Starting this week, the cafe space at Johnny's will transform into a sushi bar five nights a week. On Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., newly hired sushi chef Ron Choi will create and serve sashimi, nigiri and rolls from behind the coffee bar in the cafe.
The full Johnny's menu, at least at first, will still be available throughout the entire restaurant even during sushi hours, both in the main dining area as well as in the cafe, which is the area to the right of the entrance.
But Johnny's co-owner Tony Foreman said that he wants the sushi bar to take on its own identity. And if sushi seems like an outlandish idea for a family restaurant, Foreman said his only regret is not thinking of it sooner.
"It seemed immediately obvious in retrospect that that was what the space was meant for," said Foreman, who noted that Johnny's menu from the beginning was influenced by the diverse cuisines of the West Coast.
A California native, Choi said he started making sushi in Los Angeles restaurants when his other career stalled. "I got into sushi because at the time I was struggling as an actor and stunt guy," he said.
A few years ago, Choi moved to Baltimore, where his wife has family, and he worked at Pabu, the bygone Japanese restaurant at the Four Season Baltimore Hotel. He returned to California last year.
"The whole plan was to move out there and stay out there," Choi said. A mutual friend of Choi and Foreman contacted the restaurant owner, encouraging him to talk to Choi about returning to Baltimore. Foreman and Choi have been talking about Choi's coming to Johnny's since the beginning of the year, said Choi.
Choi's menu at Johnny's will include a 14-piece chef's choice of sashimi and a nine-piece chef's choice of nigiri. A selection of rolls will also be offered.