Uptown’s newest restaurant offers upscale Asian drinks, dishes, and décor
The fact that Bryan Emperor is the executive chef at the new Kalu Asian Kitchen in First Ward should be enough to tempt you inside. Emperor has worked at Nobu in New York under famed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He’s prepared a Japanese sake dinner at the James Beard House. He’s trained in Tokyo and has traveled internationally to compete—and win—in world-renowned sushi-making competitions. And now the talented chef is putting out authentic and savory Asian fare unlike anything else you’ll find in this city.
The menu at Kalu features a variety of Asian cuisines but is heavily influenced by Emperor’s specialty: Japanese. Even the drink selection, which includes hard-to-find sakes and Japanese beers, is designed to offer exotic complements to the flavorful dishes. An innovative cocktail list includes drinks like the Geisha Green Tea, an icy sweet drink featuring green tea, Barenjager honey liqueur, and peach nectar. If you’re stopping in for a small bite of sushi, pull up to one of the sleek bars and order a cocktail to accompany it. However, if you’ve chosen to spend the evening delving into the extensive menu, then wait for the cocktail until you’re enjoying some of Emperor’s spicier specialties—the sweetness from the cocktails’ flavors, like ginger and vanilla, cuts the burn of the Asian spices.
Divided into starters, soups, fried items, skewered items, specialties, rice pots, and sushi, the menu is extensive and written in a mixture of Japanese and English. On Sundays, Kalu also features a dim sum menu filled with smaller plates (some dim sum options are also on the daily menu). Everything is dished dramatically, such as shimmering sashimi slices atop crushed ice ($16) and lean steak served sizzling on a hot black stone ($25). While the specialties, like Kobe meatballs with foie gras centers ($15) and Wagyu ribeye rolled around green onion ($16), are already popular, the rice pots may be some of the tastiest offerings on the menu. Each pot is cooked to order using locally farmed rice and fresh ingredients, and then served in combinations like the Shoyu Truffle Butter ($16), featuring rich truffle butter and wild mushrooms.
The 7,000-square-foot restaurant’s creative interior in hues of dark orange and crisp white is a perfect match to the inventive plates. Modern paintings of geishas and Japanese blossoms adorn the walls and ceilings, and two-story windows offer dramatic views of uptown’s nearby skyline. There are three different bars, all lit with iridescent lights that slowly fade into different colors throughout the evening. The best seats in the house, though, are in the posh upstairs lounge, where diners can see down into the kitchen—offering plenty of chances to watch Chef Emperor in action.
Kalu Asian Kitchen
505 E. Sixth St.
$$$, R, L, D, FSB