Achieving big flavors is built into the DNA at Current Charcoal Grill, a restaurant in Birmingham’s Parkside District recently opened by head chef Luke Joseph in partnership with James Beard Award-winning chef Adam Evans and businessman-philanthropist Raymond J. Harbert.

The concept is so ingrained that when Joseph breaks down the menu, he repeatedly mentions umami, the Japanese word for a category of taste (like bitter or sweet) often described as bold, meaty savoriness.

Miso, an umami-rich family of fermented soy pastes commonly associated with Japanese soups and fish preparations, appears repeatedly on Current’s menu. It not only plays a familiar role in a Japanese-style soup, miso also punches up a salad dressing and contributes a saline accent to melted butter for dipping whole Gulf shrimp.

Miso also stars in various tare (sauces) flavoring a clay pot dish, and yakitori-style grilled skewers—chicken thigh or wagyu beef. At dessert, miso even contributes a “what-in-the-world-is-that-flavor” aura to shortbread brulee tarts topped with flame-crisped coconut sugar.

(Caleb Chancey/Contributed)

Current’s kitchen utilizes cooking techniques and ingredients from Japan, China, and other Asian countries, mashed up with Southern techniques and ingredients. “Then we give them our own touch,” says Joseph, a New Zealand native and Evans’ longtime assistant at Automatic Seafood and Oysters, now steering Current.

He points to a fried quail dish on the Small Bites section of the menu. A favorite among Alabama hunters and diners, the game bird is tenderized in a marinade containing koji, which also plays a role in fermenting the Japanese rice wine, sake. The quail is chicken-fried until super-crunchy then seasoned with an Asian five-spice powder that contributes sweet and salty flavors. “Lots of umami,” Joseph assures.

In addition to Small Bites ($9-$18), the menu at Current Charcoal Grill is divided into Larger (entrees, $26-$46), and Wok ($13-$26) sections. Generally, portions among the items in these categories descend from smallest to largest.

The same applies to the centerpiece section, Charcoal Grill Box ($10-$42). These signature dishes are cooked over Binchotan charcoal, which burns blisteringly hot while producing little smoke. These dishes range from pork skewers with a Thai-style dipping sauce to sticky lamb ribs with Sichuan flavors.

(Caleb Chancey/Contributed)

The Sides section ($8-$13) includes creative salads, but the highlight may be the tempura-fried sweet potato served with yellow curry mayonnaise.

Current’s devotion to detail and flavor-building shows in two Cantonese-inspired dishes, one with roasted duck and the other with crispy pork belly. Both meats take up to three days to prepare.

The duck, for example, is rubbed inside and out with a spice cure. Then the kitchen tightens the skin using a maltose sugar solution and hangs it for up to two days to dry. The bird is roasted the day it will be served, and then halved, sliced and served with house-made hoisin sauce, rice, and scallion salad. The crispy pork belly is a similarly generous portion.

Desserts include the aforementioned miso custard tart, house-spun all-dairy soft-serve ice cream with flavors like foraged huckleberry, and French-style chocolate delice.

(Caleb Chancey/Contributed)

The impressive twin bars stock a wide range of spirits, wines, and of course sake. Cocktails and beers have an Asian theme.

Joseph recommends tables share multiple items among the Small Bites, Sides, and Charcoal Grill Box sections, and then split an entrée or wok dish like Indonesian-style Mee Goreng noodles seasoned with XO sauce, a Hong Kong-style condiment made with dried scallops, shrimp, and ham pounded with garlic and chiles.

“XO sauce is delicious,” Joseph says as he describes the umami bomb that finishes the noodle dish. “It’s got a whole bunch of yummy, yummy things in it. It is just packed with flavor.”

Try these dishes on the current menu at Current Charcoal Grill.

Scallion pancake – Made with wheat flour and chopped pieces from each end of green onions, the flatbread picks up a toasty flavor when griddle-cooked. Recently made from foraged Southern ramps with flavors that evoke a Japanese seaweed salad, the accompanying relish changes seasonally.

Snapper Larb – Commonly a meaty yet herbaceous Thai-inspired salad featuring ground chicken or pork, Current’s larb is now made with spear-caught Gulf snapper and seasoned with basil and other herbs, chiles, fried garlic, and fish sauce.

Vegetable Rice Clay Pot – In this vegetarian take on a Cantonese street food dish, a porous clay pot is used to steam a bottom layer of rice and cooked in oil with vegetables until the rice is browned on the bottom while still fluffy on top. The dish is finished at the table with a sticky sauce. “You mix everything up so as you eat it, you get crispy rice, fluffy rice, veggies, sweet, sour, and salty all at the same time,” Joseph says.

Fried Mee Goreng – Based on an Indonesian dish, dry noodles are wok-cooked and lightly steamed. The noodles are crisped to order and served with Gulf shrimp in a “dry” XO-spiked sauce. “You get multiple textures,” Joseph says. “It’s a little crispy, a little chewy, a little al dente.”