Opening an intimate omakase-style restaurant in the middle of a pandemic could seem like a risky proposition to some.
But Koya, the new tasting menu-only restaurant from the team behind fine-dining Japanese spot Noble Rice, has been doing just fine. In fact, the restaurant, which only seats eight diners a night, has been booked solid and is sold out for the rest of the month.
“It’s been phenomenal. We sell out every night,” owner Eric Fralick said.
The success hasn’t been a total surprise. Fralick owns the restaurant with his wife, Adriana, and they have been planning on opening the restaurant since 2017, after noticing that roughly 70 percent of their sales at Noble Rice came from diners ordering tasting menus.
The new spot, which opened on July 22, took over the former Noble Rice location but has been renovated to reflect the more intimate dining model. Reservations are made through Tock, a prepaid ticketing system, and the nightly menu, which features 12 to 14 courses, runs $225 a person. A sake and wine pairing is $150 per diner and there is also the option for an additional caviar selection with each course — a cool $95 a pop.
Fralick guesses that some of the restaurant’s popularity could have to do with the fact that destination foodie travelers — those that frequently fly to far-flung locales for the sake of culinary adventure — are spending their dollars closer to home. A unique dining experience without the plane ticket.
The owners run the restaurant with chef de cuisine Howard Lopez, the trio handling the entire operation on their own, at least for now. It’s one way to keep overhead down, and with just one seating a night, it’s manageable.
It’s a model that is working better than their flagship restaurant was during the pandemic. When Noble Rice closed down in early March, the team tried keeping the doors open with takeout only, but that only lasted 10 days. High-octane dining experiences didn’t travel well, they found.
“I think there is always a little bit of hesitation in the industry with everything right now,” Fralick said. “But the hospitality industry is going to be changed forever.”
As with Noble Rice, much of the fish is sourced straight from Japan’s fish markets, including tuna, uni (sea urchin) and anago (a saltwater eel). Some evenings might start with a scallop tartare tossed in a white soy and tangerine oil, paired with a yuzu, mango and tangerine puree and topped with Ossetra caviar. Or a salmon tartare made with New Zealand’s Ora King salmon topped with Persian lime zest, Persian lime powder, garlic and sesame brittle and fresh French trout roe.
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Though it’s an intimate dining atmosphere, guests seem comfortable knowing that the restaurant is only seating eight guests for the entire evening, Adriana Fralick said.
“No one will sit there before them that night, no one will sit there after them that night,” she said.
All diners have their temperature checked before entering the restaurant and are asked to keep their masks on until they sit down.
Noble Rice, meanwhile, remains closed. The couple say they plan to reopen the restaurant in a new space nearby.
Koya is open for one seating at 7 p.m. every Wednesday through Sunday.
800 W Platt St., Tampa. (813) 284-7423; koyatampa.com