68 Middle Neck Rd., Great Neck
SERVICE: Courteous and casual; there's a logic to the order in which dishes are delivered, and it may not be how you intended.
AMBIENCE: Tiny, bright, spare and modern, with an open kitchen and an ultra-relaxed vibe. There is no sushi bar.
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Thursday noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 11 p.m., Sunday 12:30 to 9:30 p.m. Street parking in downtown Great Neck is a challenge; wheelchair accessible; credit cards accepted.
There are dishes out there in the world that you don’t even know you’re missing until your paths cross at a fateful moment.
This happened to me at Shoshaku in Great Neck, when a steaming bowl of udon noodles, smelling faintly of the ocean, landed on the table. Quivering on top was a poached egg, whose yolk oozed down into the noodles below when pierced with a chopstick. Creamy mentai udon, slathered in butter and mayo and laced with cod roe (mentaiku), is a comfort-food daydream made real, one you could compare to lobster mac-and-cheese but lighter, more polished and one that had me vowing to keep mentaiku on hand at home.
It is one of many jewels at Shoshaku, a Japanese-food bistro and sushi spot that owner Cissy Tan opened in Great Neck this summer. Hers was a brave move in a town with at least a dozen other sushi bars, but at Shoshaku, raw fish is only one facet of a menu that plumbs many corners, from noodles to hot and chilled snacks served in bars known as izakaya. Tan also pours nearly a dozen well-chosen sakes, from lush and tropical to bone-dry (the versatile Suijin junmai sake falls on the drier end, and will complement many dishes here).
The brightly lit Shoshaku dispatches with the usual Japanese décor tropes and instead goes for a spare, contemporary vibe, with funky pipe shelves and a giant television in the back for a super-casual feel. There’s seating for about 25 people, but no sushi bar; instead, two or three chefs cube, slice and shave away in an open kitchen.
As at many Asian restaurants, there are elements of mystery to Shoshaku: For one, neither chef wanted his name published — one is from Malaysia, the other from China, and both have traveled in Japan. Also, the seafood flown in weekly from Japan includes fish that’s rare in these parts. These unusual cuts are listed on a chalkboard: They might include ira, a rich, chewy tuskfish, or the more buttery itoyori dai, a type of sea bream. You can try them in a sashimi sampler, delicate flaps arranged on a bed of shiso leaves.
That sashimi is distinctive, and one-ups sushi here for one primary reason: While these careful cuts can be silky and luscious, the rice used for rolls and sushi is chilled and underseasoned, blunting the joy of working through a sushi deluxe (nine pieces, plus a tuna roll).
If it’s in your budget, the $68 omakase platter, more like a sushi deluxe on steroids than a true omakase experience, delivers more finely tuned goods, including a heap of golden, custardlike uni so fresh it will curl your toes, some superb, velvety mackerel, and a giant fried prawn head whose insides you should absolutely scoop out. (There are specialty rolls, too, but the simple toro hand roll with discs of black truffle eclipsed the two more complicated rolls I tried.)
Of Shoshaku’s hot and cold small plates, a few — such as a leathery, overcooked beef tataki, some greasy fried baby octopus, or tough barbecued squid — are not worth the trouble. Those that are: “misty beef,” which arrives in a smoke-filled dome that’s lifted dramatically to reveal tender cubes of beef filet whose haunting flavors are enhanced by a simple sprig of rosemary. Or the “duo intense,” a pair of ramekins filled with (alternately) cubes of tender toro and wagyu beef, the latter gussied up with an egg yolk. Ankimo, the buttery wonder that is monkfish liver, comes as a trio, each with a different topping, from salmon roe to pepper-crusted tuna.
While the creamy mentai noodles are a must-have, that other great Japanese comfort dish, oyaka don — shards of dark chicken meat and crumbles of scrambled egg over dashi-soaked rice — can warm you to your core. And that killer mackerel? Get some grilled as part of a multipiece teishoku dinner; its charred skin rises into bubbles that pop as you eat them, the flesh underneath smoky and opulent.