Review: Baiku Sushi Lounge

SLU’s Hotel Ignacio, launched a few years ago, has finally opened its restaurant, and it was worth the wait. The top-notch sushi lounge—tiny, with about a dozen tables—is intimate, nightclubby and delicious. It’s got a cool, urban vibe that suits the hip lobby area. Contemporary white walls are enhanced by a massive industrial sculpture all along one side. A large ‘light column’ changes colors, giving the room, variously, an orange or blue glow, and separates the sushi kitchen from the dining tables.

A sushi special one night was Blue Fin Tuna from Ecuador ($20), a buttery fish attractively served with wasabi, pickled ginger and straws of daikon radish. Brad Baracha, founder of longtime sushi favorite Miso on Meramec, runs Baiku, and you can see his hand in the caliber of sushi here and its artistic presentation.

Hot and Sour Soup is delicious. Pleasantly ‘soured’ with vinegar, it contains pork and chicken, wood ear mushrooms and greens, and is thick and satisfying. It’s also an amazing value for $4.

In the Noodles category, Lobster Shiu Mai ($16) is a bowlful of food centered around two excellent lobster dumplings with fish cake and poached egg. I was expecting a saucier dish, as it is described as being “in a dashi ramen broth,” but it isn’t liquid at all. Less exciting is the Red Dragon Tofu ($8), which had an appealing texture (dry-fried and not the slightest bit greasy). But I found the dipping sauce, Korean chili sauce, uninteresting. It had some bite but no complexity.

An order of Baiku Fried Rice ($13) consisted of plump grains of sticky rice sitting in ginger-scallion-hoisin stir-fry. I added Char Siu Pork ($3 extra), which was divine. The dry pork had an Asian rub fragrant with anise that imparts a unique flavor to the dish, which additionally had broccoli, red peppers, bok choy and mushrooms. Not a single grain of rice was left uneaten.

A don’t-miss dish is Grilled Salmon ($24), whose artful preparation brought out the sweet flavor of the fish. The fillet was coated in an orange glaze whose sugars fired up on the heat to create attractive (and crispy) grill marks. The accompanying pineapple fried rice reinforced the sweet elements without the sticky-sweet excess you often find in pineapple dishes. While the grilled baby bok choy on the plate was pretty, it was hard to eat without silverware! Only chopsticks are provided here.

The big miss was Hanger Steak Ssam, Korean-style marinated meat served with sticky rice, kimchi puree and bibb lettuce leaves. The idea is to stuff the leaves and eat as ‘rolls,’ but the meat was tough, with gristle that was hard to chew. The marinade had a nice sweetness, but nothing could salvage the poorly textured meat.

A real high note was the Green Tea Ice Cream dessert ($7), inventively presented in a black sesame seed shell, the green ice cream sitting in the middle with four slices of green tea mochi arranged around it. On top are slivers of sugary candied ginger. It was every bit as good as it sounds. Japanese cuisine is known for its artistic balance of tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umame.

There are two kitchens at Baiku (which means bicycle in Japanese), one for sushi, the other for everything else. So if you don’t want your food coming out in haphazard order, just get the sushi first and order your other dishes after that comes.

[amuse bouche]
the scene | Hip, urban sushi lounge
the chef/owner | Brad BarachaOnTable_Baiku_Baracha_21
the prices | $11 to $16 sashimi, $5 to $14 sushi, $4 to $24 starters and entrees
the favorites | Blue Fin Tuna sashimi, Hot and Sour Soup, Baiku Fried Rice, Grilled Salmon, Green Tea Ice Cream

[chef chat] » owner brad baracha
What was your approach to creating the menu? | A purist approach to sushi, which means the freshness of the fish
Favorite menu item? | The Baiko Signature Nigiro
Your personal sushi history? | A lifelong lover of sushi since I was 5, I opened Miso restaurant in Clayton in 2001.
How did you get into the restaurant business? | By accident. The first day I worked in a restaurant was the day I opened Miso. I needed a career change!

3407 olive st. | 314.896.2500

Photos: Bill Barrett