Paul Qui visited Japan to gather inspiration and build relationships for Otoko. (Credit: Violet Crown)

Chef Paul Qui and restaurateur Jesse Herman (La Condesa, Sway) will bring an elegant and uniquely intimate dining experience to Austin when they open Otoko at the South Congress Hotel this summer.

The 600-square-foot restaurant, located upstairs in the heart of the hotel, will offer only 12 counter seats and serve an omakase style-menu, leaving all of the selection to the chefs. The size and price of the dinners will vary, but Qui said diners can expect 15-20 dishes, with prices probably starting around $150, depending on the daily product. Otoko will serve a mix of raw and cooked small bites, with an emphasis on sushi.

For Qui, who came to fame when he won reality cooking competition “Top Chef” in 2012 while working as executive chef at Uchiko, Otoko represents a chance for him to return to the cuisine that brought him local acclaim.

“I’ve been thinking about it ever since I opened Qui,” the chef said. “I’m pretty excited to get back to sushi.”

Otoko intends to source the highest quality fish from around the world, with much of it coming through the restaurateurs’ relationships at the famed Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. The restaurant’s small space, limited seatings and remarkable staff-to-customer ratio (approximately 1:2) will allow for a personalized level of service more commonly found in Japanese sushi bars.

“It’s a lot different. You can actually really control the temperature of the rice, which is a huge difference,” Qui said. “A volume restaurant, you have to pump out the rolls, pump out the sushi pieces. At Otoko we’ll have the opportunity to pick the best of whatever the fish is and serve it directly … For me it’s about doing something extremely special and different and doing something that can stand out nationally, and especially stand out in Austin.”

Jesser Herman (left) and Paul Qui tour the space where Otoko will be at the forthcoming South Congress Hotel. (Credit: Stephen Spillman FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Herman, who is part of the group that owns and will operate the boutique hotel at 1603 S. Congress Ave., says the initial conversation regarding Otoko lasted about five minutes, with Qui immediately jumping on board. The two restaurant veterans have a long-standing friendship and have discussed the possibility of collaboration over the years.

“We talk about food all the time,” said Qui, who recently traveled to Japan with Herman. “We talk about restaurants and restaurant groups that we like, chefs that we like. We’re pretty invested in this industry. We like to travel and we like to eat. I want to be able to get inspired by the world and bring that inspiration back here. We just want to do something at a really high level and have fun with it.”

“The Japan trip was pretty amazing, just to see the simplicity and attention to detail,” Herman added.

Otoko (the word means “man” in Japanese, though shares it pronunciation with a character representing “hero”) will serve dinner five nights a week and will offer reservations through an online ticketing system. Qui says he will be behind the bar at Otoko, while rotating through the kitchens at Qui and East Side King (a collection of food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants), overseeing his ever-growing demi empire.

“For me at this point it’s all about grooming the talent I have, bringing more talent to Austin and probably stepping aside,” Qui said.