COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE – Harlan Goldstein’s cooking career is already full of big gambles and bold moves. But the brash New Yorker might have taken his biggest risk yet by opening a Japanese restaurant.
Sushi To by Harlan Goldstein occupies the 29th floor of Soundwill Plaza II Midtown in Causeway Bay, in the same building as Jamie’s Italian. Named after his business partner Simon To, with Maeda Norihisa, formerly of Shiro, serving as executive chef, the venture is slightly out of Goldstein’s comfort zone in more ways than one.
The challenge is not only tackling a very different cuisine, but adjusting to an entirely different market dynamic in Causeway Bay. Stepping out of Central, Goldstein finds himself in a district that is not only more local, but already awash with Japanese eateries.
So what does Sushi To have to offer the saturated scene? Well, if you’re expecting a strictly authentic sushi experience, you’re bound to be disappointed. Think of Sushi To as Zuma, the high-end Japanese eatery in the Landmark, with a nice harbour view. The interior has less of Zuma’s club vibe though. Instead, it’s a slightly uneasy mix of natural minimalism and Goldstein’s need for luxe.
The floor-to-ceiling window view is the main attraction here, along with the broad, Gaijin-accessible menu. There’s also a good selection of wines and sake. Most of the dishes are quite safe with few real surprises.
One of the more daring starters is Wasabi Tsubu-Gai (HKD78), a little mound of sea whelk sliced and mixed with wasabi and crunchy Wakame seaweed. The slightly slimy texture could be intimidating to the uninitiated, but otherwise the hint of spicy wasabi was very appetising.
As a chef, Goldstein’s trademark is using the very best ingredients. In this case, I have some misgivings that he is still offering endangered Blue Fin tuna as sashimi.
The rest of the fresh seafood and sushi selection isn’t huge, but includes standard high end-fare from Botan shrimp to Hokkaido uni and scallops. What’s missing are the unique specialities and odd parts that a sushi master might conjure.
The White Soy Marinated Red Tuna (HD108 for two pieces), listed in the menu among the Creative Nigiri Sushi, was helped along with some toasted sesame seeds for smokiness.
More off-the-wall was the Dragon Fire Maki (HKD148), with soft shell crab tempura, flying roe, spicy Jalapeno aioli and – for a Southeast Asian tweak – mango, in place of the usual avocado that is common in such fusion rolls. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, but no doubt a sushi traditionalist would glance over disapprovingly.
A bit disappointing was the Taraba Tempura (HKD148) which was essentially a spring roll with some Hokkaido king crab and scallop. The seafood was very sweet and the wrapping made of yuba skin – also called beancurd sheets – was crispy and super light. But the sum of the parts was not better than their exceptional individual ingredient. The dish needed a flavour catalyst to bring it all together, more than just the dashi dip with grated daikon.
All the other cooked dishes though excelled in far more interesting dimensions. We assume Goldstein’s hand in flavour pairings and technical skills was put to more use here. The Hot Iron Grilled Black Cod, Hamaguri Clams, Onion Reduction (HKD178) was a warming soul-stirrer. The integrity of the fresh cod was kept intact in the clam, mushroom and onion broth, which boasted a hint of shiso leaf to lighten and contrast. It was lovely and I wanted more.
Even better was the Wasabi Konbu Beef Roll and Japanese Vegetables (HKD228). You have a choice of either 60-day aged US beef or – for almost double the price – Kagoshima Wagyu. We decided to save some money with the US beef and it was still magnificent. The thinly sliced pieces of sirloin were nicely seared to almost crispy, with lots of caramelised flavour working its way into the crunchy vegetables.
The Kagoshima Wagyu Beef Shabu Shabu and Onsen Egg Cold Udon Noodle (HKD228) finished the mains on another high note. The udon had a fantastic al dente bite which held up against the soy broth and the creamy egg yolk coating on each and every noodle. In fact, the poached pieces of Wagyu were reduced to a mere accompaniment. Looking back, we should’ve opted for the black pork to go with the noodles. That would’ve worked much better, but there is no regret when it comes to enjoying Wagyu.
In common with more authentic sushi restaurants, there were minimal options for dessert. The most interesting sounding was the Sesame Tiramisu (HKD78). Unfortunately, its one-note flavour profile didn’t leave much of an impression. It was basically a sesame cream filling with some cake and sesame powder sprinkled on top.
You can’t deny chef Goldstein’s ballsy ambitions in trying his hand at Japanese cuisine. But there have been times when Harlan’s appetite for success got the better of him. Sushi To manages to score some hits and a few misses. Time will tell if it will find its place among the astute connoisseurs and diners in Causeway Bay.
Sushi To by Harlan Goldstein, 29/F, Soundwill Plaza II – Midtown, 1 Tang Lung Street , Causeway Bay, Tel: (+852) 2970-3218. 879