isaan hamachi at sado photo by michelle volansky

First Look: Sado on the Hill in St. Louis

Sado, the second restaurant from James Beard Award-nominated chef and owner of Indo, Nick Bognar, will open at 5201 Shaw Ave. on the Hill on Tuesday, March 28. The sushi-focused restaurant will build on the legacy Bognar’s family built at Nippon Tei, which closed at the end of February, while also giving the young chef space to grow his own skills as a chef and restaurateur.

Sado, which is Japanese for “tea ceremony,” will open in the former Giovanni’s on the Hill space, which closed following a fire in January 2017. The 97-seat restaurant spreads out across a bar and cocktail lounge, a separate dining room, and an eight-seat sushi bar in the back of the space. Reservations are available on Tock beginning March 23. Bognar said bookings will be required for the sushi bar, but walk-ins will otherwise be welcome. 

The restaurant will reflect Bognar’s experiences, from his earliest days apprenticing at Nippon Tei in his youth to more than a decade honing his own skills and sensibility as a sushi chef, including establishing Indo as one of St. Louis’ best restaurants of recent years (we named Indo Sauce’s No. 1 Best New Restaurants for 2019). The décor includes granite floors and walls painted matte black, with splashes of gold and turquoise. One of the most striking features is a mural by local artist Jessica Bremehr, tucked in a corridor linking the dining room to the bathrooms and through toward the kitchen. 

The heartbeat of Sado’s operation will be the largest kitchen space Bognar has had to work with to date, a significant expansion from both Nippon Tei and Indo. The facilities include a fridge for dry-aging fish, a huge walk-in cooler, a dedicated station for preparing tempura, and a binchotan grill. Binchotan is a white charcoal made from ubame oak, highly sought after for its capacity to burn at length without producing smoke or odor. “It’s heavily refined and condensed, and it burns at a super-high temperature, and that’s really the best thing to grill fish on,” Bognar said. “When you couple that with dry-aged fish, with the skin being proper, what you get is a beautiful, full-circle thing with old-school methods that never really needed to change.” 

Bognar said the larger kitchen was essential to his vision for Sado. “It’s allowing us to do all the fish preparation and storage that we need to do, make sure that we have enough room for all of that, all the stations that we need to have all the aspects of the place: adding the grill station, having a dedicated area for tempura, having a dedicated area for the maki rolls and stuff, and then plenty of room up here [at the sushi bar] for us to do all the pretty stuff with the sushi,” Bognar said. 

He contrasted what can be done at Sado with the constraints the team at Nippon Tei operated within. “At a 20-year-old restaurant, we would retrofit and figure out what we needed to do. But now we have the facilities and equipment and space and people, so now I feel like we can just execute on a higher level,” he said. 

Bognar said he hopes Sado’s menu will surprise diners. “The miso-ginger salad just sounds like a classic, but when you get it, it’s a cornucopia of all our vegetable preparations,” he said. “It’s really pretty, and that's what I hope for most of the food to look like – you have a good idea of what it's going to be or what type of fish it's going to be, and then when it hits the table, it's like ‘Wow, that's more than I thought.’ And then if I can nail that every time with every dish, I think people are just always going to be impressed.”

Other cold menu items include an octopus salad; wagyu tartare with seaweed chips, umami aioli, candied garlic and quail egg yolk; and Indo’s signature, the isaan hamachi, with coconut naam pla, thai kosho and candied garlic. 

In designing the menu at Sado, Bognar has thought often of the way customers dined at Nippon Tei. “They would come in and get crab Rangoon, or they would get maybe a California roll. But then at the same time, they're feeling good, they like everything that they're having, and then they would try something new, something maybe out of their comfort zone,” he said. “That’s where I would like to see people. I'd like to see people excited about the newness, but also feeling like they can just stroll in without really planning.” 

To that end, the menu touches a variety of price points, with a number of items on the nigiri and sashimi menu starting at $4 to $6 per piece. The makimono section of the menu includes favorites like California and spicy tuna rolls, as well as Nikkei maki with mango, green papaya and avocado topped with salmon sashimi, crunchy rice and aji verde. “If price is an issue, you can still have a great meal,” Bognar said. “I think a lot of those things that are cheaper are almost underrated. An avocado nigiri is something that gets skipped over way too much – it’s a textbook example of why nigiri is delicious, because of its balance of fat and seasoning.” 

At the higher end, Sado offers items like the kinmedai, binchotan-grilled, dry-aged and served with green curry au poivre, smoked eggplant and Thai crunch, or the unagi kabayaki, served with sweet soy barbecue, white rice and sesame. Bognar is also excited about serving ito wagyu, the premium standard of wagyu available. “It’s the best shit, so we definitely want to serve the best shit,” he said.  

Bognar said Sado’s menu still includes a lot of the Southeast Asian influences found at Indo, but describes the concept as “more Japanese” and “more sushi-focused” than his other restaurant. “If you say sushi, we have all the sushi. We have rolls, we have sashimi, we have nigiri, we have crudos just like we do at Indo as well, including some of the ones that we do at Indo,” he said. “And then throwing on the kind of dry-aged fish preparations that also get grilled, which is a big one for me.”

Sado is clearly a restaurant that can only be the product of fastidious planning and execution, but Bognar is keen to keep things light-hearted, both for himself and his team, and also for guests. “I like to have fun,” he said. “I think everything about this place screams serious. Really, to me, I’m like, ‘It’s not that serious.’ The food doesn’t have to be only serious – it can be both.”

Beverage director Kira Webster is overseeing an exciting selection of cocktails and a sake list that includes sakes by the glass and by the bottle. The cocktails will include the Café Oka, an espresso martini-inspired cocktail using rice-based vermouth, coffee-infused dry curacao, malted hazelnut, nocino and orange foam, and the Dragon of Echigo, a twist on the Boulevardier that is made with Knob Creek rye, ginger- and togarashi-infused port, Benedictine and cream sherry. The drink selection will also be strong on wine, with over 70 wines offered, and tea sourced from Chicago’s Spirit Tea Co.

Sado will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Editor's Note: This story was updated on March 23, 2023. The artist who created Sado's mural is Jessica Bremehr, not Jessica Brehmer as originally published. We apologize for the error.