BaiKu Sushi Lounge
A sophisticated space revs ups the ante in Midtown.
BaiKu sushi lounge is built for intimacy. Not that it’s dark and secluded—on the contrary, the restaurant in Hotel Igancio’s lobby is filled with daylight when the sun is up and with neon hues when it’s not. But the tables are compact, the dining sections feel focused, and the atmosphere encourages paying attention to the person you’re with.
Its name means “motorcycle” in Japanese, and if it were one, it would be a Ducati Diavel—a head-turning bike that’s certainly not meant to travel in packs. BaiKu’s theme is understated compared to its next-door counterpart Triumph Grill. Aside from a wall of whitewashed, deconstructed mechanical parts, the décor is elegantly simple. Triumph’s influence shows up more strongly in the culinary team BaiKu co-owner Brad Beracha has assembled, which includes executive chef Josh Norris overseeing the hot foods and chef Soung Min Lee, formerly of Beracha’s Miso on Meramec, on the sushi side.
Food for flirting Sushi lends itself well to sharing. With only a few pieces per order for most nigiri (seafood shaped over rice) and sashimi (seafood only), it’s easy to find a compromise that hits the sweet spot between adventure and fear, should your date not be as into sushi as you thought.
One of our favorite rolls, somewhat to our surprise, was the simple vegetable roll. The drizzle of wasabi Champagne sauce was just the accent to bring out the crispness and flavors of cucumber, avocado, gobo, oshinko, kampyo, kaiware sprouts and scallions. Another favorite— also simple— was the unagi roll containing freshwater eel, cucumber and avocado and drizzled with a sweet soy reduction.
For presentation, there are maki such as the spider roll, a work of art showing off tempura-fried soft-shell crab, masago, cucumber and avocado. Min Lee also offers several signature nigiri that are worth sampling, including the octopus with red chili-citrus sauce, black tobiko and scallions or the salmon with bacon, ryu and chive oil.
Drinks for food The headline spirit at BaiKu is sake, thanks to the input of Monica Samuels, a respected sake expert. The list of options is concise—which means you can order pretty much anything without worrying you’ll be disappointed. For example, try the unfiltered Tozai “Snow Maiden” Junmai Nigori sake, either by the glass, by the bottle or in a specialty cocktail called the Oinari. The drink is translucent thanks to the sake, culminating in an interestingly dry blend of Ketel One vodka, St. Germain and grapefruit juice.
The wine list is longer and definitely chosen around the menu: It’s filled with food-friendly chardonnays and rieslings on the white side and pinot noirs and zinfandels on the red. Even the beers tend to be lighter and less hoppy than they might be were BaiKu to have an actual bar. As it is, the lounge aspect might encourage some customers to forgo food, but it’s unlikely they will be able to fully resist the temptation once they see the rolls and sushi on their way to other tables.
Only three items on the dessert menu are actual foods. The rest are labeled digestifs, with a clear separation between the liqueur list and the whiskeys, Scotch and brandies. Of particular note is the Suntory Yamakazi single malt whisky.
Designing a restaurant that doubles as a nightlife venue is tricky. During the day, diners value the businesslike transaction of getting in and out efficiently. Later in the day, expectations shift to the eating and entertainment experience. Locating that restaurant in a hotel lobby added an extra layer of complexity, but BaiKu transcends all the potential obstacles—kind of like that Ducati pulling away from the pack.
BaiKu Sushi interior
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg