By Hope S. Philbrick
It’s fair to arrive at Nexto with high expectations. Chef Mihoko Obunai is well-known and highly regarded. The restaurant is part of Concentrics, which runs many popular concepts—in fact, Two Urban Licks is right next door. (I’m guessing that’s the inspiration behind the name: it’s “next to” Two.)
Knowing it’s next to Two can make Nexto easier to find, if you’re familiar with Two Urban Licks. Nexto is tucked into a metal shed and is surrounded by a bamboo hedge to perhaps make it less obvious it’s surrounded by parking spaces. Inside, the space is bustling.
Ramen must be the food of choice among Millennials. My husband and I, at least a generation older, were the oldest diners on a recent Friday night. But that actually proved to be great news for grownups: the vibe in the dining room was ‘date night’ not ‘family time.’ Servers were friendly, helpful and attentive. We felt invited to sit back and explore unfamiliar flavors.
The menu features ramen as well as hot and cold plates and robatayaki (a method of cooking, similar to barbecue, in which items of food on skewers are slow-grilled over hot charcoal).
Waygu Tartare, served with shrimp chips, is already a popular starter—we saw it on nearly every table. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake; Obunai tops it with bacon, squid and katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna). The Autumn Grain bowl with farro, quinoa, beets, turnips and ginger yuzu was a personal favorite. The pork belly buns with house kimchi, spicy mayo and Serrano peppers were soft pillows of savory goodness. Diver scallops atop curried spaghetti squash proved to be a heavenly combination.
As suits your mood, budget and hunger level, make a meal out of any combination of small plates or get a bowl as an entrée—noodle and rice bowl serving sizes are generous. Curry vegetable has a thick very spice sauce over kabocha, mushroom, Brussel sprouts, tofu and egg. Ebi Shoyu has a thin broth with Georgia white shrimp, wakame (seaweed) and scallions.
The bar menu is impressive. Focused beer and wine selections showcase a variety of regions and styles. There are also Japanese-inspired cocktails, sakes and shochu. The Plum Sour is a personal favorite: it’s an inspired mix of bourbon, umeshu, lemon, bitters and egg white. “I’m proud of that one,” admitted the guy who created the recipe. He should be! Ochado is a slushy combo of rye whiskey, apple syrup, lemon and cynar. It’s seasonal lip-smacking yum.
Dishes and drinks here are authentic, expertly prepared and artfully presented. Expect to be impressed; you will be.
According to Nexto’s website, Chef Obunai was named a StarChef “Rising Star Chef” in 2010. She trained at Ramen Lab in New York City in 2012 and went on to win the “First Annual Ramen Battle” at The 10th Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she was the only female Ramen Master. She later launched her own ramen pop-up “Mibo Ramen” nationwide. In 2014, she launched another ramen pop-up at Atlanta’s Sound Table called “Ramen Freak.” Nexto opened in October.
828 Ralph McGill Blvd. NE
Atlanta GA 30306
Valet parking is available, shared with Two Urban Licks.
Nexto doesn’t accept reservations. Seating is first come, first served.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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