Billy Ngo, the owner/chef of Kru, has hired a highly regarded chef from San Francisco as he readies for a major expansion in the coming months.
The new hire, Ricky Yap, studied at California State University, Sacramento, and fell into the world of sushi when he landed a part-time job at Tokyo Fro’s.
But that was years ago. Yap went on to star in San Francisco and turned heads when his food at Akiko’s Restaurant earned a glowing review in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I was hearing things about this restaurant, and so I went there and ate,” said Ngo, whose Japanese fusion and sushi restaurant is prized by aficionados. “I was really, really impressed with the level of food they were doing, with a lot of different techniques.”
Yap and Ngo have ties that date to Kru’s opening in 2005. Yap worked in the kitchen there for a year before moving on and continuing his education in sushi. The two reconnected when Ngo visited twice in recent weeks, including on his birthday. Soon, Ngo was in talks with Yap to return to Sacramento and become part of an ambitious growth plan.
Already considered one of the most innovative chefs in town, Ngo is looking for a larger building to move Kru. Though he would not provide specifics and said a lease has not been signed, it appears he is close to sealing a deal.
When Kru moves, Ngo explained, he will keep the current location (2516 J St.) and renovate it in preparation for a new sushi-only concept that is intended to showcase the craft at the very highest levels. This new restaurant will be given a new name, yet to be made public.
Further, Ngo is in line to open a new “grab-and-go” sushi eatery in the artist lofts building under construction on R Street (at 11th Street). He expects that project to open by the end of the year. It will feature hand-crafted sushi made in advance and packaged for take-out. The restaurant will be called Fish Face.
Yap, who has already started at Kru, has ambitious plans of his own to work in conjunction with Ngo to bring Kru to a new level with sushi. That is saying plenty. Kru earned four stars (out of four) in The Bee and is widely considered one of the best and most exciting food experiences around.
Yap, who was mentored by Morimoto alumnus Makoto Okuwa at a short-lived sushi restaurant in San Diego, said he learned plenty about sourcing the best seafood while working at Akiko’s, traveling to Japan to develop relationships with seafood purveyors and gaining access to the highest quality products.
“Sooner or later, some people want to see the next step,” Yap said. “The next level is a higher grade of seafood and keeping it pure. A lot of these fish cost so much, it would be so stupid to put on a roll. At Akiko’s, we wanted to offer something better. We built a reputation as having this stuff you can only get in Japan and we brought it here.”
Yap added: “I’ve always wanted to work back with Billy, but I never wanted to ask him for a job. I said to myself that if I’m doing something really good, Bill is going to find out for himself. Every chef needs an inspiration and Bill was my inspiration.”
Those interested in trying Yap’s food, which he is unveiling gradually at Kru, can find him working Monday to Friday at the restaurant.