Finally debuting in the Gaslamp Quarter this month is a dual concept, two-level restaurant and bar from RMD Group: Huntress and Lumi by Akira Back. Billed as a swanky steakhouse, Huntress will be helmed by executive chef James Montejano, formerly of Cardiff Seaside Market, La Valencia Hotel, and Café Japengo. Back’s sushi and cocktail lounge, Lumi, will occupy the rooftop. A Michelin-starred chef, Back boasts a portfolio of upscale restaurant concepts that span the globe. His kitchen at Lumi will be run by James Jung, who comes to San Diego from other esteemed kitchens including another under the Akira Back umbrella — L.A.’s brief but bright star, Yellowtail.
What ties the two venues together is undoubtedly the cocktail and spirits program, which is centered around Japanese whisky. The bars will be run by lead bartender Sean Ward, who previously managed OB Surf Lodge in Ocean Beach and helped create the initial cocktail lists for Little Italy’s Nolita Hall (regularly one of my favorite lists in town).
Why the focus on Japanese whisky? The particularly buzz-worthy spirit seems to be enjoying something of a moment for the past few years, thanks in part to a tradition of obsession and precision present in Japanese culinary culture.
“Recently, Japanese whiskies have begun to receive worldwide recognition, thanks to [the category] winning multiple international awards,” says Evan Vallée, sommelier and bar manager for Huntress and Lumi. “This has led to hoarding by collectors, which in turn has led to shortages in Japan as well as overseas.”
This means that Japanese whisky, in general, is selling at a premium these days. This is true at all ends of the spectrum, whether the buyer is eyeing a truly rare and exceptionally high-end selection, like a highly-coveted Karuizawa from the now-shuttered distillery, or a more mainstream selection like Suntory’s Toki, which is made from a blend from the storied brand’s Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita distilleries.
Speaking of Karuizawa, Huntress has it. The renowned Japanese distillery shut down for good in 2011, and hadn’t produced any whisky for over a decade at that point. Bottles, when found, retail for around $800, so it’s no small feat to find one at any bar in San Diego.
Another highlight is Lumi’s sake collection. The bar will serve a variety of high-quality sakes from around Japan — two are from Back, himself, which he made with brewmasters, called “toji” in Japanese, at premium sake brewer Nanbu Bijin.
Must-tries include a batched highball from the Suntory Toki Highball machines in both Huntress and Lumi, which will be one of only a few in San Diego. The bars have also partnered with craft bitters producer Bittercube to create two unique flavors of essential oils, one for Huntress and one for Lumi, which will be used to create draft hard seltzer cocktails. Also on the list is a signature “Old Fashioned” at Huntress, which is made with Hibiki Harmony, house-made shiso bitters, and a simple syrup made from kurozato — think of it as a Japanese molasses. Lumi’s signature cocktail comes in the form of the “Suzume,” which is a blend of vodka, St. Germain, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Chareau aloe liqueur, matcha, coconut, and fresh lime. huntresssteak.com, rmdgroupsd.com/lumi