Neal Brown made his mark in Carmel and Mass Ave with Pizzology and Libertine, and now he's preparing to do the same in Fountain Square with his Japanese sushi joint Ukiyo. Though the chef and restaurateur’s newest venture is still in its nascent stages, the spot is already highly anticipated by many in the city, especially after Brown’s project Juanita fell through due to a handful of setbacks.
Brown has a history in sushi, having spent years at the popular H2O Sushi in Broad Ripple before opening Pizzology. Though H2O closed in 2014, it held a special place in Hoosiers' hearts due to its inspired and creative take on sushi.
The first question that comes to mind whenever an already established restaurateur is opening a new place in a new style of cuisine is “Why?” What's leading them into this new foray? In Brown’s case, why — after years away from sushi spent creating pizza and cocktails — is he deciding to move back into the realm of seafood and Japanese cuisine? Brown answered that, and five more questions about Ukiyo, via email for NUVO.
Ukiyo brings Brown back to his first love
“I’ve been thinking about this restaurant in one iteration or another literally for years, but I always thought this would be the restaurant that I would do later. I have always been in love with sushi. So much so that when my time at H2O came to an end, I mourned and wouldn’t eat sushi for probably five years after. It drove my wife crazy, but that food was more than just thought, and work and motion for me; it very much became part of me. I had to let it go for a long time to come back to it to appreciate that it was still real in me.”
Knowing Brown’s past makes it easy to assume the direction he may take it, but as the old saying goes, “When you assume, you make an ass out of Uma Thurman.” (We think that’s the saying.)
Ukiyo respects tradition and looks forward
“That Ukiyo will focus on maki, edomae sushi or sashimi probably isn’t representative of what the restaurant is. I would encourage you to look at Ukiyo more as a creative space that offers impeccable sushi, rather than a sushi restaurant that embraces creativity. We will do what chefs in Japan have done forever. We will feature foods that are local to us, combined with foods from the sea. In all things, we will respect tradition while driving ourselves toward the future, and being mindful of the present.”
But Ukiyo will also offer a variety of dining styles
While the above statement tells what we can expect from the main menu, Ukiyo will have an option not many sushi restaurants in the city currently offer. For veteran sushi lovers, especially those who enjoy experimenting with different fish and styles, there is one way to enjoy fresh slices of fish: omakase (literally, “I’ll leave it up to you,” a.k.a chef’s choice). Brown's restaurant will offer omakase-style dining.
“We will offer omakase by reservation. These will be limited to the six seats in front of me per night. There will be an $85 omakase that is approximately 10 courses and a $120 omakase for approximately 15 courses. Wine/sake supplements will be around $75 per person, or one can choose a grand tasting where we will pair wine, sake and/or cocktails for each course for $100.”
Ukiyo’s name reflects the state of our city
It’s all in the name, people. The people behind a restaurant can spend hours and hours running names through their heads, jotting them down in notebooks, on napkins or even on their palms. It won’t make or break a restaurant, but it's your chance to share the story behind your establishment. So, diving into the word “Ukiyo” gives a glimpse into the restaurant and its purpose.
“The literal translation of ukiyo is 'the Floating World' and refers to a time when the middle class of Osaka and Kyoto began gaining access to the finer things of Japanese urban life. This cultural shift, gave birth to an entire period of Japanese art, called ukiyo-e. This period was, not unlike modern-day Indianapolis, a time of cultural revolution.
“In Zen Buddhism, ukiyo refers to the life that we live now, in this moment. For our purposes, the translation is a bit more simple, and represents the mission of the restaurant. To be in the moment. This means that the team has a singular mission: to be mindful in their work so guests may be mindful in their leisure.”
Ukiyo’s location is a surprise
For any business, location is imperative, especially in the independent restaurant business where landing on the wrong block or neighborhood can stop even the best restaurants from flourishing. So, with Ukiyo coming into Fountain Square, it’s important to realize why this is a neighborhood that will benefit from the restaurant while the restaurant benefits from the neighborhood. There are no other seafood or sushi restaurants in the area – for that reason alone, it could do incredibly well.
“In this business, you are constantly being presented with real estate opportunities, most of which are fairly boring. When I learned of the Skip’s Market building [where Ukiyo will open] I knew that property was something that we could work with.
“I was deeply disappointed that Juanita [a Mexican restaurant Brown attempted to open] didn’t come to fruition in Fletcher Place. In my heart I knew it was best for all parties involved that it didn’t happen, but I was crushed. When Skip’s became a possibility, I was so happy, but there was clearly no way I could put Juanita across from Jon’s place [La Margarita]. Being an independent restaurateur is hard enough; we shouldn’t be creating unnecessary competition for one another.”
Okay, okay, you know enough about the place. You’re thoroughly excited to know when you can get a taste. Here's the not-so-definitive answer.
Ukiyo’s opening is to be determined
“[There is no set date of opening] at this time. It’s an old building that will require an immense amount of rehab and customization. These types of build-outs almost always present unforeseen challenges.”