Asian Fusian Barbecue with Tobias Harris

Tobias Harris spent 23 years designing other peoples’ restaurants before he designed his own.

click to enlarge Tobias Harris
Tobias Harris

Tobias Harris spent 23 years designing other peoples’ restaurants before he designed his own.

“It was a perfect way for me to develop a sensitivity to what makes a restaurant work,” he says. “Why people come, what are the touch points they remember.”

According to Harris, it also helped him build a love of eating.

“I had the opportunity to eat different food, with all the travel,” he says. “Everything from street food, one-star up to five-star restaurants, airport food and, of course, lots of KFC and McDonald’s.”

KFC and McDonald’s are key clients of FRCH Design Worldwide, the locally headquartered design and architectural firm where Harris worked from the time he moved to Cincinnati in 2003 until August of 2014. That’s when he opened Huit Craft BBQ, the popular downtown Asian fusion barbecue restaurant at 29 E. Court St., with his partners Jennifer Eng and Trang Vo.

“From the work with fast food, I learned what it takes to make something so good that it becomes famous, and I appreciate that,” Harris says. “But that’s not my chicken soup. That’s not the comfort food of my daily life.”

Harris’ comfort food is Asian food. He grew up in Indonesia — in Bandung, the capital of West Java, and in Jakarta. He graduated from college there and came to the U.S. in 1993 to finish his post-grad work in art and design in Savannah, Ga. When he moved to Chicago after graduation, he spent several years designing high-end restaurants like Nacional 27, one of the Lettuce Entertain You eateries (the company that owns Maggiano’s Little Italy), Spiaggia and Levee. Then he moved to Cincinnati for FRCH.

When he decided to open Huit, Harris tested the market with pop-ups at local events like Asian Food Fest and Night Owl Market. When he started seeing lines of eager customers — and when he consistently sold out of food — it was time to settle into a brick-and-mortar location.

The space has a great look, thanks to Harris’ design experience — eggplant-colored walls, layered lighting and fun, oversized photos of people eating. It’s also got amazing eats, not just the eight-spice ribs that were Huit’s original signature dish. There’s a hugely popular beef brisket barbecue, lemongrass chicken and delicious barbecue tofu. The different barbecues pair with healthy brown rice in signature rice bowls, and the dinner menu adds noodle dishes, including ramen. Now open until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday, it’s the first time there have been dinnertime regulars on Court Street in a long, long while. They enjoy the laid-back, BYOB atmosphere that is a little more relaxed and low-key than nearby OTR eateries. Saturday brunch is creative at Huit, when there’s Monkey Bread French Toast and Asian Baked Buns filled with pork or custard.

Success has set Harris’ sites on expansion. There will be a second Huit opening in the Short Vine area of Corryville in April. This time, though, the barbecue will be the co-star and the headliner will be noodles. It will still be simple; kind of a sister restaurant as opposed to a chain. Expect the ramen, with its amazing silky broth, to become the highlight.

“Huit Noodles will give us another chance to play with our food,” Harris says with a laugh.

BARBECUE TOFU

Ingredients:

1 block of firm tofu

2 cups of barbecue sauce of your choice  (Huit uses its house sauce)

2 cups of water or broth of your choice

Herb and spices (coarsely ground pepper, Kosher salt, Asian five-spice, cilantro)

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

Instructions:

Rinse tofu thoroughly and dry it in a strainer. Press tofu with a heavy object to extract as much water as possible. Then cut tofu into serving-sized pieces.

Mix barbecue sauce and water or broth thoroughly in separate bowl. Pour approximately ¼-inch of sauce and water mix into a baking pan. Add first layer of tofu, and pour more sauce to cover. Layer more tofu and repeat until all tofu is covered with sauce. Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil and bake for three to four hours in a 250-degree oven. Open the foil and continue to bake until the top layer of tofu appears to be drying without being burned. Cool and store.

To prepare, pour oil in non-stick pan. Sear the tofu on both sides. Add some barbecue sauce and sprinkle with your choice of spices.


For more on HUIT CRAFT BBQ, visit huitcraftbbq.com.



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