Couple bring authentic Japanese cuisine to Covington

Have you ever tasted authentic Japanese cuisine?

If your only experience with Japanese cuisine is sushi from the supermarket or a teriyaki dish from the Japanese fast food restaurant at the mall food court, the answer is no. These foods are Japanese inspired and not real Japanese cuisine.

If you want to experience authentic Japanese cuisine prepared and served by Japanese people, you should dine at Nagomi Japanese Restaurant in MainStrasse Village.

Nagomi is a small restaurant offering authentic Japanese food, drink and artwork. Yukio and Reiko Fukunaga, originally from Tokyo, Japan, own and run the restaurant. You could say that their business is a family shop since they are the only two people working there. Since they have no children, it would be more accurate to call them a husband and wife business. Yukio is the chef and Reiko is the only waiter. Therefore, reservations are recommended.

Nagomi’s menu is 100% authentic Japanese.

“What I want to do is authentic Japanese food,” said Yukio Fukunaga.

If you are going to

Nagomi Japanese Restaurant

526 Main Street, Covington


Hours: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed on Mondays

The menu also offers eight vegan entrees: miso soup (soybean paste with seaweed broth), house salad, seaweed salad, tofu, oshinko (Japanese pickled vegetables), edamame (soya), vegetable tempura and sushi appetizer. vegan.

There are also eight non-vegan entrees: dobin-mushi (seafood and vegetable) soup, takoyaki (octopus), shrimp and vegetable tempura, shrimp shumai, yaki-tori (grilled chicken), kara-age chicken ( chicken nuggets), sushi appetizer and sashimi appetizer.

Nagomi offers three types of pot-based dinners: sukiyaki (thin slices of beef and vegetables with a soy-based sauce), shabu-shabu (thin slices of beef and vegetables simmered in broth) and mizutaki (thin slices of chicken and vegetables simmered in broth).

Yukio and Reiko Fukunaga

They offer a boxed dinner that comes with a choice of salmon, chicken, teriyaki chicken, or kara-age chicken. It is accompanied by a miso soup and a salad. The boxed dinner for two offers options of salmon and chicken, sushi and sashimi, or vegan.

Other hot dishes include unaju (grilled eel), pork cutlet, chicken cutlet, shrimp and vegetable tempura, and vegetable tempura.

They serve sushi and sashimi a la carte and also offer three types of platters that diners can select from.

“We love their authenticity and kindness,” said Erika Peck, of Covington. “I feel like I’ve never eaten sushi before, the freshness and plating is unparalleled.”

Dessert options are matcha pudding (Japanese green tea) and dorayaki (Japanese muffins). Nagomi serves Japanese beer, sake, soft drinks, and green tea. They also serve wine.

Their most popular dishes are sushi and boxed dinners. They recommend dinner for two which includes sushi, sashimi and tempura (fried vegetables). This option offers a few small bites and gives diners an idea of ​​what Japanese cuisine is all about.

“If they don’t know anything about Japanese cuisine, just ask us,” Yukio Fukunaga said. “We can guide them and introduce them to Japanese cuisine. For example, sushi. A lot of people think everything is raw. Not everything is raw. It is fresh and can be cooked. I used to run a restaurant that served 150 people. No personal touch. We love running a small business. We got to know a lot of people at the restaurant and became friends.

This restaurant can be a great option for someone with limited knowledge of Japanese cuisine.

“The food in Nagomi is excellent. It was my first time eating Japanese food and it completely exceeded my expectations,” said Francisco Barraza, from Cincinnati. “On top of that, the staff always made us feel welcome, even taking the time to chat with us like we were old friends. The ambience and decor are also amazing. Overall, Nagomi is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the Cincinnati metro area.”

The story of how Yukio and Reiko came to own and operate Nagomi is as interesting as the authentic dining experience Nagomi offers.

Growing up in Japan, Yukio Fukunaga learned about Japanese cuisine from his grandfather, who took him to many fine Japanese restaurants that offered excellent food and service, ranging from high end, such as restaurants requiring a membership, at the low end, such as street food. Sometimes, in the fanciest restaurants, Yukio would dine in the kitchen and watch the business side of it.

Later in life, Yukio left Japan to attend college in the United States in 1969 at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He had a double major in economics and fine arts. While Yukio was a student, he worked at a Japanese restaurant owned and operated by Japanese immigrants for six years. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to assistant sushi chef. Yukio was trained in sushi, fried tempura, stir-fry, grilling and plating.

After graduating, Yukio chose to stay in the United States and moved to the East Coast, where he worked as a fine art painter. After a while, he started managing art galleries in Philadelphia and founded a business consulting firm for international trade.

Years later, Yukio moved to Cincinnati and opened Japanese restaurant Ko-Sho in downtown Cincinnati in 1996. He said Ko-Sho means “home” in Japanese. Five years later, Ko-Sho moved to the North Side but kept the same name.

Eventually, Yukio was introduced to his future wife, Reiko, by a mutual friend while she was living in Japan and he was living in the United States. They communicated remotely for a few years, and eventually met in person.

Reiko holds a doctorate in architecture specializing in historic buildings. Throughout her career, she worked as an executive secretary for a law firm and a hospital. Reiko has also started a non-profit organization to maintain a historic house with a garden that has been in her family for eight generations. The house and garden are open to the public. The house, which is in northeastern Japan, away from the more touristy southwestern Japan, receives more than 1,000 visitors a year.

Later, Reiko moved to the United States and married Yukio here. One wonders if she likes living in northern Kentucky, very different from Japan.

“I love it,” said Reiko Fukunaga. “There are quite a few historic buildings.”

The couple decided to buy a place in Covington to introduce real Japanese culture to locals. In 2012, they bought an apartment building in MainStrasse Village that had been built in 1901 and was in poor condition. At the time, Yukio was still operating Ko-Sho.

Why did they leave Cincinnati for NKY?

“Covington is right across from Cincinnati and I like the neighbors,” Yukio Fukunaga said. “Once we got married, we lived in Covington by the river. We love Covington. People are friendlier in Covington.

It took them years of renovations and effort, but they fixed the place and created their little Japanese restaurant. The restaurant displays one of Yukio’s artworks and photos of Reiko’s historic family home. Yukio said Nagomi means “authentic flavor” in Japanese. The restaurant opened in July 2020 during the pandemic. It wasn’t easy to run a restaurant during the restrictions, but the quality of their food attracted enough customers to keep them going.

The restaurant was open for lunch on some days, but as the vast majority of business is over dinner, lunch will only be offered on special occasions, such as public holidays.

Last year marked 25 years that Yukio was in the restaurant business in this region. He wanted to celebrate but didn’t due to pandemic restrictions. Therefore, this year he plans to make a big announcement on social media to celebrate his 26 years of serving authentic Japanese cuisine in our region.

Nagomi serves more than Japanese food.

“We like to introduce real Japanese culture and heritage by running a restaurant. We can introduce them to Japan’s history, culture, arts, crafts and food,” said Yukio Fukunaga.

And customers seem to appreciate what Nagomi has to offer.

“Wonderful restaurant and service. I can’t eat gluten and they were extremely accommodating. I will definitely be going back,” said Nicole Marie of Covington. “I had a wonderful conversation with the owner afterwards.”

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