Nearly Perfect Sushi, and Time’s Chef Controversy

Can a native of Taiwan cook circles around most of his peers when doing Japanese? Yes, if his name is John Lee, of the new Soho Japanese Restaurant (7377 S. Jones Blvd., 776-7778), now open for lunch and dinner.

Lee was the chef at Social House in Crystals before striking out on his own at this comely new place, which offers the best Japanese cooking for the price in Las Vegas. “I wanted to bring a little bit of Social House to the ’hood,” says Lee, who was mentored by chef Joe Elevado at Andrea’s in Encore. And he’s done just that at Soho, all while keeping the price well below half of what you’d pay for a comparable meal on the Strip.

What’s his secret? First, it’s the unassailable quality of the products he uses. Next, it is the purity of the flavors. Toban soup has a clear, light broth flavored by scallops and shrimp, punctuated by shimeji mushrooms. It comes in a stone teapot, from which your server will pour it into thimble-size earthenware cups.

Lee’s sushi is nearly perfect, from simple nigiri made with uni (sea urchin) or hamachi (Japanese yellowtail), to complex cut rolls such as a spicy soft-shell crab with orange Sriracha mayo. Many dishes clock in at $5 or less. Entrées popular at Social House—notably the bone-in short ribs with wasabi cream—are on the right side of a $20 bill.

time-gods-of-foodMeanwhile, a cover of Time’s November 18 issue features a trio of chefs: Brazil’s Alex Atala, Denmark’s Rene Redzepi and David Chang of New York City’s Momofuku Noodle Bar. The cover story titled “Gods of Food” has caused a controversy for its diminution of female chefs, only four of whom were included out of 13. The truth is, though, among major food cultures such as France and Japan, women are largely discriminated against and even excluded from top kitchens, and here in the U.S., women face tough challenges to rise above their male peers.

We have a few notable female executive chefs in Las Vegas, among them Carnevino’s Nicole Brisson and Lotus of Siam’s Saipin Chutima, but it must be said that Thailand and Italy are two of the only major food cultures where women dominate in the kitchen. Are there females helming our top French or Japanese restaurants? Not yet. And as to the exclusion of Alice Waters, Time editors say she was “considered,” but while a “goddess” of food, it’s been awhile since she toiled as a chef.

Finally, for those who fancy the wine phenom known as Beaujolais Nouveau, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon is doing a killer menu, available only from November 21-27, at $45 per person, with a bottle of Jean Foillard’s wine for an extra $30. The menu includes saucisson á l’ail en brioche (a house-made garlic sausage), joue de boeuf Bourguinon (beef cheeks braised in red wine) and a tray of house-made petite fours.

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