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O-Ku finds a chef, opens March 18

Chef Sean Park will man the sushi bar

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Brett McKee has found his chef, and he's ready to open O-Ku.

Last October, McKee and his partner Steve Palmer secured an empty storefront on Upper King Street and promised to bring high-end sushi to town. They just needed to find a chef to carry out McKee's vision of simple, fresh, high-end sushi in the vein of Nobu and Koi. He found that guy in Executive Chef Sean Park, a Korean native most recently from the Raleigh area, who describes his approach as minimalist.

"My flavors are very mild, very delicate, and very pure," he told us last week as workers bustled around the space, hurrying to finish the work by the March 18 opening day deadline.

"The purpose of all the sauces and condiments is to help enjoy the natural flavors," he says, adding that he thinks soy sauce can often overpower the subtlety of fresh fish. In his creations, Park fuses Western and Eastern ingredients, but don't expect to find any cream cheese rolled up with fried shrimp. He says he'll have some tempura rolls, but he's more interested in presenting clean flavors.

A small sample of the menu that we saw had appetizers like a ceviche scallop martinn with asian pear, cucumber, and mint yuzu truffle vinaigrette and tuna tartare with quail egg yolk, caviar, and Asian pear. One intriguing salad has softshell crab on micro greens with ponzu vinaigrette and katsuo dust. Park says that he has had a hard time sourcing locally and will be using product from Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market.

When complete, the restaurant space will be a simple, modern dining room with a bar and lounge area in the front and a large sushi bar against the entire back wall.

As the head chef, Park is eager to get to know his customers and their tastes, so he can expertly craft a pleasing omakase.

The restaurant opens Thursday at 5 p.m. They'll be open Mon.-Sat., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. with sushi being served until 10:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. and until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.

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