In mid-April, Jason Liang, former One Sushi + executive chef and Craft Izakaya sushi chef, opened Brush Sushi Izakaya on Church Street in Decatur.
Though it’s the first restaurant of his own, Liang partnered with veteran Athens and Atlanta bar owner/operator John Chen on the project. And the duo brought on Jeff Banks, former lead bartender at the Luminary, to oversee the beverage program.
As the name implies, it’s an ambitious, chef-driven concept. Sustainable seafood, local chicken and pork, A5 grade Wagyu beef, and yakitori items cooked on a Japanese robata charcoal grill complement a seasonal small plate menu. For the ultimate tasting, there’s a three-tier omakase menu, priced at $78, $98 and $128, plus optional beverage pairings.
Even if the partners simply call Brush “a Japanese gastro pub,” the contemporary space, fitted with pale wood, bright linens and dramatic flower arrangements, has a fresh, artistic edge that matches its Decatur surroundings.
Last week, Liang, Chen and Banks sat down at the restaurant to talk about how they put it all together, and what they hope to contribute to the current Atlanta dining scene.
“We had this idea five or six years ago,” Chen said. “I knew Jason always wanted to do his own restaurant, and I knew he had the potential, so we started planning it out for when the time was right. When we found this space, that was it, though it took us about a year to get open.”
“In most people’s mind, an izakaya is very casual and very affordable, but our approach is to use better ingredients and have a little better interior design,” Liang said. “Also, we’re doing Tokyo-style sushi, which is very traditional and authentic and seasonal.”
A5 Wagyu and Uni Toast is among the more decadent items on the wide-ranging menu. It combines slices of raw and seared beef that are layered with uni, quail egg yolk, nori puree, shiso leaf and Jacobsen finishing salt.
“It’s a pretty awesome bite,” Liang said. “It’s creamy and crunchy and rich, and the umami from the uni just binds it all together.”
One of the more dramatic presentations is Warayaki Shime Saba — marinated mackerel served smoking atop a mini grill, with citrus turnip, ponzu oroshi and ginger vinegar on the side.
“It’s a very traditional way of doing mackerel,” Liang said. “We salt it and marinate it in rice vinegar, then we smoke it over straw, which is what warayaki means. That’s why my idea for the presentation was to have that smokiness continue to infuse with the marinade. It’s a really good balance.”
Of course, drinks play an important part in the izakaya concept, too. The beverage menu goes from sake and shochu to wine, spirits and local craft beer. And Banks is creating cocktails that feature the likes of Chinese five spice, shiso leaves, and lapsang souchong tea.
“It’s been really fun working with Jason and getting to know his food, while creating things that are more intentional to pair with his dishes,” Banks said. “Coming from a French background and applying some of those techniques to Asian ingredients has been an interesting balance.”