Venue Review: Nikko Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar
The Charlotte Observer
Nikko was contemporary nearly a decade ago, and when owner Joanna Nix started with her cowboy hats and boas and sake bombs, people tended to fall into two camps:
Now that Nix & Co. have moved to dramatically bigger digs and a more prominent South End spot, the look has gone to in-your-face cosmopolitan: etched glass, dramatic flowers, white leather chairs and a lounge reeking of Mies van der Rohe (tufted black leather and chrome chairs and benches) – plus an enormous colored screen backing the sushi bar that's caught your eye if you've been down the street in 2008.
Fitting for a place on the ground floor of the infamous "pink building" -- The Arlington, at Arlington Avenue. Hip and fun. (I was in the "Cool!" contingent the first time around, too.)
What's less obvious is that it's also better.
Service has warmed up a bit, the kitchen seems more confident, and everything I tried, with the notable exception of watery green tea, was vibrant.
Sushi is reasonably represented: The list is neither paltry nor expansive, although I was delighted that uni (sea urchin) was on the menu, in stock and excellent. (One begins to suspect at some places, after being told repeatedly a menu item is "out," that it might never have made it "in.")
One night, we ordered a sushi/sashimi omakase platter. Omakase means "entrust" and, usually, to say it with sushi means you are putting yourself in the sushi chef's hands, leaving the choosing of items up to her or him.
Here, it means you get two pieces of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, eel and shrimp, and just one roll and nine pieces of sashimi (fish without rice) as the chef wishes. We said we loved everything: We got tuna, yellowtail, salmon and flounder.
Disappointingly dull, though all were fine, so I'd suggest skipping the platter and going traditional: Sit at the bar, say "omakase" and go piece-by-piece.
For the sushi-leery, Nikko has plenty. A bright little plate of Korean-style slices of short rib. A simply brilliant piece of black cod marinated in sweet rice wine and white miso and served with a sautéed cake of wasabi-tinged mashed potatoes, sliced mushrooms and Napa cabbage. Udon in mussel broth. Tempura in many forms.
Dance music from the '80s has been the soundtrack on my visits, and with servers in all black and a big crowd, it gets clubbier and louder as the night progresses. Creamy orbs and angled cylinders light the place, and tall windows bring in street views – from which you can watch Charlotte continue to grow.
Look for a restaurant concept to be announced in the original Nikko spot: "We are not sure yet what we'll do," says James Nix, Joanna's husband. One can guess it will be interesting.