Ato is a restaurant that’s very easy to miss, even if you’re looking for it. It looks like an abandoned retail space from the outside with no obvious signage around. Once you do a double take and notice the menu taped out front, you might be inclined to enter, although you’ll still wonder if this place is fully open. Something about it feels like it hasn’t completely repurposed its original retail space as a restaurant, even though there is an omakase counter and proper tables set up in there. But sure enough, Ato is very much fully operating, despite looking like a work in progress.
Lunch at Ato is especially quiet. The location is a little too far from the main Soho shopping drag of West Broadway to receive some of that traffic, and again, there’s the issue that it’s basically invisible. Ato is also positioned as a higher end Japanese restaurant, with entrees hovering in the $25 range, so the price points are probably a little too high for the quick casual lunch crowd. But sometimes you’re in the mood for a fancy donburi bowl or sashimi that’s not from nearby Sunrise Market, and in that case, Ato is a great place for those occasions.
The $38 lunch pre fixe is a small scale kaiseki that features both cooked and raw dishes. It was a pretty strong showing from start to finish. Right off the bat I was impressed by the first course, which featured rich Norwegian trout that melted in your mouth and an amazing miso-like carrot sauce that was like butter. That was followed by a thick and velvety bouillabaisse with just two ingredients, a lovely piece of Spanish mackerel and, surprisingly, an even lovelier piece of Japanese eggplant.
The sashimi, which featured tuna, sweet shrimp, aji and madai, arrived with a side of ginger and pickled vegetables. The tuna was especially nice, but otherwise I probably wouldn’t go to Ato for the sashimi alone. The miso eggdrop soup and the shiso ikura rice concluded the meal with the appropriate amount of carbs and warm broth to fully round out the prior procession of smaller bites. It’s the type of meal you can find plenty of in Midtown East, where a lunch at this price point and of this ambition is a bigger draw for all the expense accounts and suits in the area. I’m not sure what the crowd is like at dinner service, but at lunch, Ato still remains Soho’s best kept secret.
28 Grand St (between 6th Ave and Thompson St)
New York, NY 10013