Nick Bognar is best known as the face behind one of 2018’s best new restaurants – but he didn’t open a new restaurant at all. Rather, Bognar transformed the nearly 20-year-old Nippon Tei in Ballwin, Missouri, into one of the St. Louis area’s best spots for sushi. The same week he earned a James Beard semifinalist nomination for Rising Star Chef of the Year, Bognar announced plans to open Indo in Botanical Heights. The restaurant, which opened in June, is a slight departure from his work at Nippon Tei, featuring his standout sashimi and nigiri alongside plates with a range of Southeast Asian influences.
Luckily for diners, his omakase dinners (Japanese for “I’ll leave it up to you”) made the move, too.
Tell us about Indo. For me, the concept is chef-driven. It goes all over Asia; not just Thailand or Japan. Really, the idea is that each dish is kind of unique within itself. There are tons of interesting techniques across the sashimi, crudo and nigiri sections, and not any sushi rolls at all. It’s fun. A lot of the stuff we’re doing is stuff we held back on at Nippon Tei – we want to do food that’s not just good for St. Louis but good for the country.
How are you combining different Southeast Asian influences at Indo? I love Isan food from northern Thailand. I’m taking some of those flavor profiles – spicy things, funky fish paste – and putting them with [ingredients] they’re not often used with. As far as drawing on those flavors, it’s me naturally reverting back to the food of my family and putting my spin on it. I had a good time writing the menu because it’s not just me doing a concept; the concept is me.
Tell us about the aging techniques you’re using. Indo has a very cool aging closet that’s very consistent and temperature-stabilized. It keeps it as low as it can possibly be so I can basically keep a fish hung up and I don’t have to do all these tricks to keep the fish super cold. I’m excited to see some of the larger [fish] that we’re aging up to about a week. There’s just a ton of potential; a friend of mine is doing a two-month aged tuna.
You’ve earned a reputation for your omakase dinners. Why do you enjoy that format? I love that format because it’s not just a private dinner where I go back in the kitchen while you eat and come out for a minute to introduce the dish; I’m right there the whole time. I think people like having a conversation while they eat everything. It’s super intimate. I don’t think there’s a lot like that, where I hand you a piece of nigiri and you eat it right there.
Indo, 1641 Tower Grove Ave., Botanical Heights, St. Louis, Missouri