From the moment you step inside OTOKO, the 12-seat Japanese restaurant located in the historic South Congress Hotel, you can instantly sense that something extraordinary is about to take place. The sophisticated interior and intimate setting lay the foundation for an unrivaled Tokyo-style sushi and Kyoto-style kaiseki culinary experience.
OTOKO's Head Chef Yoshi Okai and General Manager Billy Weston spoke with us about the inspiration and philosophy behind their unique concept. New Waterloo Hospitality set the stage for a new era of omakase-style dining in Austin with the opening of OTOKO in 2015. Since then, Chef Yoshi has received prestigious culinary awards and accolades, such as being named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs in 2017. As Billy puts it, "The uniqueness of OTOKO lies in the intentionality behind what Yoshi produces as far as food, paired with an equally intentional beverage program."
Incorporating the Japanese way of using ingredients is a constant consideration for Chef Yoshi during his creative process. "I'm always thinking, so when I see a product, I think 'Oh! I can use this with this, and try it out. And of course, I always get inspiration when I'm drinking tequila! Music also inspires me," shares Okai. His decision to move to Austin was motivated by his love for punk rock music and legendary figures like Mike Carroll from Poison 13 and Big Boys. "It's less about a strict philosophy and more about being inspired by my surroundings," he explains.
One of the most remarkable aspects of OTOKO's omakase-style dining is the opportunity to watch him in action up close, as he expertly slices fish and delicately arranges ingredients on the plate. "Yoshi and I are both very focused on how to make OTOKO better on a day-by-day basis," says Billy. OTOKO's commitment to the local and global food and beverage community is evident through its partnerships with eco-conscious purveyors and local producers like Hausbar Farms and Hifi Mycology. "I've always worked hard at highlighting lesser known beverage producers, small lot wine growers, new to the market sake brewers with the intention of showcasing these fantastic products."
OTOKO is a harmonious blend of tradition and inspiration, where music and cuisine come together. If you are fortunate enough to secure a seat at OTOKO, you will experience an unforgettable culinary journey that will stay with you long after you leave. In Billy's words, "Being rooted in a traditional Japanese experience with a distinctly Yoshi Okai flair to the menu is what makes OTOKO so special."