from left: shaun martin, sous chef; ashley rouch, general manager; nick bognar, chef and owner and ann bognar photo by izaiah johnson

Best New Restaurants 2023 // No. 3 Sado

Tomes have already been written about the culinary prowess of Sado’s chef-owner Nick Bognar. Bognar’s career has thrilled and delighted us since 2017, when he breathed fresh air into Nippon Tei, his mother Ann Bognar’s West County restaurant. His first solo venture, Indo in Botanical Heights, topped our 2019 Best New Restaurants list, blending a unique combination of signature Thai flavors and classic Japanese techniques with a wild sense of fun. Nods from the James Beard Foundation, Food & Wine, GQ and Esquire followed.

Enter Sado. Bognar’s restaurant on the Hill opened a few weeks after the final service at Nippon Tei, which the Bognar family shuttered at the end of February 2023. Less of a move or expansion and more of a Pokemon-style evolution to the next level, Sado serves as a highlight reel of Bognar’s career thus far. Familiar favorites like crab Rangoon and California rolls have made the cut from Nippon Tei’s comfortable Japanese-American menu. There’s a welcome cameo from Indo’s signature dish, the isaan hamachi. This irresistible sashimi dish is dressed with coconut naam pla, Thai kosho and candied garlic. Even the mural from local artist Jessica Bremehr calls back to the beloved Indo bathroom – and yes, we do mean beloved. What other restaurant’s bathroom has its own Instagram account?

thai basil and toro with thai basil pesto, fried shallots and chile oil at sado // photo by izaiah johnson

 Although Sado’s full menu features delightful, delicately fried tempura and mouth-watering A5 Wagyu beef, fish is the main attraction. To that end, the restaurant is best experienced at the eight-seat sushi bar in the front of the space. Diners can feel overwhelmed in the thundering back dining room, but cozier vibes abound in the front room, where you can watch magic happening behind the counter.

Sado’s facilities for dry-aging are more expansive than anything Bognar has had at his disposal at either Nippon Tei or Indo, and the restaurant’s frequently updated fish market menu includes rare cuts like American farm-raised unagi. Consequently, Sado is unrivaled either in its selection or presentation of fish. Each piece of nigiri is treated as a unique dish, popping with bright flavors and sweet-savory balance. You can’t help but think, “Oh, this is what sushi is supposed to taste like?” The robata yaki section of the menu highlights the dry-aged selections like Japanese seabream and Atlantic salmon, grilled to crisp perfection on the binchotan grill using only Japanese oak charcoal.

unagi kabayaki at sado // photo by izaiah johnson

We can scarcely think of another restaurateur that has elevated the culture and palates of St. Louis diners more than Bognar. His approach is refreshingly bold and unapologetic in everything from technique to flavor and service, but he deserves a special accolade for introducing diners to chawanmushi, an irresistibly creamy dashi custard that Sado tops with king crab and blue crab meat and a shellfish bisque with a dash of truffle oil.

For all its many virtues, Sado still feels more like a chapter in an unwinding tale rather than a standalone story. It doesn’t quite feel like the peak of what Nick Bognar has to offer as a restaurateur – and that’s the most exciting part.