Azumi has taken over the space adjacent to the Four Seasons Hotel formerly occupied by Pabu. While its predecessor was a casual izakaya—the Japanese equivalent of a pub—the new concept, from the Atlas Restaurant Group (owners of nearby Ouzo Bay), is full service, multi-course and upscale. Emphasis on upscale. Chef Eiji Takase’s menu includes several cuts of wagyu beef along with sushi and signature appetizers. In addition to its sake program, the bar will reflect Japan’s recent obsession with fine whiskey.
Chef. Takase, who moved to Fells Point in October, was part of the creative team behind SushiSamba, the Japanese-Brazilian concept (with locations in Manhattan’s West Village, Miami and London) and opened Shibuya in Las Vegas. He was also behind Chicago’s Japonais and Momoya in New York. Look for such cold dishes as blue fin Toro tartare with caviar, wasabi foam and wakamono, and jalapeno yellowtail hamachi with garlic soy, achiote oil and yuzu. Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms in Idaho will be seared on hot stone, and of course there will be sushi. “Rice is very important,” says Takase. “It’s connected to Shinto [the ancient Japanese religion], a symbol of life.”
Drinks. Tiffany Soto, who holds the rarified title of Sake Kikizake-shi (or Master Sake Teacher), consulted with the restaurant—as well as providing training to staff. The bar also will feature high-end Japanese whiskey (don’t forget, Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask recently ruffled Scotch feathers in the World Whiskey Bible). Taps will proffer both Japanese and local suds. “That’s the great thing about our team,” says Alex Smith, Atlas co-owner (with George Aligeorgas). “Our shtick is we’re local guys, so we’ll have Resurrection and Duckpin along with Sapporo.”
Décor. Designer Patrick Sutton has created a streamlined look with a range of textures and surfaces, both natural and synthetic. Entry to Azumi is through a clear glass vestibule to keep out the sharp winter wind—and summer heat. What was formerly a wall behind the bar is now a sweep of windows facing the water and the public walkway that rims Harbor East (with plans to create an outdoor space with soft seating, planters and lanterns). Banquettes are upholstered in shimmery faux eelskin and lit by custom metal light fixtures shaped like bishop’s hats. The bar has been relocated to the rear, and features a steel backdrop with a Japanese proverb (loose translation: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”) laser cut and backlit through red acrylic.
Lounge. A small lounge area off to one side offers bottle service in the shadow of a DJ (who will spin easy listening until 11 p.m., when, owners hope, a nightlife vibe will kick in). The wall is clad in black acoustic foam cut in a geometric pattern, and barstools are the very best part; each a hollow cylinder packed with vertical dowels. Upon landing, your backside is in for a squishy treat. The dowels sit atop Tempur-pedic type foam to create a shape-conforming cushion. “I don’t know where Patrick finds these things,” Smith muses.
Final Verdict. Azumi, Japanese fine dining from a conscientious chef with an international reputation, is the first of its kind in the region. Bring your gold card.
Azumi 725 Aliceanna St.