and Saturday with seven-course dinners that sell out every month.
By now, I hope some of you have had a chance to make it out to Sho’s Kitchen on Sheridan Street to try the delicious Japanese bento lunches. But did you also know that Shoji and Miki Namatame offer a more upscale seven-course dinner every Friday and Saturday?
The $80 menu changes every month, reflecting what’s in season and what catches the mercurial whimsy of the chef. In June, Namatame—a former executive chef at the Trump Waikīkī—focuses on the flavors of Spain and southern Italy. As has happened with every monthly dinner since he started in March, June is sold out, and so is almost all of July—even though that menu hasn’t been created yet.
Fortunately, I made my reservation back in May. I take my seat at a candlelit table on the walkway fronting the kitchen, have a sip of wine (it’s BYOB) and await what’s to come.
A dish found at many tapas restaurants in Spain, this is a delightful beginning: succulent shrimp, mushrooms and other delights coddled in warm olive oil with a hint of chile pepper and some lightly toasted bread. The flavors carry nicely in the gentle oil mixture, which I would be tempted to drink if I didn’t have six more courses yet to come. Served a cute and rustic open sardine can, this sets the tone for the rest of the evening.
Crab cakes Asian style with spicy aioli
Served on more toasted bread, two crab cakes are held together by a touch of flour and eggs, allowing the crab flavor to shine through. The aioli gives the cakes a bit of needed fat and is only lightly spicy. Use of the soft white interior of green onion stalks cut on the bias adds a gentle freshness.
Cremini and honey goat cheese with crostini
The third appearance of toasted bread is as the base for well-balanced bites of an earthy, creamy, sweet concoction that pairs perfectly with the pinot grigio we are drinking. This is also lightly seasoned, and I start to see the pattern of letting the natural flavors of each ingredient stand on their own. At the midpoint of our dining experience, the tapas influence is clear and focused. So far, so good.
Pulled pork quesadilla with salsa roja
This course confuses me because it looks almost too simple. Is it tapas? Sparse and simple, with no grill marks on the tortillas, it is the only miss of the evening. I look at the menu again and realize that the fresh salsa roja, not the quesadilla, is the transitional element for what is coming.
Gazpacho with somen noodles
This dish hits me like a refreshing shower after a long day at work. Served in a small glass cup, it sings from the rooftops that summer is upon us. The tart gazpacho ushers in the start of tomato season and works perfectly with the humble serving of somen, with two thin wafers of Japanese cucumbers added for crunch. It is so good I ask Miki Namatame for a ramen bowl-sized portion, only half-joking.
Osso bucco with risotto and gremolata
With all the courses served as tapas portions thus far, we begin to worry that we may leave hungry. Our fears are allayed when a generous osso bucco shows up at the table. The hearty bone-in beef shank is fork tender with an emulsion of beef jus and more juicy tomatoes. Like the dishes before it, gentle seasoning allows us to appreciate the flavors of each ingredient.
Dessert this month is a Mont Blanc cake provided by Instagram baker @cookbyhitomi. A surprise to me because chestnuts are associated with autumn, the cake is nonetheless light and delicate, showcasing the chestnut purée and almond cream tart bottom. I chuckle after the first bite: Minimal appearances of sugar and butter make it tastes so very Japanese.
Overall, I am very happy with dinner. It is clear that much thought went into the progression of the overall menu, making for a refined bistro-type dining experience if you’re lucky enough to score a reservation. Note: You will need to reserve in advance, and be sure to show up a little before the 5 p.m. start time, as dinner doesn’t start until everyone at every table is seated.