Restaurants come and go so much lately, it’s best not to get too attached to any one place. At the moment, my favorite hot chicken spot now sells Peruvian-Italian fusion. Sorry, pal — things move fast in L.A. Keep up or eat dust. That’s exactly why you might be surprised to see Sōgo Roll Bar in Los Feliz now open on the busy section of Hollywood Boulevard next to Bar Covell and HomeState.
Taking up residence in what used to be McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, the shotgun-style ice cream shop is the ideal set-up for hand-rolled sushi. The buckets of ice cream have been replaced with tubs of fatty toro, marinated scallop and fresh snapper. That unnecessarily long walk to pay for your mocha fudge cone is a thing of a past —now it’s a wooden sushi bar with 14 seats. Opportunely enough, Sōgo also kind of works like buying ice cream. You sit down, order a few rolls and then chef Kiminobu Saito forms a neat little rice cone wrapped in seaweed, topped with scoops of marinated fish. I know it’s not McConnell’s anymore, but this sure feels like dessert.
Sōgo works both à la carte and prix fixe. Order individually if you must, but the best bet here is to get the six hand rolls for $28. Some standouts — while people love to act like they’re better than a down-and-dirty Philadelphia roll, Sōgo manages to find an adequate home for that Americanized aesthetic with their gravlax roll. It’s a combination of cream cheese and cured salmon, yes, but it’s mixed together and has a mousse-like quality. It’s creamy and rich, and not in a bastardized way, either.
The scallop roll shines bright with nothing more than a clean shellfish/lemon flavor. That’s all you really need for the hand roll to excel — it’s about simple flavors and the sticky rice. Acidity is prevalent in most of what Saito does, as he says, “No citrus, no fun,” and I’m inclined to agree. The toro is minced fine and placed at the end of your hand roll like a scoop of buttercream, and there is something unusually decadent about glutinous rice and salmon belly.
You’ll get in and out of Sōgo in probably 40 minutes. Everything is paced so well by Saito and his crew, which is precisely the point. Just when you’ve fully processed your appreciation for the last roll, he hits you with another, but not a second before you get a chance to reflect. He’s in charge of the rhythm here. You won’t be scarfing down long, clunky rolls with soy sauce at breakneck speeds.
There’s something incredibly practical and calming about hand-roll bars. It’s a refreshing change of pace. Sōgo ditches the sushi bar tropes — dim lighting, serious atmosphere and staff, for something a lot more relatable. It’s naturally bright, but not in a mechanical way. The whole place seems sun-kissed with its warm colors and wooden features. The back wall features a brilliant print wallpaper of majestic herons against a dusty pink scene. There’s something oddly soothing about glancing over at those birds in-between bites of hand-rolls. The whole experience, from the food to décor to service, is genial. Even with all the volatility in the restaurant business, it seems all but certain that Sōgo is poised for success.