Lusca. [Photos: Matthew Wong]
A month ago, Octopus Bar's Angus Brown and Nhan Le extended their culinary tentacles from East Atlanta to Buckhead with their long-anticipated new restaurant Lusca. Brown is running the kitchen and Le is in charge the raw bar at the Brookwood Hills spot, which, with dinner and brunch service already in operation, gives patrons a chance to eat before the late-night hours at local favorite Octopus Bar. Here, Brown discusses what's been happening in Lusca's early days and what it's like to be cooking in a different part of town.
With Octopus Bar, you've been doing the late-night pop-up thing. How's the transition back to a full-time restaurant going?
You know, a lot of the hours were pretty similar, but I get off a lot earlier. At Octopus Bar, Duane Kulers, who's the chef there, he still gets there early in the afternoon, around 12 or 1. Since there's so little room at Octopus Bar, you kind of have to be there all day. The difference with Lusca is that you have a full staff. It's not just you, which is awesome. Octopus Bar is in So Ba, so we're always fighting for space and trying to use the oven. And Lusca is a dedicated restaurant. That's the biggest change, I think.
Aside from the normal opening-a-restaurant issues, have there been any hiccups along the way at Lusca?
It's going extremely smooth so far— knock on wood. We've got a really good crew, a lot of great, great crew and a lot of people in the kitchen who are really falling into their roles. I've worked with a lot of the guys for a while, and it's going really well. It started pretty busy, and we've all been pretty excited about what we're doing and what's going on, so it's made it fun and things seem to be going well.
You opened with dinner, but how's the roll out of brunch and lunch going?
We started doing brunch right away. With lunch, we're still holding off. We've been pretty busy, so we're just kind of trying to keep ahead of that right now. We've recently been working to really be ready for lunch [which launches June 9]. We're just doing dinner right now, and brunch.
Brunch has been awesome. It's good because we all get out of here at four o'clock instead of late night. Our brunch menu we kind of developed before we developed any other menu. I cooked at a hotel for five years in Florida, so I have a lot of experience cooking those hours and that kind of food. This time I got to do my own take on it instead of cooking what the hotel wanted me to.
Have there been any particularly popular dishes on the menu that have been taking off?
We definitely have things that are selling like crazy. Our charcuterie board, for instance. A partner in the restaurant, Jonathan Sellitto, is a friend of mine from high school who lives in Boston and came down to help open the restaurant and set up the program. He's amazing. He trained in Italy and worked as a butcher for [restaurateur] Barbara Lynch in Boston for the last several of years. He's down here, and this is his first time having his own thing. He kind of sticks to old-world styles, like Italian old salumi and things like that. His charcuterie board is killing— it's doing really well.
People have been really into it because he's not trying to use weird ingredients or anything. He's focusing on old techniques, and I think people are taking really well to that. We have a crab dish that's avocado toast with Maine rock crab, key lime mustard, some wild flowers, and green onions, and that's been selling really well. The uni pasta has been selling like crazy. Something like uni pasta is my wheelhouse. It's what I'm all about: fresh pasta, uni, and doing things that are a little bit different but make a lot of sense. Last night, I sold 15 of them and we weren't that busy.
Are people in that neighborhood, who have maybe never been to Octopus Bar, coming in just because it's a new place, or are they coming in with an adventurous palate, wanting to try new things?
I think we have a menu that can go both ways. If you want to have something like tripe or something like that, we've got it here. You can also stay in a comfortable place— chicken and pork chops, dishes like that. I think what we've seen a lot of is people who wanted to go to Octopus Bar and never went because of the hours. That's what we hear a lot, people who are like, 'Oh, I've been wanting to go, but I've got kids— or something like that— and now I can go.' It's definitely an extension of Octopus Bar, but it's also very different. I'm not really cooking Asian. With the exception of the nigiri and raw bar, I'm not cooking any Asian food at all. It's more of cooking the food that makes sense to me and the stuff that I eat on my days off, stuff that excites me.
And how is the raw bar going? Is it doing well?
Yeah, totally. The way that we set it up, we have five or six oysters. We have the oyster bar, and we also have a small sushi case. We're doing a straight Japanese nigiri bar. We're getting our fish flown in daily, and we were worried. To do something like that, you really have to have the people supporting it or you just can't afford to do it. We were really worried about it not taking off. But people have definitely been going up and going straight over there. There's three seats in particular that are right in front of the sushi case, and those have turned into seats where you can go and have an omakase and let Nhan just guide you. We have about 10 different fish up there that are pretty interesting. Right now we have two types of hamachi, needlefish, live clam, live scallop, and sea urchin.
Which seating has been more popular? Has there been a big difference between dinner and brunch?
It's definitely dinner. Friday and Saturday night have been pretty exciting over here for us to cook our food, do the things that we do over here in the neighborhood, this part of town. Even our old customers and people from our neighborhood, East Atlanta— everyone's been coming to see us. It's been refreshing. It's been nice to see everybody. It's been kind of a mix: You'll see someone with a tattoo on their neck sitting next to somebody with a suit on. That's kind of what we were going for, and it appears to be happening.
What has the change of clientele in your new neighborhood been like? Are you happy with it?
We had this in mind; it was what we were going for in the first place. I think a lot of restaurants in Atlanta are like that, where you get one certain crowd, especially here in this neighborhood, Buckhead, at some of these restaurants across the street. We want to have the kind of place where everybody's there. In major cities, you go where there's a lot of foot traffic and it's not just one group of people. You have to do your own thing a little bit more. It's been cool. We see everybody here, and it's not just the people in this neighborhood, and that was important to us. When we came over here, that was something that we wanted, something we were definitely hoping would happen.
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