By Doug Cumpton
In the Midwest it is uncommon to find a restaurant that can transform a local event into a contemporary New York or Los Angeles type of experience. But if this is the level of sophistication and ambiance that you desire, Drunken Fish of St. Louis and Kansas City has the elements it takes to deliver.
In early 2001 Munsok So, Drunken Fish’s owner and president, saw a void in the St. Louis restaurant scene and set out to bring a sushi restaurant with style and flair to the Midwest market. He traveled abroad and to America’s East and West Coasts, seeking inspiration from the restaurants he visited along the way. In 2003 So’s vision became a reality when he opened the franchise’s flagship restaurant in Westport Plaza, located in West St. Louis County. Drunken Fish has since expanded to additional St. Louis locations in the Central West End and the historic Laclede’s Landing Dining and Entertainment District. Most recently, the franchise expanded into western Missouri with its newest restaurant in Kansas City’s Power and Light District, which opened in 2011.
Each of the physical locations has unique characteristics and is cleverly situated in a bustling part of town, but they all share the eclectic ambience and blend of sophistication and fun that has become Drunken Fish’s calling card. “To sum it up in two words I think it is a sophisticated, fun atmosphere,” So said. “You can come in for a cocktail or a martini, but it’s not stuffy.”
The restaurants also share an exciting menu that boasts signature entrees, Japanese specialties and fresh sushi delights with unmatched presentation and quality. All of the Drunken Fish locations can accommodate private dining experiences, but the Laclede’s Landing location is best suited for an event hosting 50 or more guests in the St. Louis area.
Drunken Fish at Laclede’s Landing has three distinct options for hosting private parties and events. For large groups – up to 250 guests – this location has a private event space located downstairs, unattached from the main dining room. This space houses a 16-foot, full-service bar and an attached lounge area outfitted with modern furniture and vibrant decor. The exposed brick archways open into a large banquet space, which lends it a grand ambiance. With approximately 6,000 square feet of available space, this option is ideal for a broad range of events from wedding receptions to large meetings and company parties. As for amenities, Drunken Fish is set up for live DJs or guest speakers, and houses a 5-by-8 foot projection screen that can display presentations from any laptop or tablet via a standard HDMI or VGA connection.
The main level of the Laclede’s Landing location also offers unique spaces to host your meeting or event. The back room can accommodate up to 50 guests and has a private bar for your party’s convenience. This room is also equipped with audio and a 5-by-8 foot projection screen for visual presentations. For a more intimate affair the main level features a Tatami Room as well that can seat up to 14 guests. This room is located just off the main dining room and has sliding doors for added privacy.
In addition to amazing spaces, the staff at Drunken Fish is known for its attentiveness, and strives make sure that every detail of your event exceeds expectations. Alex Leighty, the university professional relations manager for VCA Animal Hospitals, hosted 100 people at a networking event held at the Landing location in the summer of 2011. He was truly impressed with the service and greatly appreciated the fact that his party felt welcomed from the initial booking process to the conclusion of the event. “Their team was very positive, friendly and flexible,” Leighty said. “If I needed something, all I had to do was let somebody know and it was addressed.”
Drunken Fish truly has something for everyone in the realm of Japanese-inspired fine dining. The extensive menu features extravagant entrees, such as the Asian Surf and Turf, a dish that pairs a New York strip steak, served with a garlic-soy infused au jus, and a whole lobster tail, served with wasabi and garlic infused butter, for $49.25. Noodle stirfry or fried rice options include a combination dish composed of steak, chicken, shrimp, onion, mushroom, carrot, Napa cabbage, zucchini and scallions for $15. “We have so many different entree choices that people don’t think about when they go to a sushi restaurant. I think this differentiates us from other sushi restaurants in town,” So said.
Nonetheless, sushi is the restaurant’s specialty, and to ensure a top quality product all of the fish is delivered fresh daily from a network of suppliers on the West Coast. The sushi menu includes both makimono rolls and sashimi-style sushi, and it can accommodate a broad range of sushi eaters with selections that feature both raw and cooked items. “That’s probably our biggest challenge is that people have a hard time eating something raw,” So said. ” But we have so many transitional things that I think people can try some raw, some cooked and combinations like Drunken Fish Roll.”
The Drunken Fish Roll is the restaurant’s namesake makimono, incorporating shrimp tempura, Japanese mayo and asparagus, topped with red tuna, additional Japanese mayo, eel sauce, masago (capelin fish roe), tempura crumbs and sprouts for $14.50. Another of the restaurant’s most popular signature makimono is the White Tiger Roll, which consists of calamari tempura, crab, avocado and Masago, topped with white tuna, spicy mayo and eel sauce for $14.75. In addition to signature makimono, the menu also offers a variety of western-inspired sushi favorites such as the California Roll, Philly Roll and B.L.T. Roll, as well as vegetarian options including asparagus, avocado and cucumber rolls.
Sashimi-style sushi is prepared with thinly sliced fresh saltwater fish that is typically served raw or seared, and draped over a garnish such as daikon or sushi rice. The sashimi menu at Drunken Fish includes specialties such as the Red Snapper carpaccio, which incorporates red snapper sashimi with pepper, soy sauce, shallots and black tobiko (flying fish roe), all drizzled with hot olive oil, for $11.50. More traditional choices are also available, such as hamachi (yellowtail tuna), unagi (eel) and sake (salmon).
With a plethora of Japanese-inspired desserts there is no need to put down the chopsticks for the final course. The strawberry cheesecake makimono is Drunken Fish’s most popular confection. It is comprised of tempura-battered New Yorkstyle cheesecake and strawberries rolled in pink soy paper and topped with chocolate sauce, mixed nuts, powdered sugar and whipped cream for $8.50.
Also worth noting is the deep-fried banana spring roll with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce for $7.00. Another option is the Mochi, which is an authentic Japanese rice pastry with a soft and chewy consistency, served like an ice cream sandwich with a chocolate, vanilla, mango, coffee or green tea ice cream filling for $3.75.
Thirsty? How about a Tokyo Tease or a Sexy Samurai to get the party started? Drunken Fish is known for hosting a great happy hour with signature drinks such as these and an array of top-shelf liqueurs and fine wines that will not leave your party thirsty. The signature drinks at Drunken Fish not only boast unique names, but they are also backed up with unique ingredients. For example, the Tokyo Tease is concocted of Three Olives cherry vodka, peach schnapps and champagne, while the Sexy Samurai incorporates Gekkeikan sake, vodka, Dekuyper sour apple, triple sec and both cranberry and lime juice.
Whether you plan on taking advantage of the atmosphere at one of the Drunken Fish locations, or toting the food offsite to add a level of sophistication to your event, the catering menu is very accommodating. There are “beginner friendly” options, like the Sushi 101 Platter, which includes a 320 piece count of both cooked and raw makimono, such as spicy tuna and shrimp tempura rolls, accommodating up to 20 guests for $318. Or for a more seasoned crowd you can mix and match smaller platters of signature makimono, like Drunken Fish and White Tiger rolls, that will accommodate 6 to 8 guests for an average price of $115 per platter.
The catering menu also features stirfry and fried rice platters that can accommodate 8 to 10 guests for an average price of $45, or full dinner options that range from $29.95 to $59.95 per guest, including different combinations of a beverage, soup or salad, appetizer, entree and dessert.
Rob Olson, vice president of sales at Hale Communications, routinely hosts networking and after hours events for groups of 20 or more at DrunkenFish. “They have a lot of items on their menu that appeal to folks from all walks,” Olson said. “If we needed a cheeseburger, I’m sure they would make a cheeseburger. They’ve always been very accommodating.”
This level of service, paired with the caliber of sophistication and quality that this franchise is known for, has made it a fixture in the St. Louis fine dining scene, and now Kansas City as well. Restaurants come and go, but Drunken Fish is most definitely a keeper. MM&E