Koyo Restaurant in downtown Knoxville offers Japanese dishes and prepared drinks

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The Japanese word Kōyō roughly translates to “uplifting”. Take out the accents, and that’s about changing the fall leaves.

Both meanings are appropriate for the new downtown Japanese restaurant opened under the same name, as its chefs plan to provide a “high” experience with hyper-seasonal offerings.

Koyo is located at the old Kaizen location on Clinch Avenue and could open as early as this week, said Josh James, operations manager of the Nama Hospitality restaurant group. The group currently consists of the restaurants Wicked Chicken, Harvest and Nama Sushi Bar.

But Koyo won’t compete with Nama, although both offer Japanese dishes. Executive Chef Josh Davis said Koyo would instead take elements of Nama and Harvest to the next level, merging the concepts with a variety of small plates.

“I’ve always enjoyed the kind of family style meal where there’s a bunch of plates on the table and people can pick and grab them,” Davis told Knox News.

Prices will vary, he said. Some small plate meals can cost up to $ 30, while others can cost over $ 120. It goes without saying that the restaurant’s premium wagyu will be the most expensive.

James has said everything at Koyo will be a “high experience,” and the team are going out of their way for the “wow” factor – hoping people leave feeling like they’ve eaten in New York City.

“I just think the food scene in Knoxville is growing and continuing to grow, and we have some very talented people here,” said Geoff Kenney, business manager for Nama Hospitality. “I think Knoxville is definitely more receptive now than it was five or 10 years ago.”

Sample of small plates, selected drinks

The menu will be the result of a collaboration between Davis, Kenney and chef Nama Jeek Kim. Davis said the restaurant will implement the Japanese concept of omakase, which basically means “trust the chef.”

This Chilean sea bass with squash, bonito butter, nori and pea shoots is part of Koyo's inaugural fall menu.  Offers will change with the seasons at the upcoming Japanese restaurant, located downtown at 416 Clinch Ave.

Everything will be offered a la carte, Davis said, and plates could change “almost daily.”

Some of the first menu highlights include a beet salad with whipped Asiago cheese and a bulgogi of minced duck breast. There’s also a grilled eggplant and herb soup with aromatic chili oil, as well as Chilean seabass with acorn squash, pea shoots, and bonito butter.

The restaurant plans to source local and regional ingredients, focusing on what’s fresh and seasonal.

“A lot of times there are seasons within seasons,” Kenney said. “Summer, you have the start of summer – you don’t really get good tomatoes. But, towards the end of summer, you get good tomatoes.”

Drinks will be prepared to accompany the dishes.

“All of the wines that have been chosen are there for a specific reason based on how they pair with the cuisine itself,” James said. “There will be something for everyone when it comes to wine programming.

This beet salad with whipped asiago, microgreens, cucumber and beet vinaigrette is part of Koyo's inaugural fall menu.  The next downtown restaurant, located at 416 Clinch Ave., will feature seasonal Japanese small plates with an organized drink program.

A sommelier and beverage manager will be on hand to help those unsure of what to order. Saki will be organized in the same way and the beer offerings will have a Japanese influence.

“What you’re going to find is because we have drink experts in the building, we hope people will trust us to give them a good drink as well,” James said. “The cocktails – I think the words our team used are simple but elegant. Every ingredient will be intentional.”

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Unlike Nama and Harvest, James said, there will be few mainstream drink options available. There won’t be any sushi rolls either, although Davis may offer shashimi or nigiri.

An “inviting” but “class” atmosphere

Inside Koyo, a new Japanese restaurant opens at 416 Clinch Ave.  in downtown Knoxville on Wednesday, October 6, 2021.

Those who visited Kaizen at 416 Clinch Ave. before his move to the Old Town might notice similarities in Koyo’s layout. But crews have been working since May to transform the atmosphere in space.

“When you walk in the door it’s inviting, but it’s very classy,” James said. “One of our longtime regulars came into space the other day, and his words were exactly what we hoped for. And he said it was sexy and stylish.”

Customers should notice gold and green accents on the wall. There are brightly colored “pops”, James said, and a “glass and polish” theme throughout.

“Everything is thought of, from the scent of the candle in the bathroom,” he said.

The restaurant has 40 seats inside, including seats at the bar, and eight seats on the patio.

Want to go?

The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday.

“We have completed all of our inspections and we have all of our licenses,” said James. “We’re just waiting for the piece of paper for our liquor license. We’ll open it as soon as we get it.

“The kitchen is pushing and ready to go.”


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