Exclusive: Wu Chow co-founder and former Sushi|Bar chef opening tiny sushi restaurant in East Austin
Joining a growing number of intimate sushi experiences that have sprung to life in Austin over the last several years, tiny omakase restaurant Toshokan (toshokanatx.com) will open its doors for service March 2.
Well, the doors might not actually swing open. You’ll have to find them first. The six-seat sushi counter is discreetly hidden in one of the former rooms at East Austin’s Native (807 E. Fourth St.), a hiply styled former hostel that since the pandemic began has served as a bar, café and home to several small local businesses (Black Fret, Eastend Tattoos) that have set up shop in the former bedrooms.
C.K. Chin, a co-founder of downtown restaurants Swift’s Attic and Wu Chow who has since left his operational role with those businesses to work as a partner at Native, created the concept with executive chef and partner Saine Wong, whom Chin met during Wong’s short stint at Los Angeles import Sushi|Bar in East Austin.
Toshokan (the name means “library” in Japanese, and also hints at the furtive point of entry for the speakeasy-style restaurant) will offer a 14-course menu for $125 that will include sushi bites with global flavors served in a Japanese style. The restaurant will also offer a full bar, with cocktails, wine, beer and sake.
Reservations for March will go live at midnight on March 1, with April reservations soon to follow. Subsequent reservations open at midnight on the first day of each month for the following month. Toshokan will be open Wednesday-Saturday for seatings at 6 and 8:30 p.m.
Wong’s menu takes its inspiration from 18 months he spent traveling the world to soak up other cultures and culinary traditions, visiting 26 countries on his trek. Dishes like Hokkaido scallop (served with Peruvian salsa verde) and braised Korean short rib (served on potato pave, a dish that blends two culinary traditions) represent some of the non-traditional takes on sushi that diners can expect from Wong.
Toshokan’s sourcing will include an onsite farm installation from Urban American Farmer, and due to the small number of servings, Wong says the menu’s dishes and ingredients, from produce to protein, will change regularly.
Chin, who's made his name as one of Austin’s most gregarious and visible providers of restaurant hospitality over the last 20 years, worked as general manager of Kenichi from 2004 to 2007 and says he is excited to bring a personalized level of service and attention to detail that you can’t find at restaurants that service hundreds of guests a night.
Chin uses an entertainment metaphor to describe various styles of restaurants and the roles they play. Some restaurants are like TV, daily drivers with a not-too-high barrier of entry, while others are like movies, places you may visit once a month. Toshokan, and others of its ilk, are akin to Broadway plays, an indulgence some might spring for only once or twice a year.
“This is something you plan for. So, we’re going to go to the nth degree to make people feel special when they’re in here,” Chin says.
Toshokan will open in the wake of several small-scale sushi restaurants that have set up shop in recent years. Otoko, which brings a more traditional kaiseki approach to its menu and service than some of the other offerings, started the movement. Austin has since seen the opening of omakase counter Uroko at Springdale General; the edo-inspired Tsuke Edomae at Mueller; the aforementioned Sushi|Bar in the back of Bento Picnic; and several at-home omakase experiences, including those from Osome, Tare and chef Teddy Simon. Chef Phillip Frankland Lee, who sold his interest in Sushi|Bar at the end of 2021, also plans to introduce two new omakase restaurants in the area this year.
Chin says he’s excited for the influx of these micro-dining experiences and thinks that Austin not only has room for all of them, but that with each new opening, the idea will be reinforced.
“I want 75 more of these places to open up. People who eat this way beget more people who eat this way,” says Chin. He he hopes the dining and chef communities will rally around each other the way he says they did when the scene in Austin was starting to round into form about 15 years ago.
“We all supported each other so well and so blindly because we all loved each other,” Chin says. “That’s the part of these large cities that I hate, is this idea that people are in competition. We’re in service to our customers; we’re in service to Austin.”