Rising Star Nick Bognar to Open indo in St. Louis’ Botanical Heights
Chef/Owner Nick Bognar will open the highly anticipated indo (1641 Tower Grove Ave., Botanical Heights, St. Louis), his modern Asian restaurant in St. Louis’ Botanical Heights neighborhood, June 28. As a 2019 James Beard Rising Star for Rising Star Chef of the Year, the opening of indo is a full circle moment for the talented young chef, who is 27. Growing up in his family’s restaurants, indo is a culmination of his career as a chef and showcases his talents in Japanese, Thai and Southeast Asian cooking in his hometown of St. Louis. In addition to an a la carte dinner menu, a coursed omakase menu will be available at a 6-seat chef’s counter on Thursdays through Sundays. Reservations for dinner experiences can be made here on Tock. indo will also be open for lunch, starting on Tuesday, July 2.
In partnership with his restaurateur parents, indo will define the modern flagship for the family’s restaurants, which also includes Nippon Tei and Ramen Tei. Bognar grew up in the kitchen, watching his mother, Ann, build her successful restaurants. “My mom is my business partner, but also my mentor. She opened Nippon Tei over 19 years ago and was really at the forefront of introducing St. Louis to Japanese and Thai flavors. I definitely channel her innovator mindset, and indo will allow me to further showcase my style of cooking to the St. Louis community and beyond.”
The restaurant’s name stems from word, Indochina, the continental portion of Southeast Asia. With his experience in modern Japanese cooking combined with his Thai heritage, indo defines Bognar’s expression as a chef. Before he even graduated culinary school, Bognar was managing and running the sushi bar at his family’s Japanese concept, Nippon Tei. After his formal training, he felt the pull to further develop his culinary skills outside of St. Louis. He worked at Austin’s acclaimed Uchiko and served as executive sushi chef at Cincinnati's E+O Kitchen, and then took an extensive trip to travel around Thailand and Cambodia. Two years ago, Bognar returned home to St. Louis to reinvigorate the menu at Nippon Tei. The hometown chef’s return was met with critical acclaim (see here). With indo, Bognar will showcase his interpretations of Japanese and Southeast Asian flavors in a relaxed and fun setting.
When guests enter the restaurant, they immediately witness the interworkings of the kitchen through the open concept, 6-seat chef’s counter. With 16 seats for a la carte dining available up front, guests are led down a small corridor, which is adorned with family photos, to the 30-seat main dining room. An outdoor patio for beverage service as well as pre- or post-dinner lounging is also available.
The menu highlights Bognar’s careful attention to high-end ingredients from the shareable small plates to his comforting curries and rice dishes. While indo will feature an aged fish program as well as nigiri menu with a variety of premium fish flown in from Japan, the menu extends far beyond sushi.
For dinner, guests can snack on shareable dishes divided into hot and cool tastings. The hot plates include classics such as pork and chicken Gyoza, fried spiced Peanuts (a popular bar snack in Thailand), and head-on Chili Prawns. Many dishes tell his family’s story, such as the Shrimp Toast, a deep-fried shrimp and chicken fat croquette made with Union Loafer’s potato bread - his take on a dish from his family’s restaurant, Manee Thai, from the 1990s. Others showcase Bognar’s playful, inventive style like the Tom Yum Pork Skins and the Spicy Salmon Skin Hand Roll, crispy salmon skin, slow-rendered like bacon, topped with a spicy naam prik Thai paste and served with fresh vegetables in a portable hand roll. Cool tasting dishes include a spicy Thai Laarb, lamb tartare, Cabbage Salad as well as various raw fish offerings such as: the Negitoro Maki, the menu’s only sushi roll of fatty and lean tuna; Madai Ceviche, Japanese seabream served with leche de tigre sauce, herb salad, puffed hominy and aji amarillo; and more inventive sashimi and nigiri dishes.
Four large entrees, meant to be shared by the table, “I want to drop a party to the table”, says Bognar. They are: Short Rib Curry, a red curry served with housemade roti flatbread, yogurt dipping sauce and herb salad with chili oil as well as a Fried Madai, a whole fried aged snapper with papaya salad, served with a mango chili sauce and topped with an herb salad and fried shallots. The Crab Donabe Rice is made-to-order with an aromatic, crab and fish dashi, and served in a Donabe Clay pot. Each guest receives a scoop of the flavorful rice with a bit of crispy bottom from the clay pot and may garnish the dish with an herb salad and ikura, a red Japanese caviar. Guests are encouraged to create lettuce wraps with the Koji Aged Joyce Farms Ribeye, a grass-fed beef aged in-house and served with naam prik, sticky rice, and assorted side dishes. Bognar’s delicate sushi skills can be experienced with the extensive rotating Nigiri menu. There will be up to ten offerings nightly that will change daily with a few mainstays.
The dessert menu offers a Salted Egg Custard Bun, a house made custard that is wrapped in bao dough, roasted and basted with butter and sugar and served hot; Coconut Custard, a coconut and honey panna cotta served with melon flavored shaved “fluffy” ice, and lychee boba; and Sweet Roti, the buttered Indian flatbread filled with dulce de leche and topped with an almond crunch.
Lunch offers a simplified menu of rice bowls, maki rolls and small plates from dinner’s hot and cold tastings. Dishes include: Bognar’s Khao Soi, a traditional Thai dish made with red curry broth, crispy confit duck, wonton, pickled cabbage, shallot, lime, chili oil, coconut cream, fried shallot, herb salad with egg noodles; Mu Ping Lettuce Wraps with marinated pork steak, fish caramel, candied peanuts, sticky rice and more; Short Rib Noodles with braised short ribs, black garlic, togarashi gremolata, scallion and more; Chirashi Rice Bowl with chef’s choice of assorted sashimi, pickles and condiments; and more.
Lunch prices range from $10-$18 while dinner prices average from $5-$20 for hot and cold tastings to $40 for shareable dishes. The Omakase menu is available for $150 per person. For an additional $50, guests may also opt for wine pairings, curated by sommelier Zac Adcox, previously of Reed’s American Table. For the a la carte beverage menu, there will be a small, curated menu of six to eight wines. There will also be five house cocktails as well as rotating selections, highlighting Thai flavors of lemongrass, tamarind and Kaffir lime. Introductory cocktails include: Motorbike, made with Japanese whisky, activated charcoal and Thai tea syrup and the Plastic Chair In the Rose Garden, a Hendrick’s gin cocktail with a tea bag of hibiscus powder, rosehip and rock candy for steeping.