In January, chef Mihoko Obunai and Concentrics Restaurants announced a new ramen concept called NEXTO , originally slated to open in April but now set for late May at 822 Ralph McGill Blvd. N.E. in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward.
Now comes word that Obunai will be previewing some of the NEXTO menu items at two Concentrics sister restaurants, with pop-ups at the Spence in Midtown on March 23 and Parish in Inman Park on April 11.
Known as the “Ramen Freak” for her series of pop-ups, Obunai is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City and was the chef/partner at the Atlanta French/Japanese-influenced restaurant Repast
More recently, she served as executive chef at Joli Kobe in Sandy Springs, while launching ramen pop-ups in other cities and states, often collaborating with Sun Noodle company’s Shigetoshi Nakamura.
Concentrics founder Bob Amick came up with the idea of partnering with Obunai after pondering ideas for a metal building next door to another of his restaurants, Two Urban Licks.
“For longest time there was a guy who had a blacksmith and metal work shop in there,” Amick said. “He did the Two Urban Licks sign and a lot of the metal work inside. But he decided to move out, and I kept looking at that building and thinking we ought to do something fun there.”
The concept of a ramen shop struck Amick while he was visiting New York City. And since he’d enjoyed Obunai’s cooking from her days at Repast, he decided to check out some of her pop-ups.
For her part, Obunai said she had long dreamed of opening a restaurant, again, but hadn’t been able to find the right partner or concept.
“I still have the passion, I love cooking, but the perfect situation or great opportunity hadn’t come up,” Obunai said. “But I noticed Bob and his team had been checking me out at Ramen Freak pop-ups. Later, we had a good talk, and he asked me if I was interested in this ramen shop. I said of course I was.”
“It turned out that she’s great at ramen,” Amick said. “She came to work with us in January and she’s been terrific. We’re doing tastings all the time for the restaurant, which we want to be incredibly authentic and incredibly good and geared right for this market.”
Obunai said she was given complete control over the menu, though she and Amick agree that they want many of the dishes to skew a bit lighter than what might be found at the typical ramen shop.
“After eating a bowl of ramen you should still be able to get up and move, Obunai said, laughing. “We want to do everything fresh and on the lighter side, with local ingredients, and have things that people can still enjoy in the summertime, like cold noodle dishes. But it won’t be a big menu.”
“It’s the right place, the right time and the right size,” Amick said summing up NEXTO. “I think it’s going to be great fun. This is all about Mihoko. It’s her menu. She’s learning from us and we’re learning from her. And we’ll have it nailed by the time we open.”
More details on NEXTO.
NEXTO, which is a take on Next Two, will be a dinner-only restaurant, seating around 85 people in a 2,000 sq. ft. space that’s being designed as a modern-minimalist glass cube surrounded by a bamboo hedge.
It will open at 7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, and close as late as 2 a.m. some nights, with valet parking at Two Urban Licks next door. The restaurant will offer takeout and free delivery to some of the surrounding neighborhood.
On the menu, look for three or four ramen bowls each night, as well as selections of yakatori and other Japanese starters and small plates, created with some classic French touches.
The beverage program from Amick’s son, Justin Amick of the Painted Pin , will feature beer, wine, sake and crafted Japanese cocktails.