September 28, 2022

In Soho, a showman shines on the Chippewa Strip | Restaurants

So far in its life as a Chippewa Strip anchor, the two-story venue called Soho has earned a reputation as a party bar. Over the weekend, throngs of drink-and-dance-thirsty revelers flooded its three bars and two patios like hurricane waves battering a beacon.

Changing the course into a food-focused presentation to attract customers more interested in appetizers and entrees than shots and bottle service is no small feat. To guide this turnaround, owner Jay Manno reached out to JJ Richert, a chef whose work is distinctive and bold enough to be heard through the din.

Soho’s first floor bar.

Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Richert drew crowds at Torches, which opened in 2007 with his brother Kevin, with a menu of Chinese, Caribbean and supermarket snack aisle influences. His mix of high technique and low stoner snacks won him a following before the brothers opened Smoke on the Water, a Tonawanda town barbecue they ran from 2012 to 2019.

In Soho, where Richert took over the kitchen in January, his high-low game is fully effective.

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Crispy Bacon Pierogi at Soho

Crispy Bacon Pierogi at Soho.

Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

It’s Buffalo, so you’ve probably eaten pierogi, the Polish stuffed pasta. Richert takes potato-filled versions ($8 for three), wraps them in bacon, and pops it all in the Frialator. Dressed in a refreshing blue cheese dressing, fresh green onions and a spritz of cayenne pepper sauce, these are indulgent descendants of the potato skin snack line.

Pork belly has taken over Buffalo’s menus, but too few versions have been given the right patient braising, cooling and crispy finish, coming out like jerky someone forgot to slice. At Soho, candy bar-sized slices of belly cooked in ginger broth come out like pork candy, melty, meaty and rimmed in dark caramel from its time under the salamander.

Cherry Glazed Pork Belly Tacos in Soho

Pork belly tacos in Soho.

Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

They arrive as tacos ($15 for three) in flour tortillas, balancing the richness with a crunchy radish and cucumber salad, scallions and lime wedges to squeeze. These are giant tacos, which means they’re sure to satisfy all the most ardent pork belly supporters.

Making an appearance on the Torches menu, Skyscraper Caesar ($15) features the classic salad as sheaves of romaine dressed in Parma ham, with a stuffed egg. Potstickers ($11), Asian-style dumplings, are filled with chicken infused with lemongrass and ginger, with a black vinegar and soy dip.

Puerto Rican Skirt Steak in Soho

Puerto Rican skirt steak in Soho.

Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

The grilled Puerto Rican skirt steak ($38) was a blast from the past that I was happy to see again. Richert marinates the beef, grills it until it turns juicy pink inside, and wraps it around a roasted sweet potato. The resulting cylinder is filled with a pico de gallo salsa of freshly chopped tomatoes, onions and cilantro, reinforced with black beans. Roasted plantains and Argentinian chimichurri, the parsley-based pesto, help make this a plate that rewards persistence.

Pastrami Pork Tenderloin at Soho

Pastrami Pork Tenderloin with Marbled Rye and Swiss Cheese Bread Pudding, at Soho.

Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Richert’s Pastrami Pork Tenderloin ($26) is a mustard-crusted, spicy, smoked and pan-fried lean cut of pork. Between the applewood-smoked meat, roasted beets, and soufflé of rye bread and Swiss cheese, the dish leans rustic, with an old-fashioned mustard demi-glace.

The Crispy Coconut Cashew Chicken ($23) is a piece of boffo bird, emerging on a bed of saffron risotto, dressed in a crispy jacket of ground cashews and walnuts. coconut with cornflakes for extra crunch. Pomegranate arils add juicy lollipops to every bite.

Crispy Soho Cashew Chicken

Crispy cashew and coconut chicken at Soho, with risotto and pomegranate arils.

Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

The Reppin’ Buffalo section of the menu names names. Homemade potato chips come with a bison dip ($6). The beef on kummelweck ($16), served with hand-cut fries, gets Miller’s horseradish for the punch. Chiavetta’s marinated chicken breast, grilled ($16), is presented on a soft brioche bun, with minimal framing of lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and more of those fries. In a nod to the times, chicken wings are listed as MP or market price, as one might see, applied to rarities like live Dungeness crab.

Sunday brunch is another draw, as the menu leans towards classic Richert dishes. The Benedicts are made with homemade Canadian bacon ($20) and crab cakes ($32). An Apple Buckwheat Hollandaise Crepe ($18) is topped with apple-caramel whipped cream and candied walnuts. Chicken and Waffles is buttermilk fried chicken on a Belgian waffle with port maple syrup ($27).

The grapefruit gnocchi ($14) is a tribute to a dish he learned during his first job with Stavros Malliaris in Ambrosia. Creamy grapefruit sauce, fresh grapefruit supremes, yogurt and mint chiffonade make this a memorable dish that isn’t so crazy after all.

Everything we have tried has failed. The lobster bisque ($10) with sherry whipped cream turned out to be unpleasantly salty.

Still, after years in which a burger and fries might have been the most regular meal in Soho, this is a big leap forward. For this AARP-adjacent adult, passing plates around on the rooftop terrace while the city hummed below was deliciously urban. Now let’s see if the kids will dance to it.

64 W. Chippewa St.,, 856-7646

Opening hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Wheelchair accessible: yes

Gluten-free options: ask the waiter

Al fresco dining: two-story patios

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