The wait is almost over. The team behind the hugely popular Kokoro at Bravery Chef Hall food hall and Handies Douzo in the Heights is almost ready to open their much-anticipated sushi spot, Aiko. Almost.
Fresh off a three-night trial run with friends and family, Aiko’s popular chefs Patrick Pham and Daniel Lee and business partners CJ Short and Andrew Lin seemed tired but exhilarated at the same time.
Ahead of the mid-April opening, “we have a lot of things to work out,” Lin says.
What’s set though, is that Aiko, meaning “loved one” or “love child” in Japanese, is positioned to blend the worlds of the group’s two other concepts — offering an impressive selection of nigiri, crudos, and sashimi like sushi restaurant Kokoro and set-focused menus and hand rolls like Handies Douzo, but in the group’s first full-service, sit-down restaurant setting.
“The menu will allow guests to enjoy an approachable omakase with our same high-quality ingredients and unique flavors in an environment with the same energy as Kokoro and Handies Douzo,” adds Lin, calling Aiko “the next step in the growth and evolution of the team.”
Regular patrons of Handies Douzo might recognize the fantastic maguro crudo appetizer, or the signature negi toro handroll at Aiko, but Lin says the overall menu is still under development. Aiko will most likely offer a “set,” or prix-fixe option — eight to 10 standard selections of nigiri sushi, hand rolls, and composed crudo appetizers — with a more extensive a la carte menu slinging premium cuts like sake toro, o-toro, and live hotate, or scallop. With partner Short running service, Aiko will also serve beer, wine, and sake, with the option to BYOB for a $20 corkage, Lin says.
Design-wise, the 2,782-square-foot space has been completely renovated. Guests entering the restaurant are greeted by a small reception area and bar. The 58-seat dining room — split into two sections — features a 10-seat sushi bar on the left and 11 tables to the right.
Lin’s sister, Julie Lin of the LA-based JAW Collective design firm, created what Lin describes as “a departure from the expected aesthetic of a Japanese restaurant, even a modern one.” The overall palette is largely neutral, with dark woods set against soft, textured gold tones, Phillip Jeffries wallpaper, blue turquoise Italian tile, with Erica Shamrock and Majilite fabrics, and pops of Italian petrified moss.
“The intent was to play up the scale of the original space and create a memorable, theatrical backdrop for the guest experience and showcasing the cuisine,” Lin says.
The restroom is already emerging as one of the most talked-about elements of the design. “The space is originally quite industrial with a unique shape,” Lin says. “We wanted to continue the theme of live elements from the dining area in this living hallway.” The result? A long, mirrored path framed on both sides by lush, live, locally grown bamboo.
More than a year in the making, Aiko’s space previously housed the short-lived, high-end omakase restaurant Kukuri, and later, Kubo’s Sushi Bar and Grill. Lin and his team leased the space for Aiko in January 2021.
Aiko is located at 1902 Washington Avenue. The restaurant, which will offer dinner service from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily., will take reservations via Resy beginning in April.