Sushi


Blue Fin is the reincarnation of Sakana Ya, moved north along Peachtree Industrial from the Tilly Mill intersection to a location above Duluth Highway. It’s pretty enough inside to take a date, serves nice large bowls of food, has quite a few Japanese clientele.

This is more likely what you'll see when approaching Blue Fin.

This is more likely what you’ll see when approaching Blue Fin.

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I would describe the menu as smaller, but reasonably diverse. We came at lunch, so really have no feel for the dinner menu. There is a long sushi bar on one side, and a scattering of tables throughout the space. If I had to guess at capacity, it looks as if it could handle 50-75 diners. Although it’s not postage stamp tiny, it’s not a huge place.

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Outside of sushi, there were tempura and donburi offerings, ramen and noodles of various kinds, edamame, tonkatsu, the seaweed salad I ordered, as well as tuna tataki. Sushi selections were not limited to nigiri and rolls. They had a good looking chirashi zushi on the menu, and the salmon bowl, a second cousin to chirashi, was what my daughter ordered. The salmon roe in the dish looked quite appealing.

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The tuna tataki was a photo op on a plate. The dishes in Blue Fin present well, and are graceful on the table.

Tuna tataki.

Tuna tataki.

We enjoyed the eatery quite a bit. I didn’t see any signs of wildly overpriced food, given the serving sizes involved. Prices here are not cheap, but you get what you pay for. And at Blue Fin, what you get is a quality dining experience.

Blue Fin Sushi
2863 Peachtree Industrial Blvd
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 232-5004

Blue Fin Sushi on Urbanspoon

It’s an older chain and probably one a little under appreciated, given the existence of newer, fancier sushi joints. But sushi isn’t the reason I eat Japanese. I eat for the whole of the cuisine. And yes, if you’re the kind of eater who only eats sushi, and who needs his sushi served from gold bowls and only using the flesh of endangered species jetted in, then you and I have serious differences of opinion.

Entrance to the Ponce Sushi Avenue.

Entrance to the Ponce Sushi Avenue.

Some of the best sushi I’ve ever had was inari sushi, served hot and steaming, made fresh and seasoned just minutes before. It’s not all about the expense of the product. Rice is a modest grain, but it can be grand if handled with skill. The question is, which eaters can distinguish between pomp and circumstance and real skill?

miso soup and some seaweed salad.

miso soup and some seaweed salad.

Calamari. I'd have preferred salmon shio style, but evidently they don't serve it here anymore.

Calamari. I’d have preferred salmon shio style, but evidently they don’t serve it here anymore.

Mixed sashimi.

Mixed sashimi.

The one thing that has impressed me about the Snellville edition of this small chain is its authenticity and the ability to still eat a Japanese meal despite the heavy sushi (and sushi roll) emphasis. You see that breadth at the original as well. Things like noodles of various kinds (nabeyaki udon), donburi bowls, tempura and teriyaki, tonakatsu, agedashi tofu, Japanese pickles all are options at this chain. The foods they provide are not exhaustive, in the manner of a Haru Ichiban or a Shoya Izakaya, but they pass my mother-in-law test, meaning I could take my 100% Japanese mother-in-law to the eatery, and she’d leave happy. The average American can come here and know they won’t get a narrow, limited culinary experience.

All that said, I do prefer the Snellville location. The staff in Snellville are almost all Japanese. That wasn’t true on Ponce. I know the Snellville menu, and we have years of them in drawers in my house. When I ask for things that used to be on the menu in Snellville, I usually get them, rather than getting a “what planet did you come from” look from a Hispanic staffer.

Irony is, the newest member of this small chain is, in my opinion, more authentic than the original. That said, the original is still pretty darned good.

Sushi Avenue
308 W Ponce De Leon Ave
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-8448

Sushi Avenue on Urbanspoon

PS: I’ll mention this again: for those food bloggers aspiring to talk intelligently about the Japanese meal, you simply must have Shizuo Tsuji’s book, discussed here.

Sushi Gallery is located at the strip mall near the corner of Five Forks Trickum and Dogwood, in the same location as an older dollar sushi place. This location is almost immediately accessible if you exit Ronald Reagan from the Five Forks exit. I’ve been curious about this place, as it is close to where I live, but never had the opportunity to drop by until now.

Short version? It’s a good looking restaurant. Further, I was surprised by the quality, the ambience, the care this eatery puts into its food.

Sashimi special.

Staff are dressed in kimono or chef’s apron. The atmosphere is soothing and warm. The restaurant is largely a sushi place, though there are some useful small plates. I had the sashimi special. They were good pieces, though not as diverse a collection of fish as one might get in a larger establishment. No matter, I was happy with my selection and thought it good value, given its location.

No, it probably won’t make you forget the kinds of places that use Learjets to fly in fresh fish from the coast, but you won’t have to pay Learjet prices for your food either. As a place to take a date to impress, or just a quiet respite for the evening, this place has the goods.

Sushi Gallery
2948 Five Forks Trickum Road
Lawrenceville, GA 30047

Sushi Gallery on Urbanspoon

On Scenic Highway (Highway 124) in Snellville, there is an Olive Garden now open. I know, because I’ve driven past it, but haven’t had a chance to try it. My wife has long been a fan of the linguini fra diavolo at OG. Also of note is that Lobster House (a grill and sushi place) is now open. It’s very gaudy. In looks, it reminds me of a small casino on the Red or Mississippi River.

Lobster House, on Pleasant Hill in Duluth. It's where the old Smokey Bones used to be.

Also of note is a new sushi place roughly on the corner of Dogwood and Five Forks Trickum Road.

Sushi in .. I believe this corner is formally Lawrenceville, actually.

Again, this is a place I know of, but have had no time to try. My wife is recovering from surgery and it has taken a toll on my food blogging.

Miso Izakaya was one of two high profile izakaya that opened in 2009, and of the two, had the longer gestation period into a critically regarded restaurant. It had been on my radar for some time, but my weekends had been dominated by Friday night maintenance issues, and I hadn’t been in condition to crawl the city on Saturdays until recently.  Finally, timing and circumstances allowed my family to get there, and I’m very glad the three of us went. It was a terrific place to take my family.

It’s about a mile further from Snellville than is Fox Brothers Barbecue, and the route, via Google Maps, is that nasty, difficult, winding through small roads Google Maps has anyone from Snellville do to get to Fox Brothers. About a mile further down DeKalb Avenue, you turn right at Krog, and then left on Edgewood. Miso ends up on your left.

Miso is smaller than I expected it to be, and has a smaller menu than I expected as well. Staff? Asian, but seemingly pretty multicultural. We arrived between 6 and 7 and I was dreading a 30 to 45 minute wait. Nothing of the sort happened. We were seated immediately. A crowd was developing as we left.

Miso's onigiri are terrific. After the first, we ordered a second.

Pickles (oshinko).

corn kariage was a pleasant surprise.

The menu fits on two side of a place mat, and is pretty versatile. Starters, salads, entrees, seafood dishes, tofu and vegetable dishes are some of the categories offered. We started with a wakame salad, edamame, onigiri, oshinko, and corn kariage, the closest thing we could find to traditional tempura.

wakame salad

Later we ordered an assortment of sushi.

Sushi. California roll and some nigiri.

Entrees included quail (excellent!), skirt steak, and tonkatsu. We later ordered a salmon skin salad, and fried oysters to end the meal.

Quail here are a fine dish.

Skirt steak

Tonkatsu. Smaller serving but very high quality.

Our waiter was excellent, the best staffer we’ve had in a while.

Impressions? Though the menu here is relatively small, it’s very creative, and Guy Wong’s interpretation of common dishes often yields unexpected surprises, things like salmon skin in the onigiri, green tea salt as a dipping spice, or the tiny circles of Thai pepper in the quail, perfectly sized to not overwhelm. There are small touches throughout the menu, and it has the feel of someone who tinkers and experiments with food. Dish names can be multicultural puns (i.e. green tomato katsu), and there is a playfulness that pervades the whole dining experience. To drag up a word that’s often overused in food blogging, Miso Izakaya is a lot of fun, and the joy of the unexpected small detail is going to be the engine that drives people to come here again and again.

Miso Izakaya
619 Edgewood Ave Southeast
Atlanta, GA 30312
(678) 701-0128

Miso Izakaya on Urbanspoon

The boonie pepper (singular)  has been amazingly productive inside the house, despite indifferent watering and poor sunlight. It’s doing so well I want to make sure it gets watered while I go on vacation at times. I need a way to get water to a 6 foot tall plant while I’m not there, and in a relatively inexpensive way. Enter these water spikes:

They work by capillary action, but I’m not at all sure how to use them, or how to tell they they are actually working. I’m feeding one of these from 1.5 gallons of water in a 3 gallon bucket into the plant now, but we’ll see. The next thing to add are timed grow lights, in the hopes the extra light will prevent leaves from turning  yellow and falling off. Inexpensive grow lights were available via Amazon, so  they’ll be arriving in the next couple days.

Maya Fresh Grill is doing so well that when I went in last, Guillermo was no longer there. It’s the first time I’ve not seen  the owners. The menu has firmed and the grill is getting better. Below is a shot of their jungle takkos, a pretty good vegetarian entree. Their grilled steak quesadillas, though, are better, and perhaps the best thing I’ve had there to date.

Finally, in  the food court in Mall of Georgia, is this sushi bar. Anyone ever try it?

Sushi House Hayakawa is a small place, perhaps 10 tables total wrapped around a sushi bar that could seat perhaps a dozen. The inside is full of white surfaces and natural wood frame, a look I like. The intimacy of the eatery puts others almost at your feet. When a neighboring diner said, “This is my birthday”, it was impossible not to notice. When a couple walked in, and seated their really cute daughter at the corner of the sushi bar, it was pretty clear who the star of the eatery was from that point on.

Most items are served are in the small plate (tapas) style, intending to encourage a diner to buy a lot of them. There are no sign of large vegetable plates, of things that are free of starch and filling. That’s an issue with me these days, because I’ve been ravenous coming off work. There is plenty of sushi, of course, but rice is starchy.  They have plenty of udon (noodle) and donburi (rice bowl) dishes, but again, starchy, not entirely suitable for a diabetic.

That said, the food they do serve is really pretty darned good. They started with a bit of spinach in dashi as a starter. A small salad plate soon followed.

Afterwards a seafood sautée showed, which was to be my main entrée. This was one of the house’s daily specials. The sauce was wonderfully creamy in taste, the mushrooms adding a touch of umami. The bits of seafood included some very tender scallops.

These were followed by eel and octopus sushi and a bit of squid sunomono.I especially liked the sunomono, the chewiness of the squid hit the spot.

Service is intimate, focused and good. They inquired about my diabetes, they asked if I were doing okay. They had both Asian and Caucasian staff, dressed nicely in black tops, Staff were careful, for those who wanted it, to explain everything they served. One of Sushi House Hayakawa’s specialties is an extensive tasting course, their omakase. A couple nearby were indulging, and the staff patiently explained everything being served.

Verdict: Small, intimate, with an emphasis on small plate dining. Highly recommended.

Sushi House Hayakawa
5979 Buford Highway
Doraville, GA 30340-1366
(770) 986-0010

Sushi House Hayakawa on Urbanspoon

PS – Chloe has an excellent review of Sushi House’s omakase. Other reviews, too many to be given by name, are listed here.

Sushi Avenue in Snellville (I was doing take out from Sushi Avenue because my wife was ill) is going to be closed on Sundays starting next week.

Through June 12, 2010, you can receive a free hemoglobin A1c test at CVS Minute Clinics. They’ll check vital signs and do the blood test for you.  For those of you in Snellville, there is a CVS with a Minute Clinic roughly at the corner of Loganville Highway and Cooper Road. Head north on 78 to Cooper Road, hang a left and 5 minutes later you are there.

I went there this morning. They hadn’t received any supplies of test equipment at this time. The nurse there was suggesting they might have those supplies a couple days for now. So if this kind of thing interests you, you might want to call ahead and see if they have the supplies.

It’s a small place, Taka Sushi, and without the road sign would be easy to miss. The Pharr location brings back memories of driving into town to browse at Oxford Books, unfortunately long since gone. Ever since Foodie Buddha posted his list of chefs that blog, though, I’ve had Taka Sushi marked down for a visit. Part of the appeal is the size: I know I won’t get a loud crowd in a tiny eatery. Further, it hearkens to the tendency in Japan to very small eateries. Zack Davisson, for example, is open about the lack of personalized eateries, so often seen in Japan. So yes, Taka is the “real deal”.

My daughter was going to a prom, just off Clairmont Road. My wife wanted to stick close by. I saw a chance to pick a Buckhead eatery and I’ve been looking forward to this one for months. So we suffered the minor hell that is Lenox Road and made our way down to Pharr. I was expecting to see a park and then the eatery but the sign soon loomed to our left. Parking is small and a little cramped. Taka itself is in a small brick building too far from the road to see. The sign is your best bet.

Taka has indoor and outdoor seating. With the weather being cool, staff was offering outdoor seating a lot. With my wife’s asthma and the harsh-for-asthmatics Atlanta spring, I asked to sit inside. A quick look at the menu showed a lot of sushi and a lot of drinks. There were a few Japanese foods. Udon was one, and there were also soba noodles. Tonkatsu, one of my wife’s favorites, was one of the specials this day. I ordered a salmon ceviche while my wife made up her mind.

She asked for the extended Japanese menu, and then asked plenty of questions about the differences between the two udon Taka served. As the fancier version seems too fancy to her, she tried the plainer udon. In the meantime, I ordered salmon roe sushi and then later black cod. The sushi was inhaled; I have almost no pictures of sushi because it was getting eaten way too fast. Sorry, it had been a long day and we were hungry. That said, the salmon roe were tasty, salty, pristine. The cod was delicate, fatty, savory.

My wife liked her udon but thought it a little too plain. She later ordered octopus sushi and that went over extremely well, so much so she ordered a second pair. Her comment was, “Very fresh”. I had mackerel sushi and it also lacked any fishy flavor I’ve normally associated with mackerel. When you go to a sushi expert, it should be no surprise that you get expertly crafted sushi.

I ordered a salad and Taka’s tsukemono (pickles). It’s perhaps the best tsukemono plate I’ve seen served at a Japanese restaurant. Yes, it does not compare with Korean banchan in terms of sheer diversity, but quality and taste were there.

In short, this is a terrific place to eat. Staff is graceful, helpful, largely unobtrusive. Any reputation Taka has is earned. Sushi quality is high, the digs are nice, the place a keeper. I will be back, even if it takes another prom visit to get us here.

Verdict: Perhaps the best example of a small, high quality sushi shop in Atlanta. I’d rate this place as exceptional, my highest ranking.

Taka Sushi and Passion
375 Pharr Road
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 869-2802

Taka Sushi Cafe on Urbanspoon

Kampai is a small chain, with locations in Duluth and Lithonia, whose focus these days is on steaks, sushi, and tapas. You don’t need to take my word for it. It’s on the side of the building of their new location in Lawrenceville, in the same plaza (Avenue Webb Ginn) that houses Ted’s Montana Grill and Red Robin. Kampai is in the building that used to house On the Border, and they’ve done nice things to the inside. It’s a good looking place. There is a lot of black stain, natural wood finish, and brick, and a decent number of flat screens.

Though I arrived at lunch, after commenting on the lack of useful selection on their lunch menu, I ended up with their dinner menu. This menu is pretty large, with two pages devoted to various tapas and three pages to sushi rolls alone. This doesn’t count the extensive coverage of tempura dishes and also their hibachi meals. I’ve never been a huge tempura fan and hibachi would be dietary overkill. I focused on sushi and tapas, looking for items I could eat.

I rapidly found the edamame, which I ordered and their braised pork belly on sauteed tofu. Along with that I ordered salmon nigiri and salmon roe nigiri (or so I thought) and also what they called a diet roll. There were no tapas available that had just a vegetable. I would have liked some steamed greens, or spinach, or bok choy with my meal.

The edamame came out steamed and the serving was large. I was very appreciative of what I was offered. The pork belly was smaller than I expected, looking a lot like a thick cut slice of bacon cut into squares and placed on a bed of tofu. Still, fat is a luxury I can afford. The flavor was good and the tofu welcome.

The nigiri ended up sashimi instead. It wasn’t what I expected but this was rather a welcome mistake. The foods were on mint leaves and then placed on what looked like daikon slivers. Both were fresh and flavorful. The diet roll was just okay. Edible yes, but no mind blowing flavors. I would have dropped this if there were a single steamed vegetable tapas, but no such luck at this time.

In retrospect, this small chain seems to do well on the edges of the metro area. The style of the place, to cater to many different trends in the industry, is similar to Sakegura and indeed, Nakato. It’s not as popular the closer to the city you get, as people seem to want specialized eateries in places like Buckhead and Midtown. But it should do well in the Avenue Webb Ginn mall area. It has a nice upscale look. When I showed, it was attracting Asian and American clientele. With the local Urban Flats shut down for the time being, it fills a niche for better dining in the neighborhood, and it is far quieter than Bonefish. I like its chances, and wish this chain the best.

Verdict: Versatile upscale dining in the Avenue Webb Ginn area. Highly recommended.

Kampai
1250 Scenic Highway #1300
Lawrenceville GA 30045
(678) 951-1000

Kampai on Urbanspoon

9700 Medlock Bridge Rd
Duluth, GA 30097
(678) 417-0086

Kampai Japanese & Hibachi on Urbanspoon

7105 Stonecrest Pkwy
Lithonia, GA 30038
(770) 484-1801

Kampai Sushi & Hibachi on Urbanspoon

Notes: There have been many behind the scenes conversations with Mike Stock (Gadget Geek) about the Avenue Webb Ginn area. He was the one who pointed out to me that Urban Flats was closed, among other things.

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