Sushi fans rejoice. After a two-year hiatus, the popular Japanese restaurant has relocated from Old Todd’s Road to the former Shorty’s building at 163 West Short Street. After owner Tamoka Ito closed the Old Todd’s road location (which was open from 2008-2015), she had been looking for the ideal place to resurrect her restaurant in a more central location. When the old Shorty’s space (the original Traditional Bank building) became available, she knew it was perfect.
Ito, who was born and raised in Tokyo, left Japan in her early twenties when she married a man from Columbus, Ohio. “He was an English teacher, but I wasn’t his student!” she laughed. Before opening School, she worked in the automotive industry for 18 years. Her husband, an employee of Toyota, was transferred to Georgetown in 1999. They live in Richmond.
School offers elegant sushi and other traditional Japanese specialties made from scratch. They also have a full wine list including whites, reds, and champagne, along with cocktails, sake, and shochu (a Japanese distilled beverage typically made from barley or sweet potatoes).
Unlike the previous location, sushi will no longer be served on a conveyor belt (“That was a custom made piece and impossible to move,” said Ito), but the former bank-turned-grocery store has been given a modern makeover by Chevy Chase architecture firm Pohl Rosa Pohl.
Like 21c’s Lockbox restaurant, which is also housed in a former bank, the old bank vault (with its signature massive door) has been converted to a private dining room. The main dining room seats 100, and another, larger room with karaoke is also available. Ito admits to getting in on the karaoke action once in a while. So far, she says, the response has been great. “Downtown is an ideal location – we love having the crowds from Thursday Night Live and other events.”
“We are excited to be here, and look forward to welcoming all of our customers back to School.”
Ito hired Chef Shin Idei, a native of Okinawa, to create a menu focused on the freshest, most flavorful fish, which is flown in twice weekly from Japan. According to Chef Ito, the key to good sushi preparation is freshness. “The way the fish is stored and prepared makes all the difference,” he said. When asked how long it takes the fish to be shipped from Japan to School’s tables, he said, “About twenty four hours.”
So far, popular rolls have been the Crunch & Munch (spicy crab roll topped with shrimp, spicy
mayo and crunchy tempura), and the Fire & Ice (spicy tuna roll with alternating tuna and white tuna, topped with red and green flying fish roe). Diners are also loving the SSS (School Special Scallop) roll – a California roll topped with baked scallop.
Aside from typical sushi and maki, the menu also includes a variety of Japanese dishes that are unique to School. For example, guests can start with small plates like edamame or bacon wrapped asparagus; or for a light meal or larger sharable plate, the menu offers gyoza (pan fried dumplings), truffle fries with garlic mayo, tori tatsuta age (fried chicken marinated in soy sauce) and tempura veggies. The lunch menu features several California rolls, ramen, beef and shrimp curries, kale salad, and bento trays. Dinner entrees include rice and noodle dishes, chicken teriyaki, ribeye steak, and tonikatsu (deep fried pork). This month’s featured recipe, Okonomiyaki, is a baked savory pancake made with fish and ramen noodles. The dish is beautifully presented and served on a hot stone to keep it warm throughout the meal.
Q&A with Executive Chef Shin Idei
What is your hometown? Okinawa, Japan.
How did you become a sushi chef? Self study. Nobody would tell you how and what to do in their industry. Usually it takes 10 or more years to be able to touch fish. Steal with your eyes. Traditionally, Japanese consider watching to be the best way to learn. They say that as long as you pay enough attention to what’s in front of you, everything you need to know is right there. Your curiosity makes you a future chef.
What inspired you to choose this career? My family. My parents had their own restaurant in my hometown.
What is your favorite menu item at School? Sapporo beer.
How do you think School distinguishes itself from the other sushi restaurants in town? There is no comparison. School has the best, freshest sushi in town. How we prepare and store fish makes all difference.
Where do you source your fish? Mostly from Japan. They fly into Lexington via Chicago. Also, some items can be better from the West Coast, like Uni (sea urchin).
What’s something that you think people don’t know or understand about Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi that you think they ought to know? Fish quality can be changed very quickly. It’s very important to serve immediately from our sushi bar to the customer.
What is your favorite meal to make at home? I don’t cook much at home.
What is your favorite place to dine out in Lexington? Texas Roadhouse.
What do like to do on your time off? I enjoy playing golf.
School Sushi | 163 West Short St., Lexington | schoolsushilex.com | (859) 368-0660
School is open 11 am to 2 pm for lunch and 5 to 10 pm for dinner Monday through Wednesday and 11 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to midnight Thursday through Saturday. It’s closed Sunday. Call 859-368-0660 for reservations.