O-Ku Atlanta gets creative with Japanese food


Dinner: 5-10:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 5-10 p.m. Sundays. Sushi happy hour: 5-7 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays. Late-night sushi happy hour: 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.

Starters and sides, $4-$16; nigiri and sashimi, $2.50-$7; chef specialties, $12-$29, hot entrees, $17-$28; chef’s tastings, $35-$100; special rolls, $8-$25.

1085 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-500-2383, o-kusushiatl.com.

Recently opened in the Westside Ironworks building on Howell Mill Road, O-Ku Atlanta is a spinoff of acclaimed Charleston, S.C., Japanese restaurant O-Ku and another addition to Steve Palmer's Indigo Road Restaurant Group, which includes Oak Steakhouse and Colletta at Avalon in Alpharetta.

The O-Ku Atlanta team under managing partner Kimball Brienza features executive chef Jackie Chang, who trained and worked as the lead chef at Umi Buckhead under Japanese chef/restaurateur Fuyuhiko Ito.

While Chang’s menu has some inventive sushi rolls and a variety of hot entrees, the emphasis is on nigiri, sashimi, and chef’s specialties, such as smokey sake with smoked and lightly seared salmon, grilled avocado, scallion and citrus honey vinaigrette, and otoro spoons with otoro tartare, uni, soy, scallion and caviar.

“The whole concept of O-Ku was based off a 10-course meal at Nobu New York, years ago,” Brienza said. “It was really enlightening as far as sashimi and different types of crudo, and doing things with different flavors that aren’t sushi rolls.

“We really want our chefs to have the creative freedom to showcase their specialties, like Jackie’s sousaku nigiri and aburi sushi. That’s not something that we do a whole lot of in Charleston. As far as Japanese food goes, Atlanta has a fairly advanced palate, and we definitely want to play to that.”

The O-Ku Atlanta beverage program matches the menu with a selection of sake, Japanese and craft beer, bourbon, Scotch and Japanese whiskey, and nine specialty cocktails, including the Tokyo Classic mixed with Nikka Coffey Grain whiskey, rye, Hoodoo Chicory liqueur and vermouth, garnished with a house black cherry.

“I would say we’re very cocktail-driven,” Brienza said. “We’re doing draft cocktails, which is a new thing for us. And we’re also happy about using local spirits, like Old 4th vodka.”

Like the food and beverage menus, the design and decor are a blend of sophisticated and casual, with Japanese elements such as a decorative tile mural, industrial elements including exposed brick walls and steel beams, and twisting strands of bleached manzanita branches, a signature of the original O-Ku in Charleston, perched in various spots around the dining room.

One of the most unusual features of the space, which is secluded in the back of the Ironworks building, is a 1,500-square-foot rooftop deck and bar, accessed via an outdoor staircase. It feels more like something you’d find at a beachfront hotel, but offers stunning, panoramic views of the Midtown skyline, especially at night.

“We’re very excited to have that,” Brienza said. “When you think of Japanese or sushi, a rooftop bar is generally not part of the equation. But it’s a neat thing. We chose this location for the view, and we are going to be able to offer a different experience up there with a little more casual rooftop menu.

“What O-Ku has become is a place for elevated sushi and Japanese food and polished service but with a fun atmosphere. We want O-Ku Atlanta to be a place where the kids from Georgia Tech can come in and enjoy the sushi happy hour. We also want to attract people in business suits who are having corporate dinners.”

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