Shohko Café rests at the intersection of North Guadalupe Street and Johnson Street - a short walk from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and downtown Santa Fe. Recently celebrating 40 years of Japanese cuisine and sushi, it inhabits a classic Santa Fe adobe building whose history includes a law firm and a bordello.
I dined there with my son recently—indulging in a celebration of his last days in Santa Fe before moving on to the Seattle area. It seemed only fitting to enjoy food more akin to what he will be eating in his new home. We started with Prawns Blanketed in Snow and the Shrimp Stuffed Green Chile Tempura as appetizers. Our server, Nicole, took charge after that at our request proffering us with Seaweed Sesame Salad then David’s Albacore, Striped Bass Nigiri, Red Pepper Soba, and finally Japanese Tea Cakes with Plum Wine Ice Cream. Somewhere along the way we got a flight of Sake aptly named Flight to Heaven that had three distinctly different flavor experiences for us. One slightly fruity with elements of bananas, the other more floral, and one more with flavors our neophyte palates couldn’t begin to place though we agreed it had “deep” flavors. Nicole prompted us to try pairing them with the foods we thought were best only to learn that they responded differently to each dish in wholly unexpected ways.
Ayame Fukuda, second generation operator, describes the decor with enthusiastic pride, pointing out the wooden tables and chairs, all hand built by her father, Hiro Fukuda. Mr. Fukuda built the rice paper screens, hand crafted the lampshades and wall sconces, and decorated the walls with his art and photography. If the art is not made by him, it is by a friend, or another family member, such as his father, who was a renowned painter in Japan. Broken into intimate rooms (borne out of the bordello's understandably segmented layout), Shohko (named after Ayame’s mother) offers a wide variety of menu items like shrimp stuffed green chile tempura, masago smelt egg with quail egg in a seaweed boat, fresh albacore with avocado and house roasted sesame oil (named David's Albacore after a long-standing frequent customer), panko breaded bananas --- not to mention an extensive collection of Sakes such as Wakatake Onikoroshi “Demon Slayer” Junmai Dai Ginjo, Okunomatsu “Inner Pine Tree” Ginjo, and Kikusui “Perfect Snow” Genshu Nigori.
Ayame describes her parents as hippies - settling in Santa Fe in the early 1970s to open an Oriental Health Food store (its actual business name was Oriental Natural Food Store, if you want to use it) on the second floor of the building now occupied by the Burrito Company. As Santa Fe’s annual fiestas grew and grew, Shohko and Hiro decided to sell yakitori (Japanese shish kebab) to the revelers - ultimately cultivating enough business to open their very own restaurant in an old adobe home on West Water street in 1975. Recurring tourists to Santa Fe have enjoyed Spanish food in that location when Los Mayas occupied the space, and now enjoy authentic New Mexican family recipes at Casa Chimayo (another authentic New Mexican family venture) with no idea that the first restaurant there served up food somewhat ironic for the building's architecture. Eventually Shohko and Hiro moved to the current location, making Shohko Cafe Santa Fe's landmark Sushi Bar.
As expected, vendors provide freshly flown in fish packed on ice for Shohko, following the FDA's strict guidelines for safety, but more importantly, to ensure the highest quality Sushi available. Vegetarian options exist, as do gluten free options - be aware that Soy Sauce typically has gluten except wheat-free versions that come with a small up charge. As with most restaurants, guests with special dietary restrictions should call in advance to see if they can be accommodated. Lunch is walk in, but reservations for dinner are strongly encouraged. Shohko is also scent free so perfumes and cologne should be left home.
Until next time, Buen Provecho! Sam G of IOG