High-end Japanese restaurant opens in Downtown Cincinnati

Baru promises to be unlike anywhere else in the city, with omakase ordering, wagyu beef and an atmosphere that’s both upscale and approachable.
Baru restaurant in Downtown Cincinnati
Baru restaurant in Downtown Cincinnati(3CDC)
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 6:17 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A new restaurant that opened Friday in an area of intense focus downtown brings one of Japan’s signature dining experiences to Cincinnati.

Baru, which is already taking reservations, will host a grand opening on April 14. The menu will be seasonal, and the fish will be flown in daily, according to 3CDC.

The restaurant draws inspiration from the Japanese dining concept of izakaya—literally “stay saké shop”—denoting a place, no less a mindset, where you can sit comfortably, drink at length and enjoy your company long into the night.

Guests feast upon a tapas-like stream of shared small bites, usually on the grilled/fried/salty side of the comestible spectrum, but also sometimes including salads or sashimi. The star at Baru will be the American and Japanese wagyu beef, but the menu will also include crispy rice spicy tuna, fried chicken and caviar, champagne and scallops, lobster buttered toast and ishiyaki.

“I’m a food nerd, and I get excited about teaching people about food, where it comes from, and how and why it’s made,” Chef Robert Grace, head of Baru’s culinary team, said. “I love amazing ingredients that stand out. Getting people to try items they might never have had and seeing their eyes light up. That’s why I do this. That’s what Baru will do.”

Grace cut his teeth in Providence, Rhode Island, and Nashville, Tennessee, as sous chef and chef de cuisine under multiple James Beard Award-winning chefs. He left Nashville having graced too many “best of” lists to count.

At Baru, Grace will offer omakase, a Japanese ordering style that essentially entails giving up the keys to your palate. There’s some feedback involved—classically, patrons dine face-to-face with the chef—but the chef largely decides what you’ll eat and the cadence in which you’ll eat it.

The restaurant will be located at 595 Race Street in the 84.51° building. The previous tenant, MediCi, closed in 2019.

“We really wanted to make this spot our own – not just occupy the former operator’s space,” owner Tyler Wogenstahl said. “We’ve worked with some amazing partners to reinvent the space and we can’t wait to welcome customers looking for a curated dining experience in the heart of downtown Cincinnati.”

Baru joins Tokyo Kitty, Americo Burger Bar, Maplewood Kitchen and Mita’s, which has been named a James Beard finalist for the country’s best restaurant.

“We’re excited for Tyler to unveil this new concept, which is really focused on creating a great experience for patrons no matter what they’re looking for – delicious food, drinks for happy hour or after-dinner dessert and cocktails,” 3CDC Commerical Leasing Manager Lindzie Gunnels said.

Location, location, location

It’s a pivotal part of town for 3CDC, which is partnering on the restaurant with the hospitality management company (and music festival operator) Further Concepts and Investors.

3CDC is spearheading the massive effort to renovate the Duke Energy Convention Center and build a convention center hotel one block west—all of it dubbed the Convention Center District.

Meanwhile, one block to the east, the nonprofit developer is working successfully to fill up The Foundry and program events at Fountain Square. And one block south is the just-opened 4th and Race and its massive ground-floor storefronts, for which we have not yet heard from 3CDC of prospective tenants.

3CDC is also deciding what to do with the former Chong Building on Race across from Baru, though the building’s redevelopment is still likely more than a year away.

The goal 3CDC eyes for downtown is a seamless “live work play” tableau, rather than the current archipelago of development on one block and disuse on the next.

It isn’t alone in the undertaking. A slew of adaptive reuse projects down 4th Street are underway or in the pipeline from different developers.

North of the 84.51° building are two new boutique hotels, Kinley Cincinnati and TownePlace Suites, and beside them is the former Macy’s building, which a New York-based firm will soon begin to renovate into apartments.

The Convention Center District, comprising nearly a full quadrant of downtown, is something keystone in all that.

Said Gunnels, “As we continue to work to connect Fountain Square to the Convention Center District, we believe Baru will be a significant addition.”

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