Holy crap Charlotte…. Baku is here. We got into the Pre-Grand Opening event last night and it didn’t take long at all for us to fall hardcore in love with Charlotte’s only Robata Grill. RestaurantTraffic (Charlotte’s #2 Food Blog) reported back in July that Baku would be a Mediterranean restaurant… well they were wrong. Chef Michael Shortino and chef Anoosh Shariat have introduced Robata style Japanese cooking to the Queen City with the creation of Baku in SouthPark and we were on hand to check out their creation. Robata is a style of grill cooking designed centuries ago that burn a specially sourced smokeless charcoal at over 800 degrees and gives its food a faint but distinct smoky flavor.
We haven’t been this excited about a restaurant since the first time we checked out Chima in Uptown. The buildings unappealing exterior is is nowhere near as impressive as its interior decor. The menu features items sourced from local Carolina growers, Robata Meats, Seafood and Vegetables, Skewers, Tempura, Maki Rolls, Sushi/Sashimi, and Desserts. We were instructed to order between 3 – 4 plates each and try to sample various things from across the whole menu. We happily obliged and ordered the:
- Kurobuta Pork and Sweet Onion Dumplings
- Assorted Fresh Vegetable Tempura with Tentsuyu Dipping Sauce
- Sake Glazed Chicken Wings with Lime and Sancho Salt Flake
- Marinated Lamb with Korean Chili and Garlic
- Spicy Filet of Beef with Black Pepper Sesame Sauce
- Beef Tenderloin and Asparagus Skewers
- Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon
- Local Sweet Corn with Shiso Butter
- Baby Back Ribs with Star Anise, Cinnamon, Sweet Chili Glaze and Cashews
- Espresso Frangelico Truffles on Almond Florentine with Cinnamon Gingersnap Ice Cream and a Sour Cherry Sauce with Fresh Blackberries.
As a personal challenge to myself (Curtis) I decided I was going to eat everything we ordered with the chopsticks that were provided or my fingers when appropriate… that means absolutely no spoons, forks, or knives. Everything we ate fell in a range between simply delicious to truly mind blowing. The Kurobuta Pork and Sweet Onion Dumplings were soft, juicy, and an easy target for my chopsticks. The Assorted Fresh Vegetable Tempura with Tentsuyu Dipping Sauce was delicious, crunchy (especially the eggplant), and once again an easy target for my chopsticks. The Sake Glazed Chicken Wings with Lime and Sancho Salt Flake were the juiciest pieces of chicken I had ever sank my teeth into, they had a very faint grill flavor from the robata grill, and were an easy target for eating with my fingers. The Marinated Lamb with Korean Chili and Garlic was juicy and with its giant bone was easy to eat with my fingers.
The Spicy Filet of Beef with Black Pepper Sesame Sauce was the real robata star of the night. The beef was both tender and addictive, and gone in seconds via my chopsticks. The Beef Tenderloin and Asparagus Skewers were an unexpected surprise (we didn’t order them) and we decided to eat them up before anyone realized the mistake :) The Sweet Potatoes with Honey and Cinnamon were incredibly soft with a faint hint of cinnamon and easy pickings for my chopsticks. My only complaint with the sweet potatoes were that they came with the skin on and when I tried to take a bite of them the skin came completely off and smacked me in the chin :( The Local Sweet Corn with Shiso Butter was crisp, sweet, lightly grilled, and my fingers made easy work of them. The Baby Back Ribs with Star Anise, Cinnamon, Sweet Chili Glaze and Cashews came out a little later than expected but well worth the wait.
For us the best part of the night is always dessert and since our best friend is the Pastry Chef at Baku were were even more excited. Katelyn Rogers is a triple graduate from Johnson and Wales University in Uptown Charlotte and one of the most talented Pastry Chefs in the Queen City. For our dessert she had prepared Espresso Frangelico Truffles on Almond Florentine with Cinnamon Gingersnap Ice Cream and a Sour Cherry Sauce with Fresh Blackberries. The presentation was probably the most unique for a dessert we have ever come across. The ice cream was sitting on a block of ice, everything was resting in a bowl of ice, the espresso frangelico truffles were a dark chocolate lovers dream, the almond florentine was incredible, and I really wanted to drink the sour cherry sauce by itself. Dessert really put my chopstick skills to the test but I crushed it. The truffles were easy pickings, the almond florentine went down without a fight, and the ice cream proved to be a little difficult but with a steady hand I made it happen :)
Baku blew us away and is easily one of the best restaurants in Charlotte. The robata style cooking is unique, the menu is diverse, and the desserts are top notch. If you’re bored with your normal Friday night restaurant check out Baku at SouthPark and make sure you don’t leave before getting dessert :)