If you've passed the corner of Seventh and Bainbridge Streets, you've spotted the tiny Japanese restaurant across from the Bean Exchange.
Ro-Zu is the name, it's been all lit up for weeks, seemingly complete but not open for business.
The BYOB, licensed for only 18 seats, should be open any day now.
Ro-Zu chef Todd Dae Kulper says he and business partner Ralph Pecca are aiming for traditional, high-end Japanese cuisine -- especially sushi and sashimi -- but created with modern techniques and with good use of local ingredients. "Other Japanese restaurants are losing the idea of what traditional Japanese cuisine is."
Kulper, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and trained by Japanese chefs, said he came here from Hawaii in September to work with Pecca.
Kulper said lunch tabs will run $16 to $20 per person, while the average dinner will run you $35 -- though "a connoisseur could spend $75 if they choose," he said.
In an e-mail, Kulper declined to provide the menu, but offered a lengthy explanation.
First off, he said they want to provide good value.
The menu is designed into two halves. One side is designed specifically for omakase, or tasting menus, which will start at $25. The prix-fize menus are not set; rather, they're customized around the flavor profile suitable for the patrons. Kulper recommends that omakase patrons sit at the sushi bar.
Sushi and sashimi will range from $3 to $5 for individual pieces and maki will range from $3 to $13.
The more expensive omakases ($50 and up) will include contemporary Japanese dishes utilizing truffle, toro, and domestic Wagyu-style beef, plus prepared sushi which will be presented one by one in progression with the flavor profile of the fish. Since each piece will be seasoned, sauced and garnished individually, he feels that wasabi and soy sauce are unnecessary.
He'll use high-grade Koshihikari rice and a sushi vinegar that's not as sweet as other sushi restaurants, and a quality nori that does not get soggy or chewy. Most rolls only will have three ingredients, for simplicity.
Sauces used in the restaurant are all made on site, he said. "We don't buy eel sauce or ponzu sauce but make them all in small batches. The eel sauce in particular is made by roasting actual eel bones from eels filleted on site and cooked with a special recipe which heightens in flavor as the restaurant ages. To explain this, the day before we open we make the first eel sauce using the eels harvested that day in a small batch and when the next batch of eels come into the restaurant any remaining sauce from the previous batch will be added to the new batch thus increasing the complexity and texture of the sauce as it gets older. Using this method, we will be cooking eel sauce as much as three times a week. We also have a special soy sauce which will be used only at the sushi bar, which will be brushed onto pieces of sushi. Unfortunately this sauce will not be available at the tables. It is based on the concept of umami or the fifth flavor and will be made on site to accentuate the intricate flavors of certain fish."
Here are several dishes:
Snow Crab / Sea Urchin / Shichimi Butter
This dish is a whole lobster "princess cut" and stuffed with the crab and sea urchin and topped with a mixture of japanese chili, butter, and bread crumbs and baked like a gratin.
Compressed Pomelo / Habanero / Celery
A live scallop served as sashimi and garnished with grapefruit which has been marinated with intense grapefruit reduction and compressed to heighen the texture, a habanero compote which has been prepared so that only the fruit of the habanero is used so that the spiciness in not overwhelming and celery oil and truffled celery leaves.
"Shiromi Usuzukuri" ($13)
Shiso Gremolata / Yuzu / Elephant Garlic
A dish utilizing fluke cut and presented in a way similar to that of fugu or poisonous pufferfish and garnished with a classical italian sauce used for osso buco made with shiso leaves, garlic, olive oil, and yuzu topped off with a Yuzu vinaigrette and crispy elephant garlic.