Supple lavender leather chairs and manzanita branches offer a welcoming environ for patrons while the bar beckons nearby.
Avocado salad with diced watermelon, grape tomatoes, avocado, cucumber and shiso drizzled in wasabi vinaigrette
It feels rather more like eating art than fresh-from-the-ocean fare at O-Ku Atlanta, a Charleston, S.C., import from the folks behind Avalon’s Oak Steakhouse and Colletta—plus some of the Holy City’s hottest restaurants. Located on the far (east) side of Westside Ironworks on Howell Mill, it’s a cinch to overlook, so don’t miss the sign next to Dixon Rye!
Drive around the backside to find a restaurant designed to be glam, but not overly girly—think dark-finished woods, oversize mirrors, channeled lavender leather banquettes, exposed-filament light fixtures, pale manzanita branches and driftwood accents (a nod to the eatery’s oceanside origins). A quirky mural on exposed brick depicts a kimono-clad Japanese gent on a Vespa, surrounded by cherry blossoms and the shade of the branches of a large oak tree (the resto’s name is a direct Japanese translation), capturing the fun managing partners Steve Palmer and Kimball Brienza have injected into upscale dining.
You’ll see it in the culinary artistry of Executive Chef Jackie Chang, a Korean-born talent who comes to his new role from Umi and takes the Chucktown outpost’s simple preparations up a few notches—into more creative, more complicated (and a touch more cosmopolitan) territory.
Start sampling the fare and you’ll fast understand. For starters, O-Ku’s ultrarefreshing avocado salad is already one of our all-time faves: Featuring a ring of diced watermelon, grape tomatoes, avocado, cucumber and shiso drizzled with a savory wasabi vinaigrette, it’s a dish we could eat twice a week. Though the restaurant sources most produce locally, a majority of the seafood is shipped by plane daily, traveling from Japanese fish markets to the restaurant in a mere 24 hours. Amazing.
The six-piece sousaku nigiri sampler is light yet satisfying—featuring a variety of fishes with perfectly paired sauces. Also opt for the otoro spoons with fatty otoro tartare, uni (sea urchin), tobiko black caviar, scallions and soy sauce. But want to indulge just a bit more? The panko-battered, tempura-fried O-Ku Karaage oysters on the half shell have the softest, most delicate texture—and a scrumptious flavor enhanced by creamy masago aioli on top.
The aji skeleton is pure theater, made with silvery Japanese horse mackerel sashimi and served with two kinds of ginger, soy sauce and lime. Trust us on the latter two ingredients: A squeeze of this, a splash of that brings the simply prepared fish to life.
The Marilyn Mon roll (salmon, tempura shrimp, cucumber, sweet sauce, lime and lemon zest) and tobiko hamachi hako box (spicy tuna, cucumber, basil, wasabi tobiko and crispy onion) are all but requisite, yet the restaurant’s real showstopper is its O-Ku Kase tasting plate, which looks more like modern art than a meal with all 45 pieces served up on a frosted-glass platter. Savor everything from madai snapper and crispy baby crab to flounder fin, eel and trumpetfish. There’s even Kobe beef—for those who don’t like the idea of catch pulled from the sea. And if you’re that type, don’t fret; Chang has also created a solid beef sukiyaki (with honshimeji, tofu, onion, cabbage and jidori egg) as well as a three-hour truffle kakuni braised pork belly with sweet truffle sauce, shiitake mushrooms, soft-boiled eggs and Mirin (a sweet sake).
Speaking of sake, you’ll find quite the premium selection here—along with wines—but might we admit the cocktails are just divine. Bar Manager Adrianne Keremes has fashioned one of the best bevs we’ve imbibed all year: the Sugar & Spice martini with passionfruit puree, lemon juice and habanero-infused vodka for an added kick! Those who love gin and tonics should also sip the Shogun, an herbaceous libation featuring botanical gin, lemon balm agave and muddled basil.
But don’t go home just yet! Order one more round and shut it down on the rooftop patio, offering shimmering views of the Midtown skyline and a late-night sushi menu from 11pm till 1am every weekend. This ATL locale might not have the crazy, raucous DJ dance parties of its Chucktown counterpart... but it’s still crazy awesome.
1085 Howell Mill Road