Sit back and enjoy Koyo’s multi-course tasting menu
At Koyo, on Clinch Avenue just off Market Square, Executive Chef Chris Bowman wants you to experience an evening of carefully curated courses and wines.
“Omakase” refers to a succession of dishes selected by the chef paired with tantalizing wines. “You come in and you leave it up to the chefs,” says Beverage Director Stephanie Hunley, whose competitive sommelier spirit was honed as a Lady Vols rower. “We won a Wine Spectator award for our wine list. We have wines that are not going to be seen around Knoxville.”
Our evening began with a knockout amuse bouche of an Oishi oyster with Korean-spiced mignonette sauce topped with golden tobiko (caviar). The first course—local greens, gooseberry, strawberry, and cashew milk—was paired with an Andre Clouet Brut Grand Reserve NV from Champagne, France.
Bowman grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where he sold programs at Ohio Stadium. Ask him about legendary coach Woody Hayes and his last quarterback, Art Schlichter. Bowman studied industrial and product design at the Columbus College of Art & Design. After bouncing and bartending in campus bars, he rolled sushi at Strada World Cuisine. The way Hitchcock drew story boards, Bowman paints what the dishes will look like. “I’m all about creativity,” he says. “I love the presentation skills of our chefs Jessica Davidson, Sarah Williams, and Amber Reed. I just work up the menu and let ‘em go! Everything is a masterpiece. We’re never satisfied. We always want to know how we can make this better. We are searching for the ultimate dining experience.”
Our second course—seared tako salmon with uni cream sauce, purple mustard greens, Fresno chili and mustard seed relish—was paired with a 2018 St. Urbans-Hof Nik Weis Ockfener Bockstein Riesling from Mosel Germany. This set the stage for course three—a lavender-wakame crusted lamb chop, locally grown asparagus, and fermented black bean sauce—paired with a 2019 Domaine Hamelin Chablis from Burgundy.
After the Memphis Culinary Academy, Bowman landed at the tony Odessa Restaurant and Bar in Laguna Beach, California, birthplace of the Hobie Cat. That led him to Palm Springs and the even tonier Muriel’s Supper Club, where Robert Downey Jr. ate the night of his 2000 drug arrest and where Bowman’s cooking ascended to the next level executing chef Doug Brown’s high-end tasting menu. “It’s progressive American,” he says. “I am old school. I like to keep it old school.”
He went to New Orleans to open Muriel’s Jackson Square. “The owner wanted a bit of NOLA flair,” says Bowman. “I had my ‘French craze’ incorporated in my style.” After stops in Seattle and back in Palm Springs, “I learned catering and management in nine years at the Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa.” He ended up back in Palm Springs, at Zin American Bistro, where the original TV Batman, Adam West, was a regular. “Mindy Reed had won 12 Wine Spectator awards,” he says. “Working with her wines pushed my career in that way.” When his folks retired to Crossville, Bowman cheffed at Fairfield Glade Community Club for two years, then joined Josh James’ Harvest/Nama family and launched Koyo.
Our fourth course—shrimp congee, shaved bottarga, bonito, cured egg yolk, chili oil, and scallion oil— was counterpointed with a 2021 Orin Swift, Eight Years in the Desert Zinfandel, from St. Helena, California. “It’s delicate, subtle, plays with your palate in an unexpected way,” says Hunley.
A palate cleanser of Granny Smith apple sorbet prepared us for a fifth course of seared Japanese A5 wagyu beef, blistered shishito pepper, Castelvetrano olives, spring onions, umeboshu butter, and maldon salt paired with a 2018 Maison-Blanche, Montagne St. Emilion Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon. Dessert was a house-made panna cotta with fermented blueberry honey, puffed buckwheat, dehydrated blueberries, and amaranth.
You can always order dinner à la carte, but Bowman would rather you opt for Omakase. “Our show starts with the greeting at the door,” he says. “You are paying for the high-end experience. Nashville is there with the Catbird Seat and Sean Brock’s June. That’s what we’re shooting for. That kind of style.”