(Bloomberg) -- New York is currently awash in pricey fish swimming across the city’s sushi counters. From Shion 69 Leonard Street in Tribeca to Sushi Noz on the Upper East Side, menus are routinely averaging $400—and that’s without a drink. Seats have been booked a month ahead.
Kappo Sono is here to ride that wave and do it one better, with even more impossible-to-get reservations. Located behind the Japanese tavern BBF on the Lower East Side, the eight-seat counter is presided over by Chikara Sono, who will serve a nine-course omakase menu when the restaurant opens on Jan. 9. The chef will serve just eight diners a night, to focus on creating a personal experience.
This means that just 16 people will eat at the burnished Mappa burl wood counter each week: Kappo Sono will be open only on Sundays and Mondays, an inverse of the current hours at most Manhattan restaurants, which have remained closed on those off dining days, in part because of staffing shortages. If you thought beating a waitlist of thousands at Eleven Madison Park was difficult, welcome to the Reservation Thunderdome.
Although Covid-19 restrictions derailed my preview tasting, Kappa Sono’s $222 prix fixe looks exquisite and will change seasonally, according to Sono, as well as by what’s available on a daily basis.
The winter menu is slated to include mullet roe rice cakes and seaweed in a delicate dashi broth, and steamed abalone on sesame tofu. Sono will also serve an intricate dish of stewed monkfish, and monkfish liver with yuzu marmalade and hairy crab. Other courses might include housemade udon noodles with uni; steamed lobster with passion fruit and vinegar; and grilled duck with pureed burdock and soy chestnuts. There will also be a sashimi course featuring seafood from Japan, Europe, and Africa, as well as locally sourced fish, and the occasional hako, or pressed box, sushi selection.
Chizuko Niikawa, one of the city’s leading sake sommeliers, will offer bottles ranging from $70 to $1,000. She will serve a large selection by the glass, with prices running the gamut from $12 to $165. “We’ll have styles from classic to modern, and fresh seasonal sake to high-end aged bottles, from far northern Japan to locally brewed sake from Brooklyn,” says Niikawa. Also available to drink: a selection of shochu and whisky.
The minimalist space has a row of made-in-Japan kumiko wood panels, the honeycomb-like shapes constructed without nails, decorating the ceiling. The pale beige walls are painted with diatomaceous earth, which is made from aquatic fossils, which create a sandy texture, and add to the relaxed vibe of the place.
Chef Sono has garnered a loyal following among the city’s kaiseki cognoscenti, especially for his time at the Michelin-starred Kyo Ya in the East Village. His gorgeous small plates, ranging from pressed sea eel sushi to airy sweet potato tempura, attracted fans such as the New York Times’s Pete Wells, who gave it three stars, and C.B. Cebulski, editor-in-chief of Marvel comics. “A number of factors contribute to a chef finding true culinary success: skill, creativity, commitment, personality,” says Cebulski, who spent years living in Japan. “Sono-san embodies every single one of them.”
The Hokkaido-born chef also has developed a devoted following among executives from Toyota Motor Corp, now the top-selling carmaker in the U.S., thanks to his previous career as a mechanic for the automaker.
“I have been a happy customer of Mr. Sono’s for more than 10 years, ever since I was stationed in the U.S. and had dinner at a restaurant where he was the chef,” says Shigeru Hayakawa, Toyota’s vice chairman. “[Sono’s automotive background] made me feel very close and connected to him.”
“I like to joke that I switched from car utensils to a different kind of equipment: chef’s knives,” says Sono. “On the surface, the skillsets of a car mechanic and a chef may look like completely polar opposites, but both occupations are similar in that they require extreme precision and a methodical approach.”
He equates the feeling he gets from perfecting a new dish to “tuning a car engine and making it run smoothly.” Omakase fans, start your engines.
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