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New Eats: Okra
Plowing through Okra's menu one fish at a time. Here's what's going on at that new Max Levy sushi and cocktails and saki place in 1949.
By Aug 21, 2013 Dining
The new one from local celeb chef Max Levy is called Okra and it's "sushi, saki & cocktails" in that leafy 1949 enclave in Courtyard Number 4 off Sanlitun Nan Lu there. They serve... sushi and saki and cocktails. It looks like this:

Cocktails in the front, sushi in the back, and an open kitchen and sushi bar if you want to sit on pervert's row and ogle the food preparation. Mmmmm. C'est chic.

The restaurant is dinner only and you're looking at a one-pager menu, with a few different options on how to go about it: there's a multi-course set menu for a very reasonable 350rmb (changes every week or so -- seasonally dependent), an a la carte section comprised of the various set menu courses and a few extras (prices per dish range from 60rmb to 150rmb or so), and the sushi / sashimi platters section, which is varying quantities of both at intervals of 200rmb to 375rmb.

Your humble narrator went down last night and bashed pretty much the entire menu, getting down with the set meal and a bunch of the a la carte stuff. Put a serious hurt on the ocean last night. Man vs. fish -- let's do this!


These three guys comprised the "seasonal appetizers" section of the set menu -- warm-ups to the pyrotechnics that ensue. The second one there is a kampachi yellowtail with tofu skin and garlic oil, and the third one is octopus, pineapple, and home-made mayo. Intense. Unreal. Dazzling. Super good. The octopus in particular...

Following the aps is the "sushi selection", which is deep cuts into Okra's varied and idiosyncratic sushi offerings. There's no other way to say it: the sushi at this place is fucking marvelous. Fucking marvelous. It is. Pictured is the sea scallop (I think -- I was slamming the cocktails as well), the botan shrimp, and the tuna shoulder, but we also ran through a squid, isaki (a kind of grunt fish, allegedly), tuna belly, some crazy mackerel, and sea scallops. Style-wise, the pieces are roundly treated with oils and extras of arcane and inscrutable origins. The sea scallop, in particular, was doused in Buddha's hand citrus aka nightmare fruit, and basically all the pieces were subject to some esoteric culinary flourish that was designed to maximize radness. I'm not going to lie; I was in smile-and-nod mode while most of it was being explained. Best way to go through life -- smile and nod.

Continuing on into the deeper waters of the set menu, here's the "red tofu & smoked oyster soup". Hey, a little Okra guy is in there... wait, that's the name of the restaurant!

...the "uzakyu" -- a succulent grilled eel with cucumber...

...and the "carabenero prawn chawnmushi" -- like an oily custard kind of thing. Probably very good for you.

In this iteration of the set menu, the main event is the "smoked ayu" -- apple charcoal roasted sweet fish. Yes, it is fish that's sweet. Although, with this preparation, it also offered up a brisk BBQ kind of flavor as well. Apparently, the ayu is a pretty rare thing, imported from some river outside Xiamen. This one is served with echinacea.

After the ayu was home-made ice cream. (!) And we were done.

Quick notes on the drinks...

Okra has a very nice selection of fresh and zingy cocktails on offer -- really amps up the whole experience to combine the non-stop sushi extravaganza with some nice boozes. The stand-out of the few (several) we tried was the "trader zhou sour" -- the whiskey and egg white concoction at the top there -- and the "pick-me-up", which is a shochu and tonic thing, replete with a stalk of rosemary. All cocktails are 68rmb. Watch out for that. The food is really quite affordable for what it is, but when you start getting lit, that's when your 400rmb tab jumps to 1000rmb or so...

Another option is that little sake gimmick they've got going on there -- Small Saki Junmai for 58rmb. So hip. Already been cool hunted.

End notes... the sushi is incredible. FUCKING incredible. Really unique, varied, and dazzling. Heading back to the place, depending on the look of the set menu, I'd probably get the most sushi and sashimi as I could afford, and then sniper some items off the a la carte -- that octopus in particular...

...but, yeah, it's a pretty great. You should try it out if you like.


Okra is at 1949, The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Beilu (behind Pacific Century Place. Dining hours are 6pm to 10pm, with the cocktails on until a bit later. They're closed on Sundays and Mondays.


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