First Taste: Jason Hauck's Soma
I'm going to be honest: I never made it to Soma while the menu was under the direction of chef Robert Gadsby. According to the powers that be, the eclectic menu needed some tightening up. Enter Jason Hauck, formerly of Rainbow Lodge, Quattro and Scott Tycer's Aries. With a sharper focus on Franco-Japanese fusion (and a heavy dose of high-end sushi), Soma seems to have found its footing—and then some.
Starting out with a quartet of raw and cooked Penn Cove oysters, the salty-briny flavor was ever-so-subtly enhanced with lemon-shiso butter. They were followed by a standout plate of yellow fin tuna carpaccio, sliced thin and accented with truffle soy vinaigrette, chives and sea salt. The vinaigrette was an inspired choice. When I folded the slice onto a fork, its zest was like a surprise in the middle of a truffle, bringing out the meaty characteristics of the tuna. I'm not traditionally a person who eats a lot of tuna, but it's a dish I would order every time.
Following the tuna carpaccio was a huge diver scallop served in a thick butternut squash soup with foie gras. At first bite, I had to collect myself: It was like eating heaven in a bowl. Smooth, rich, creamy, the squash wasn't too earthy but instead played a superb supporting role to the perfectly cooked scallop and hint of foie gras. Some might find the cream just a touch heavy-handed, but I adored it.
After a couple bites of some very palatable pan-seared monkfish liver with roe, the sous vide salmon, served fifth, was a bit of a disappointment by comparison to the previous dishes. The soft texture fell into something of a no man's land between raw, sushi-ready salmon and traditional grilled or baked versions, and I didn't feel that the flavor of either the fish or the seasoning (mostly saiyako miso and dill oil) really sung.
The sushi was delicious (though I had to pass on the quail egg) and served with genuine wasabi—not the horseradish impostor usually served—and the penultimate course of Texas Akaushi short rib was cooked beautifully, tender enough to cut with a fork and complemented by crab congee, duck sauce and a scallion-wasabi-sesame micro-salad.
For the end of the meal, Hauck sent out a palate cleanser of sweet (but not too sweet) Pappy Van Winkle bourbon ice cream, covered by a creme brulee-like sugar shell. The dessert plate held a banana mousse, a mini-chocolate cake with raspberry glaze and some hazelnut semifreddo. I didn't really understand the interaction of the ingredients on the plate, but each presented itself well.
In the end, this is a kitchen that's turning out some seriously good food. This isn't simple food, but it feels simple—or rather un-messed-with—because the flavors and presentation of the premium ingredients are so perfectly balanced. Foodies, get ready: you'll be hearing more about Soma.