We’ll start with this quote from the online edition of Scientific American:

The CITES office in Geneva confirmed that Monaco has submitted a formal bid to add bluefin tuna to the Annex I list of threatened species and that the proposal will be part of the formal agenda at the next general conference in Doha, Qatar, in March 2010. An Annex I listing grants species the highest level of protection, allowing for the continuation of a domestic market but banning all imports or exports of animals and their parts on the list.

To give a recent quote from Taka, of Taka Sushi Atlanta, it’s just not that easy to find good tuna at all these days (see also here and here):

I don’t remember when was the last time that I got good tuna. I believed it was 3-4 weeks ago. This big eye tuna is the best of October.

My point being, of course, going into a restaurant and judging it primarily on the quality of its tuna sushi may be as gauche as judging a restaurant on its supply of chicken fried passenger pigeon. The best fish are becoming extinct, but because a thick red slice of tuna on sushi rice is one of the first nigiri an American learns to like, Americans tend to judge restaurants on what they are familar with.

The problem starts with a uniquely American attitude that sushi is the acme of Japanese cooking. I can’t adequately express how wrong that whole notion is. For one, making sushi is hardly cooking. For another, it’s not sushi that Japanese themselves serve to guests and use as a criterion for goodness. If Shizuo Tsuji is to be believed, it’s sashimi that they offer to guests, and use as a criterion for goodness. Again, referencing Tsuji, (Chapter 1, p 46), these are the components of an ordinary Japanese meal:

  1. fresh, uncooked fish, or sashimi.
  2. A grilled dish, or yakimono.
  3. A simmered dish, or nimono.

Afterwards, the guest would be served miso soup, rice, and pickles (tsukemono). Consequently, I’m going to say something that should be common sense and hardly profound: if you write about food, and haven’t bothered to try a single entree in a full service Japanese restaurant, then you really haven’t bothered to review the restaurant, have you? You’ve just sat around and nibbled on the “cold cuts” and not bothered to find out how the restaurant actually cooks.

This comes into play when talking about a restaurant such as Nakato Japanese Restaurant. This is a restaurant trying to be all things to all people. It has a section that is a hibachi restaurant. It has a sushi bar. It also mentions on the front page of its website that it serves food “tapas style”, trying to also catch the heat of the ongoing izakaya craze.  But it’s only if you look hard that you can find out about their Garden Dining Room, with traditional Japanese foods, and only if you scroll down to the very bottom of their online “traditional” menu that you find what insiders think is the best part of Nakato, their nabemono, their one pot dishes.

That’s how I found out about Nakato, by entering into a conversation with someone who had done their Japanese tour of duty as an English teacher overseas, and then came back looking for authentic tastes. She found them, not at Nakato’s sushi bar, but in the Garden Room, and their hot pot dishes like sukiyaki and yosenabe.

What this also means is, from a reviewing standpoint, that reviewing Nakato is akin to defeating a three headed hydra. Almost no blogger has the time or budget to look into every single aspect of Nakato, unless they are a regular with exceptionally expansive tastes. Instead, bloggers tend to focus on what they know, and what they like. And for a lot of bloggers, what they really like about Japanese food is the sushi.

Now why is that? It’s because sushi is exotic, an unknown. Americans crave the mystery of sushi, and make more of it than it is. A fine grilled fish, by contrast, is far more ordinary, and easy to take for granted. So we see lots of reviews of ribbon sushi, and very little time spent on ordinary Japanese foods, the kind ordinary people eat.

To make it clear, Nakato’s menu is 7 pages long, full of appetizers and entrees, sushi, hibachi favorites and of course, the one pot dishes. I’ve been to Nakato twice. Both times I had nabemono. Once it was shabu-shabu, and perhaps yosenabe the second time. I was served on my table by a waitress in kimono. The food was cooked on the table and I was encouraged to add items to the pot myself. It was a rich experience, one that most restaurants in Atlanta cannot begin to handle. They don’t have the equipment. They don’t have the staff. They don’t have the patience. My wife, if I recall, had the tonkatsu. Yes, it was pretty darned good as well.

Verdict: Especially favored among “insiders” for their one pot dishes. Those dishes are Highly Recommended.

Nakato Japanese Restaurant
1776 Cheshire Bridge Road
Atlanta, GA 30324
(404) 873-6582

Nakato on Urbanspoon

One final note from Taka’s web site: his recommendation for judging a sushi bar is to order and try its tamago. Did I mention his web site, Sushi and Passion, is just awesome? Many thanks to Foodie Buddha for making this site known to the Atlanta community.