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The Heat is On at Baku

By Keia Mastrianni | Photography by Michael C. Hernandez

Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

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A stone’s throw from Southpark Mall, Baku Restaurant and Lounge, a Japanese robata style restaurant, has livened up a block of property off Sharon Road. Baku is the first of its kind in Charlotte, offering robata (which means “around the fire”) and yakitori style cuisine, a concept based around the traditional Japanese techniques of grilling over red hot coals and food on skewers. Owner Steve Houraney traveled extensively throughout Japan and other cities and wanted to bring this unique concept to Charlotte.

Inside, the decor is decidedly sleek. Wooden tables and chairs with clean lines and reclaimed wood accents populate the dining room. A handpainted floor in the entryway, catches the eye while the mythical creature called a Baku, resides on the stairs. To the right, an open kitchen bustling with staff tends to the smokeless binchotan coals heating the robata grill. Executive Chef Michael Shortino is front and center. Upstairs, guests can cocktail or dine in the ultra-posh lounge that stays open late (until 2 a.m.) on Friday and Saturday nights. Custom contemporary art, both metropolitan and playful, a nod to the high-end levity that oozes from Baku.

The dining experience revolves around a flurry of menu items that come to the table in waves, all shareable. Guests can choose from an array of small plates, sushi, tempura and larger steak and seafood items that include the showstopping Tomahawk steak, a 36 oz. primitive cut of kobe beef served with a trio of artisan salts and wasabi, freshly grated tableside on a sharkskin board. Be warned: The Tomahawk comes with an $89.00 price tag. Other dishes like the shiso peppers are pleasantly simple- lightly charred, topped with bonito flakes alongside a soy-chili dipping sauce. Our table delighted in the kurobuta pork and onion dumplings and the sushi omakase, a sampling of nigiri and sashimi, ordered whole and prepared fresh daily by sushi chef, Tsu Yoshi Ono. Don’t miss what pastry chef Katelyn Rogers has to offer particularly the yuzu tart and mango toffee cake.

There is no shortage of staffers, albeit young and green. Our party of four was visited by no less than four servers, the sushi chef and the sake sommelier, Stefano Tierno who was essential to navigating the extensive sake menu. The atmosphere at Baku is reminiscent of a Miami hot-spot, the air pulsating with beats, the seats filled with beautiful people and the table enlivened by a new and exciting cuisine.

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