Highly acclaimed modern Japanese izakaya (pub), PABU, located in Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore, accomplished its goals for year one and faces year two with renewed focus.
“The first year of a restaurant is the hardest, but the second year is the most important,” says Anthony Kinn, PABU’s general manager. “In year two you are established, so customers won’t let you use the excuse that you are new.”
Overlooking Baltimore’s harbor, PABU is the first collaboration of restaurateur Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga, chef/owner of the celebrated Hana Japanese Restaurant in Northern California.
“A restaurant can have a hard time differentiating itself from the competition,” says Kinn. “But there is nothing like our concept in Baltimore.”
PABU’s menu features Japanese dishes with global influences and high-quality ingredients including jet-fresh fish. Featuring a wide array of upgraded classic sushi and sashimi choices, the menu includes small plates such as “Happy Spoon,” which is uni, ikura, and ponzu crème fraiche as well as Maryland crab okonimiyaki with bonito and Chesapeake Bayonaise.
The restaurant also offers a six-course tasting menu for $44.88.
“I think Japanese cuisine is best when you let the product speak for itself,” says executive chef, Jonah Kim. “For me, Japanese food is pure and most of the cuisine is not heavy. There are so many health benefits and fish is a huge part of the culture.”
Desserts include a festive Sundae Service with exotic ice cream flavors including pineapple green tea, hibiscus, plum, strawberry and honey, and sesame—as well as a black tapioca, togarashi chocolate, and caramel crumble.
It also touts a stellar beverage menu under the direction of beverage manager and Master Sake Sommelier, Tiffany Dawn Soto, one of only five accredited in the U.S.
Soto, who works closely with Chef Kim, has created a unique program with 102 premium sakes, beer, wine, a variety of Japanese whiskeys, bourbon, scotch, and an Asian-inspired cocktail list that changes seasonally.
The restaurant’s name is taken from the Japanese phonetic word for pub and 40 percent of total revenues come from its beverage offerings.
“I oversee beverage for the entire property but PABU is my baby,” says Soto, who has reached into the Baltimore community to educate the public about sake.
“Everything the public thinks they know about sake is probably wrong,” she says. “I like to put the misconceptions to rest, and I have a saying for customers: ‘Cold not hot, sipped not shot, and if you drop it in a beer, I’ll call security.’”
Soto teaches monthly Sake 101 and Sake 102 classes, which are open to the public for $25 and are also attended by industry professionals, who attend free of charge.
“We want to spread the word about sake,” Soto explains. “And I can’t tell you how many guests have visited PABU that were recommended by people in the industry who have taken the class.”
Kinn says sometimes hotel restaurants get a bad rap so getting the word out was crucial to PABU’s early success.
“My perspective is that we are revolutionizing hotel dining in Baltimore,” he says. “If you are in the right location and people believe they can get a quality experience, then the restaurant will take off.”
PABU’s clientele is roughly 80 percent local residents and 20 percent hotel guests.
Part of the allure, according to Kinn is PABU’s lively and energetic atmosphere, which appeals to the target audience of young professionals between 25 and 45 years of age.
“The elegance of the restaurant is gorgeous, but it’s a lot more than that. The restaurant comes alive and part of that is the eclectic array of music,” says Kinn.
The music, which is inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s films, ranges from Hip Hop to up-tempo and beyond.
“This restaurant needs to be buzzing all the time,” says Kinn. “We want people to feel they absolutely have to eat at PABU. We want them to find consistency but also feel a part of something that is growing and evolving all the time.”
The restaurant serves dinner only and seats 132, including a private dining room that seats 16 people. PABU, which does as many as three table turns on weekends, employs 23, including 12 front-of-house employees.