Sam’s Japanese is unusual in that it has no Internet presence that I can see. No mention in court records, Urban Spoon, no recorded telephone number, nothing. It’s odder when you consider the cleverness of the restaurant, the really cute iconographic tuna that pepper the walls of this eatery. It looks good from the outside. How can they not have any kind of Internet mention at all?

I can only suggest one possibility. This is really a Korean-Japanese eatery. It sits beside the Sound of Music, a large karaoke joint. It is, as BuHi might say, comfortable in its own skin. Though it resembles the  suburban Japanese-Korean eateries of the 1990s, it make no attempt at all to hide its ethnic identity. It has long hours, open until 2am every night. So I can only assume it’s after the late night crowd, tired after hours of karaoke and wanting some sushi with their Korean staples. It’s also true that this mall area, Courtyard Shops (near Gwinnett Place), has been shedding American businesses for a while. In years past, I’ve had venison steaks in this area. That eatery is gone, and as of this March, Texas Longhorn left Courtyard Shops as well. What’s left behind are a hodge podge of aspiring businesses, many of them Korean.

Inside, it’s very clean. I arrived close to noon on a Saturday, and I could smell and see the cleaner that was used on the floors. Places to sit here are of two kinds. You can sit at the sushi bar, or there is semi-private table seating throughout the rest of the eatery. Though not as heavy in construction as Mirak, it does remind me a bit of that place. Though, instead of featuring barbecue up front, the headline items here are nigiri, rolls, and surprisingly enough, hand made rolls.

A hand made roll is a cone of seaweed and sushi rice, into which sushi goodies are placed. This is the kind of sushi a Japanese housewife might make on a special occasion. Nigiri require real knife skills and rolls also require special equipment. Hand rolls aren’t as common commercially because they use so much material. But they don’t require a Ginsu knife whiz to prepare either.

That said, they have, in the back of the menu, Korean foods. A spicy seafood soup caught my eye. No, I don’t recall the Korean name, so “spicy seafood soup” it is.  I ordered edamame, a salmon roe hand roll, and that spicy soup. Before any of those arrived, as in most good Korean eateries, banchan arrived.

It was good, and welcome. I had been walking around the mall area and banchan is full of things I can safely eat in quantity. Staff carefully explained what each one was. That was useful, because the one that looks like cole slaw actually contained slivers of potato. The one in front left is baby pumpkin. I ate the pumpkin. It was tender and delicate. Yes, they refill the banchan. Soon after, the main dishes arrived.

To note, the soup arrives in a stone bowl, boiling hot. I had to wait a while to fish around in it. There were shrimp, octopus tentacles, a nice slice of fish (bones and skin included), two blue crab clusters, chunks of tofu, onions, and plenty of sprouts and scallions. It was full of nutrition and very low carb. What it did lack, until I asked for more heat, was spice. They were understandably afraid I couldn’t eat the soup as they usually made it. Once spiced up, it had a rich, heady flavor.

The edamame was young and tender. The roll was quite good and the roe of good quality.

I don’t know what the future of this place is. For someone curious about Korean cuisine but more familiar with Japanese, this place would make a gentle introduction to the cuisine of Korea. But they haven’t done all the things they need to be found in the first place. I’m not sure spying this restaurant out the window of the nearby Sweet Tomatoes (which is how I found this place) constitutes a winning media strategy. I can only cross my fingers and hope more people find it before it dies in obscurity.

Sam’s Japanese Restaurant
3525 Mall Boulevard, #B2
Duluth, GA 30096
(no phone number found yet)

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