Sushi Chef Masa Shimakawa’s Soko restaurant offers an extraordinary culinary experience
By Sam Catanzaro
Tucked into the lobby of a Santa Monica hotel, Sushi Chef Masa Shimakawa’s Soko offers one of Los Angeles’ best omakase experiences.
The name ‘Soko’ means ‘storeroom’ in Japanese, an appropriate name given that the eight-seat Soko is tucked away in the lobby of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. The intimate setting provides a front-row seat to take in Chef Masa’s culinary skills as the veteran chef crafts arguably some of the tastiest and highest-quality sushi in Los Angeles.
Chef Masa–born and raised in Hakodate, Hokkaido–describes Soko as “pure Japanese food”. He says that around 70 percent of the fish is from Japan, bought from an importer who brings fish from Tokyo fish markets three to four times a week.
The quality of the fish was evident in the six-course omakase tasting menu Chef Masa crafted for me. While every component was exceptional, the fish took center stage. Following the opening dish–a savory medley of Kiriboshi daikon with tofu and carrot–was a perfect bowl of chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) Yamakake.
Next up was ankimo (steamed monkfish liver) served with cucumbers and seaweed, one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. This dish, a classic wintertime Japanese appetizer at sushi restaurants, is often referred to as the foie gras of the sea. Chef Masa prepares this dish by carefully cleaning the fish’s liver and then salting it for a few hours. Then he washes the salt out of the dehydrated liver, next soaking it in sake before shaping and steaming it.
Following a sesame bean salad and assorted sashimi, the dinner’s centerpiece capped things off: a bluefin tuna platter. With the lean akamai meat, medium fatty chu-toro and extra-fatty-melt-in-your-mouth o-toro alongside a torotaku roll, this dish showcases the versatility of bluefin tuna.
“Bluefin tuna is really, really deep in Japanese culture,” Chef Masa said of the inspiration for the platter.
In addition to Omakase, Soko also offers a-la-carte nigiri and appetizers.
Chef Masa–who has worked at acclaimed hotel restaurants across the globe, including NOMI at the Park Hyatt Chicago–says that he would like to expand Soko in the future to include more space and service seven days a week.
“Sushi is a lifelong passion of mine, and Soko is especially personal for me as I have the opportunity to continue to perfect my craft by curating deeply personal and memorable experiences for our guests in a one-on-one type of atmosphere,” Chef Masa said.
The journey that led Chef Masa to open Soko in July of 2021 began nearly 20 years ago after meeting Fairmont Miramar’s hotel and FIG Restaurant Executive Chef Jason Prendergast in Chicago. Fast forward several years after both chefs moved to the West Coast unbeknownst to each other, Prendergast knew Chef Masa was a perfect fit to helm the Fairmont Miramar’s newest culinary venture.
“Chef Masa and I became fast friends after meeting in Chicago many years ago and had the chance to work together at the Four Seasons Westlake,” Prendergast said. “I have never met anyone with such care, respect, and passion for his craft and knew that Chef Masa was a perfect fit for our new concept. The level of respect he has for quality, presentation, and creativity he brings to each and every dish he touches is unparalleled in our industry.”