NEXTO, the eagerly awaited Japanese restaurant from chef Mihoko Obunai and Concentrics Restaurants, is finally set to open tonight at 6 p.m. at 828 Ralph McGill Blvd. N.E., next to Two Urban Licks in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward.
With nods to contemporary New York and Tokyo ramen shops, Obunai’s menu offers five different noodle bowls, plus a rice bowl, cold and hot plates, and robatayaki-style dishes grilled over binchotan charcoal.
Located in a distinctive corrugated metal shed that was formerly a blacksmith and metal shop, the minimalist space features a soaring ceiling and expansive front windows that look out on a shimmering bamboo hedge.
Late last week at NEXTO, Obunai was quietly working in the shiny-new open kitchen, while a chorus of contractors made a racket, racing to finish their punch lists.
“Pretty much everything, cold plates, hot plates, binchotan dishes, is made to be shared,” Obunai said in describing the menu.
“The items from the robata grill are a little bigger portion, and we’ll be doing seafood and local and seasonal vegetables. But we’re not doing typical skewered yakitori.”
One example is grilled oyster mushrooms plated with wasabi aioli and sansho Japanese pepper. Another is a duck meatball with bourbon soy dipping sauce. And the “gold plate” will include a daily chef’s selection with premium ingredients such as toro and foie gras.
Of course, since Obunai named her previous pop-up business Ramen Freak, NEXTO is certain to attract the current cult of ramen seekers.
For them, there’s a hearty, aromatic Curry Vegetable bowl with kabocha squash, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and tofu, and a more delicate Kamo Negi bowl with sous vide duck, scallions and lemon. And as always with Obunai, it’s all about the broth.
“I’m making five different kinds of stock,” Obunai said. “I’m making a vegetable stock, fish dashi stock, duck stock, chicken feet stock, pork stock. But I love making stock because of my French restaurant background. I’m a stock freak.”
During her pop-up days, Obunai often offered specialty cocktails and craft beer to pair with her dishes.
At NEXTO, general manager Mike Brandon is handling the bar program, which includes “refreshing, fun and balanced wines,” Japanese-inspired cocktails, sakes, shochu and American and Japanese craft beer.
Among other touches sure to add to the energy, there’s a late night ramen burger, offered after 10 p.m., with fried egg, kimchi, kaiware and Sriracha kwechap. And coming soon, a take-out window will be open at the back of the kitchen.
Asked to describe the big idea behind NEXTO, Obunai smiled.
“It’s not like the ramen shops in New York or Tokyo, where you just eat-and-go in 20 minutes,” she said. “It’s not just ramen. And it’s not traditional ramen. It’s my ramen. All the food will come out as it’s ready, and people can share, and drink and have fun.
“The space and the atmosphere is meant to be enjoyed. It’s modern but it’s classic, too. When you walk in the door, there’s an old Japanese movie poster. But there’s also the natural wood and light and bamboo. It’s the yin and yang of a good balance. It’s a cool place to be.”
828 Ralph McGill Blvd. N.E., Atlanta. 404-809-3763, nextoatl.com.
More images from a Sneak Peek at NEXTO in O4W.