Tender little nuggets of lobster and wild mushrooms bathed in warm, soy truffle butter — it’s the last thing I expected to find at a sushi restaurant like O-Ku Atlanta. That’s what I enjoyed most during a recent meal there — the fact that this restaurant isn’t your predictable sushi spot.
The latest addition to the Indigo Road hospitality group, which has its roots in Charleston, SC (where the original O-Ku is located), this dining destination opened its Midtown doors in late December 2015 as part of the new Westside Ironworks shopping district.
The space itself is as unpredictable as the menu, blending Japanese elements, like soft lavender-colored banquettes and manzanita branches, with the exposed brick and steel beams that are synonymous with Midtown’s hippest restaurants. Add a cool soundtrack and sexy lighting, and O-Ku has created a recipe for ambience success. (And did I mention that the rooftop patio, overlooking the Atlanta skyline, will become one of my go-to spots once warm weather returns?)
O-Ku’s kitchen is in the capable hands of Executive Chef Jackie Chang (of Umi Buckhead fame), who has the daunting task of crafting an ever-changing menu that depends on the sustainability and availability of wild fish from around the world.
“My team and I have worked to develop dishes that highlight exceptional seafood and sushi rolls, and celebrate signature Japanese dishes,” Jackie says. “We want to provide a dining experience that will appeal to those who love sushi — and those who might not be as experienced with it.”
This describes my friend Lane and me to a T, which made her the perfect dining companion for this O-Ku experience. As we perused the menu, we kicked things off with a few signature cocktails, like the Sugar and Spice, which is comprised of habanero-infused vodka, passion fruit and lemon.
Next, and most importantly, came the food. For Lane, the perfect starter was the rock shrimp tempura, a Japanese take on buffalo shrimp, which was worth every calorie consumed. I went with the hamachi carpaccio, a refreshing creation of yellowtail tuna, cilantro, serrano pepper and garlic ponzu. We also enjoyed a less predictable option: sashimi pomegranate tacos (tuna, salmon and yellowtail perfectly complemented with pomegranate salsa).
Of course O-Ku offers a great selection of sushi, nigiri and sashimi. From the uni (sea urchin) to the hamachi, every piece I tried was amazingly fresh and made me want to try another. (We think Lay’s old saying about betting “you can’t eat just one” should actually refer to artfully prepared sushi, like that of O-Ku’s.) I had the chance to try a few pieces of the aburi sushi, which basically means the fish is slightly cooked and includes a special seasoning. These partially cooked options were delicious, and it’s always fun to try something new, but I prefer the raw ones.
And then there is O-Ku’s Signature Nigiri menu. I never expected to try seared Wagyu beef (Japanese cattle) with BBQ sauce, alongside an option that features crabmeat, truffle butter and pesto. With my first visit to O-Ku under my belt, I can now check those surprising, tasty combinations off my to-eat list. (There are a variety of specialty rolls to choose from, too.)
As for hot entrées, Lane loved the sea bass, and we both couldn’t resist the lobster tobanyaki that I described at the beginning of this article (obviously I’m a sucker for anything with truffles). When you venture out to O-Ku, go hungry and curious, because it’s a culinary adventure that will leave you eagerly awaiting the next unexpected and inspired creation.
O-Ku Atlanta is located at 1085 Howell Mill Road on Atlanta’s Westside. The restaurant is open for dinner Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sushi happy hour is offered Monday and Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call (404) 500-2383, or visit okusushiatl.com.