One thing the Downtown dining scene has been sadly missing for years (at least outside of casinos) is sushi. Dan Coughlin has finally changed that with Bocho in the John E. Carson Hotel.
Coughlin is particularly suited to bringing raw fish to the Fremont East area, having brought the neighborhood its first serious restaurant with Le Thai. His reputation among locals and their craving for sushi have made his new spot an almost overnight success. (When I visited on a recent Wednesday, there was a 30-minute wait for a seat.) But is it good? The answer really depends on what you’re looking for in a sushi spot.
I should start by saying that Bocho is a beautiful two-story space, with the type of modern minimalist décor you’d expect in this neighborhood. The first floor is dominated by the sushi bar, while the second is reserved for tables and a midsize bar—the kind that serves booze, not fish. Two private dining areas are expected to double as karaoke rooms. Seating can be a little cramped, but that’s the norm when dining in an up-and-coming urban neighborhood.
When I toured the space with Coughlin a few weeks before it opened, he told me the emphasis would be on sashimi, not specialty rolls, which was music to my ears. He seems to have changed his mind, however, as there are 19 of the crazy American-style rolls on the menu, the kind that feature multiple types of fish paired with everything from cream cheese to avocado, often unrecognizable under various sauces and mayo, and occasionally deep fried. (I suppose you have to give the people what they want.) There’s also a full page of hot and cold appetizers and entrées, as well as a complete sushi menu.
The most interesting thing to me, however, is the $75 omakase (daily chef’s tasting) menu—an extremely pricey commitment for a Downtown restaurant. In Bocho’s defense, it’s a lot of food! While the menu states seven courses, one of those single courses when I visited was actually a quartet of salads and pokes. My dinner for two could easily have fed four, and it included two pitchers of soju cocktails.
The weird thing about this omakase, however, is that it’s dominated by raw seafood—which is not the norm in most restaurants where I’ve dined.
On the night I visited, that included two types of poke, a ridiculously huge sashimi boat, a nigiri course and a whole Spanish mackerel. The problem is, they were not of the gourmet quality you expect at this price point.
For a sushi snob like me, in addition to high-quality fish, great sushi and sashimi require chefs with serious knife skills. Slicing fish is a precise, delicate art. And while the fish at Bocho was high quality, the cuts I got were awkward and unattractive. Some were tough to handle with chopsticks. And many just didn’t feel right as I chewed them, indicating that the chef didn’t understand which cuts of fish should be cut against the grain, and which should be cut with it.
Now I’ll admit there’s a restaurant in my neighborhood that offers a similar product—good fish cut carelessly—which I still often recommend. But that’s because they offer all-you-can-eat sushi and sashimi for less than $30. It’s a bargain play; a
$75 meal isn’t. And given how much of my dinner went uneaten, I’d have preferred that Bocho serve me less food that was better prepared.
Moving past the raw seafood, the rest of my meal drew mixed reactions. I enjoyed an egg custard starter. Baby clams in dashi were delicious. The yellowtail collar was a bit dry, but well seasoned. But the beef tataki was almost too tough to eat.
When I returned a few days later, I sampled some more sashimi and sushi that was just slightly better. I also tried some of the specialty sushi rolls that were much larger and better than I’ve had at most places. I enjoyed the Spider Roll, but as I’ve said, that’s not really my thing.
If you’re Downtown and craving sushi, Bocho is definitely a godsend. The setting is funky. The a la carte prices are attractive. The portions are huge. And the fish is high quality. If you’re looking for a gourmet omakase experience, however, I’d suggest you keep searching.
124 S. Sixth St., 702-750-0707. Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m.–11 p.m. daily. Dinner for two $40-$175.