Sunday, April 10, 2011


this was one of the first places clark took lois early in their courtship.  lois, being half-okinawan and having spent some of her childhood in singapore, is always on the lookout for good asian food.  clark, too, loves asian cuisine both traditional and contemporary, so we went back to miso for the first time in a while.  their menu offers a contemporary american perspective on dishes from around the asian continent, not just japan (as the name may suggest).  itadakimasu!


upstairs and downstairs have completely different vibes, but both are modern and casual chic.  downstairs, the lounge can provide more privacy or just more of a nightlife feel if you're there for some cocktails and a few rolls to nosh on.  in both areas, they've waived decoration for interesting textures and materials.  upstairs, there are two huge vases holding armfuls of bamboo, one wall features a mosaic of light peach stones, and the tables and chairs have a zebrawood-like veneer that might recall zen rock gardens.  the windows open on nice nights, and there is some outdoor seating, too.  it's a very comfortable space: it doesn't feel conceited, but it doesn't venture into cheesy, either.  (though we wouldn't complain if a maneki neko settled in the host's station.)

we don't like to use this word because we know how patronizing it can sound, but our server this evening was really sweet.  always attentive, never nettlesome, he was just what we like.  it's never easy for a server to constantly assure tables that food is coming (albeit slooowly), and we were actually glad this evening that he didn't try--for both our sakes.  we could see him keeping an eye on the kitchen.  we had limited interaction with anyone else, but about three others waved us goodnight as we left, and it seemed genuine.  we were comfortable here. 
(a quick note on the aforementioned delay in service: we noticed sushi plates were prepared very promptly, and only cooked items coming from the kitchen seemed to take a while.  but we aren't assuming or even suggesting that it's commonly this way.)

to start, we had the warm mushroom salad, featuring enoke, shiitake, and grilled asparagus in a sesame-citrus splash.  the dressing didn't really come through, but it's actually alright because the mushrooms were so fresh and flavorful.  what we could actually taste more was the butter sauce they were lightly cooked in, which also included mirin--just to give it a little lift of sweetness to complement the savory fungi.  the asparagus was a nice touch, although we'd like a little more.  their crisp, green flavor really stands out and adds a necessary difference in texture to an otherwise very soft dish.

for entrees, we stared with the tokyo street noodles.  the noodles seemed somewhat overcooked and had a resulting doughy mouthfeel.  the description on the menu says this dish is "wok tossed," but it tasted like the snow peas were actually cooked separately; when we ate one pod on its own, it never seemed to have the seasoning of the rest of the dish.  it's not a huge flaw, but it causes a sort of disconnectedness where the ingredients just don't feel married.  the addition of shiitake and scallions were a nice touch, and we did love how fresh the snow peas were.  cooking them as lightly as they did was a treat, but the over-generous amount of oil in the dish made it feel inappropriately heavy.

we also shared a vegetable fried rice, to which we added tofu.  served with a nice variety of vegetables, neither too salty nor too oily, this was a comforting version of an old favorite.  you may notice the photo of this dish is conspicuously eggless, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn that miso's fried rice doesn't suffer from this omission in the least.  there's nothing too inventive here, but the clean flavors and crisp vegetables make this one a very satisfying option--for vegetarians and omnivores alike.  and it turns out, the optional tofu was the standout of the night.  the texture was soft, but not spongy or soggy.  the flavor was nutty, and had a delicious fermented taste, not sour or cardboard-like at all.  the seasoning and the light crispiness developed on the outside was outstanding and reminded us of nutritional yeast: slightly cheesy and really savory, yet not so loud as to drown out the other elements of the dish.  this fried rice is really a chorus of ingredients all working together, but there's no mistaking that that tofu is the star.

overall, we enjoyed our meal at miso--despite the wait and despite our preference for less butter and oil.  we know what kind of crowd they're cooking for, and they're not looking for traditional japanese cuisine.  while these dishes do deliver the vegetables (see how green, how abundant those snow peas!), our prior experience here with vegetarian makimono has suffered the same pitfalls as other sushi joints around the city.  vegetarian sushi options are usually meager and ludicrously overpriced (anyone who thinks $5 for a cucumber roll is fair is, as lois's mom would say with disbelief, baka!).  however, miso at least offers a dinner menu with more options than most for vegetarian fare, so we know where to go when we're in the mood for a fried rice and some sake. 


vegetarian-friendly score:

Miso on Meramec on Urbanspoon

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