Fresh Fish From Familiar Faces
St. Louis rolls out delicious sushi all across town.
Establishing a reputation for sushi takes time, but once you have it, St. Louisans tend to remember. That’s why the names behind a place like BaiKu Sushi Lounge matter. Open since September in Midtown’s Hotel Ignacio, BaiKu is co-owned by Brad Beracha, whose now-shuttered Miso on Meramec was once the place to go for sushi in Clayton. The second name to know is Soung Min Lee, executive sushi chef. His resume includes both Miso and, more recently, Central Table Food Hall.
Though the setting is more intimate than Miso, there are parallels in the music and mood and, most importantly, the quality of the fish, some of which is sourced directly from Honolulu Fish in Hawaii. BaiKu leaves the long lists of specialty maki rolls to others and focuses on nigiri (thinly sliced fish pressed atop rice) and sashimi (the fish alone), as well as Japanese and Korean entrées and appetizers. The result is a menu that ranges from locally made ramen noodles, shrimp tempura, poached egg, fish cake and bok choy over udon noodles to marinated hanger steak with sticky rice and kimchi puree.
BaiKu’s translation—it means motorcycle in Japanese—hints at a couple of other important names: Steve Smith, who’s behind the Triumph Grill and Moto Museum next door to the boutique hotel housing BaiKu, and Josh Norris, the Hawaiian-born chef at Triumph who developed the hot food menu to pair with Lee’s sushi.
The name Monica Samuels deserves to be dropped at BaiKu as well. The first graduate of the masters of sake program from the American Sommeliers Association in the United States, she helped Beracha shape the specialty, high-end drinks menu.
Among the up-and-coming restaurants looking to make a name for themselves is Sushi House Bar and Karaoke, which opened in Chesterfield in September. Its extensive wine menu may give you the liquid courage to try karaoke, but don’t overlook the food: grilled Asian entrées, noodle dishes and a satisfying selection of sushi, in addition to bento boxes of sushi, salad, rice, tempura and miso soup.
Wasabi Sushi Bar is one of the best-known names on the local sushi scene, and it’s a powerhouse: The newest of its eight restaurants opened in Warson Woods in the fall. In contrast to BaiKu, Wasabi’s approach is very much about the maki. More than 50 rolls are on its menu, from simple and authentic to deep-fried and wild. But don’t let the crunch toppings fool you—the sashimi and nigiri are first-rate too.
Taking a decidedly more individualistic approach is Flying Rolls in Midtown. Its build-your-own-roll philosophy and novice-friendly fillings like strawberry, peanut butter-banana or bacon-egg might not be traditional, but they could open the door to eel and yellowtail tuna later on, which Flying Rolls offers as well.
One of St. Louis’ most influential sushi names, Naomi Hamamura, had free-agent status as this article went to press. He’s shaped many of the area’s top sushi venues, most recently United Provisions when it opened in The Loop over the summer. Though the sushi bar remains at the grocery-store-and-eatery (the boxed sushi filled with the venue’s daily special is a must-try for lunch), Hamamura reports that he is on his way to new adventures on the St. Louis culinary scene. Keep an eye out for his name to reappear soon.
Photo credit: Victoria Lafferty