Named after the urban lifestyle that stressed pleasure-seeking facets of life during the Edo period (1603–1827) in Japan, Ukiyo opens for dinner this week. It’s been over a year in the making and was originally slated to be located along Indy’s foodie corridor of Virginia Avenue, but chef and owner Neal Brown (Pizzology, The Libertine, Stella) jumped at the opportunity to purchase the well-regarded restaurant Recess following Greg Hardesty’s retirement.
After a three-month build-out to soften the space previously designed to be a playground for Hardesty’s culinary creations, Ukiyo features two dining rooms: a dark and cozy wood-lined room with modern Danish lighting (including the Instagram-worthy light adorned with goose feathers) and seats for approximately 35, and the bright and inviting sushi bar. In the reservations-only sushi bar, guests will enjoy Omakase (“we leave it to you”)-style dining, where Ukiyo’s chefs will prepare an ever-evolving tasting menu of their choice. However, Brown is quick to point out Ukiyo does not regard itself as a Japanese restaurant. “We consider ourselves a Japanese-inspired restaurant, with the goal of merging Midwestern ingredients with Japanese preparation techniques.”
So what should one expect from a Neal Brown Japanese-style restaurant? For one, approachable flavors that are balanced and humble. In an effort to alleviate food waste, guests are welcomed to the table with a small sampling of ginger milk, which Brown likens to Japanese horchata. Leftover water that is used to rinse sushi rice three times is combined with ginger and star anise in a refreshing and delicate concoction. The menu evenly splits attention between cold items, like the braised daikon radish with yellow hatcho miso and chili, and warm offerings, like the pork shoguyaki that features Napa cabbage, soba noodles, and caramelized onions. To round out the menu, Ukiyo offers a handful of rice-based dishes, like scallop zosui with dried squid and apple that is reminiscent of congee, a type of Asian rice porridge.
In considering a staple of most sushi joints, Brown knew he wanted to offer unagi, or freshwater eel. Due to diminished catches and in an effort to use a sustainable product, Brown instead offers a domestic farm-raised catfish, with a fatty flavor profile that diners will find remarkably similar to eel.
Savvy foodies who have no doubt frantically scrolled their social feeds for news on the restaurant will no doubt wonder about the ramen. Fear not. In the spot formerly occupied by Recess’s Room Four, Moon Rabbit Ramen is the lunch-only micro restaurant housed within Ukiyo. Helmed by chef Josh Boles, Moon Rabbit serves up a daily supply of ramen broken into three distinct styles: shoyu (soy-based broth), shio (salt-based broth), and vegetable. Perfect for a cold winter’s day, the shoyu ramen with grilled pork, bamboo shoots, a cured egg, scallion, and chicken oil is complex, savory, and heavy on umami. Expect full slurpage.
Ukiyo, 4907 N. College Ave., 317-384-1048, Tues.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 5–10:30 p.m.
Moon Rabbit Ramen, Tues.–Sat., 11 a.m.–3 p.m.