Call it pan-Asian or simply eclectic. CO in Poncey-Highland mixes a minimalist, contemporary atmosphere with a full-on bar, and a menu that ranges far and wide from sushi and small plates to banh mi and a variety of broth, rice and noodle dishes.
All that is a reflection of the background and tastes of owner Greg Bauer, who grew up in Germany, served in the U.S. Marine Corps, and spent time living, traveling and eating around Asia.
Bauer moved to Charleston, S.C., in 2011, where he opened the first version of CO on King Street with a mainly Vietnamese menu. Since then, he has expanded the concept with restaurants in Charlotte, N.C.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Savannah. And he plans to open more soon.
“People always ask how I ended up doing Asian food in the Southeastern U.S.,” Bauer said last week during a stop at CO in Atlanta. “My response is always to say it’s a representation of me in every way.
“When I was in the Marine Corps, I spent a year in Japan and then in the Philippines. I worked in Singapore and China and traveled extensively. But it was really the culinary component that brought me to this. And being stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina is what brought me back to the Southeast.”
Bauer developed the current menu in collaboration with CO’s Japanese executive chef, Masanori Shiraishi, building on favorite dishes while introducing items such as pressed sushi.
“First and foremost, it’s food that I love, and that I like to eat several times a week,” Bauer said. “What I love is that it has so much flavor and it’s still healthy. We make all of our dumplings in-house, and they’re some of our most popular dishes to share. But, really, almost everything is great to share.
“Our Pork and Ginger Gyoza dumplings with soy scallion sauce have been on the menu since day one. The Curry Laksa is one of those dishes that I fell in love with when I was working in Singapore and we would take the train over to Malaysia. Somehow, it became a favorite in Charleston.”
While there still isn’t sushi on offer at the original Charleston location, Bauer notes the addition became a big part of the CO formula going forward.
“Now we have a selection of sushi rolls, and pressed sushi, as well,” he said. “Pressed sushi was one of those things I really fell in love with when I was in Okinawa. We use a slightly different rice for it that adds some different flavors.”
The bar program at CO features cocktails and sake infusions that include many of the Asian flavors found in the food, including a Blackberry Bourbon Fizz with lychee and lemongrass.
“We like to highlight the ingredients that we use in the kitchen,” Bauer said. “We started doing the sake infusions to use fresh ingredients and give our guests something that was unique and not too sweet.”
As to the total experience, Bauer said his goal was to create a space that was Zen-like in its simplicity but also modern and lively.
“Obviously, there are a lot of great Asian restaurants out there, particularly in Atlanta,” he said. “I think what continues to set us apart, though, is that we offer great Asian food at a great price in a place where you can hang out and relax and have a cocktail.”
675 North Highland Ave., Atlanta. 404-474-0262, eatatco.com.
More images from a First Look at CO