The City Magazine Since 1975


September 2010

At O-Ku on Upper King, it’s all about the sushi, the sake, and the swish—together sharing center stage at this latest addition to the growing ensemble of dining venues owned by The Indigo Road restaurant group.

An acclaimed trio—chef-owner Brett McKee and partner Steve Palmer joined by executive chef Sean Park—choreograph this stylish, intentionally high-decibel place, where endless servings of sushi, elegantly pristine against stark white plates, lure a steady crowd of fans seven days a week.

A host of valet parking attendants and black-clad beauties welcomes guests into the restyled former Waterworks space, featuring a dark wood and brick interior. A glittering bar stretches along the right wall, and the vivid sushi bar frames the back, with huge shaded lamps and large mirrors reflecting the giant twisted manzanita wood branches that adorn each pillar.

The menu is organized in traditional Japanese fashion, beginning with miso soup and cold salads; expanding to chef’s specialties, nigiri and sashimi, and entrées; and ending with robata grill and makimono (rolled sushi). Options are so extensive that one must visit multiple times to experience the full range of offerings.

The first time we dined at O-Ku, we began with the blissfully healthy sunomono—daikon-wrapped whitefish, salmon, and escolar—served with a silken wakame seaweed salad in a delicate rice-wine vinaigrette. We also tried the flavorful Tasmanian crab and avocado salad over spring mixed greens with marinated cucumber, spirals of beet, carrot, and crisp Asian pear dressed in the house pomegranate vinaigrette.

We enjoyed this refreshing salad with ginger basil lemonade made with Hangar One vodka, house-made ginger syrup, fresh basil, club soda, and fresh sweet and sour—just the right cocktail to complement the menu. Filtered and unfiltered premium sakes are also available, with general manager Andrew Fallis and the knowledgeable servers happy to share tastings and pairing advice.

Among the chef’s specialties were delightful dim sum—Japanese pork gyoza and shrimp shumai dumplings served with light soy and dundash sauce—and the highly recommended yellowtail carpaccio in neat triangles topped with serrano pepper, fresh wasabi, and chives in yuzu truffle and citrus ponzu. Tuna Three Ways—sweet, spicy, and creamy—offered sashimi with mango, spicy serrano, and Sriracha; tartare on a cucumber crown with sweet and spicy chili sauce; and seven-seasoning tataki with avocado. This showstopper was a distinct favorite, along with Kanpachi yellowtail and shiny-skinned mackerel nigiri and a tempura escolar roll with sesame and bonito flakes. Tasmanian salmon sashimi was splendid, as was the contrasting potato-wrapped roll—shrimp tempura and avocado wrapped in sesame soy paper and shoestring-style potatoes, deep fried, and served with sweet teriyaki eel sauce and mango remoulade. It was the typical progression of choice according to our engaging sushi chef, Tommy, who explained a traditional Japanese meal often ranges from cold starters to fish to heavier tempura items.

The pride and expert knowledge that are hallmarks of true Japanese cuisine are clearly evidenced by sushi chefs at work at the bar. During both visits, we were introduced to the nuances, including a unique treat—hot, pickled wasabi stem prepared using a special sharkskin grater. We only wished our seats were a little higher to afford a better view of the chefs.

Some dessert offerings—chocolate pot de crème and pineapple crème brûlée—seemed too complex after the sublime simplicity of the seafood, so we enjoyed green-tea gelato garnished with Asian pear.

Blending a fashionable spirit with the clean, natural balance of stunning sushi, O-Ku celebrates the art of living simply yet generously. Go for the sushi, the sake, and the pulsing crowd—but not at happy hour if you’re looking for peace and quiet.