Japanese


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.

This establishment has been in/near Peachtree Parkway and Holcombe Bridge for what seems like the longest time, in the same strip mall as Dalia’s. I hadn’t chosen to visit it, as it seemed yet another variety of the steakhouse/teppanyaki joint that so many suburbanites favor. My mother-in-law is Japanese, and so I don’t need a gentle, safe introduction to Japanese food.

Happy Sumo, though, has a sushi bar and that’s what interested my boss. He asked me to accompany him after work, as he has dietary restrictions that do not include fish. So this is a review of Happy Sumo as a place to eat sushi and sashimi. For those interested in Happy Sumo’s teppanyaki, you can try this review by Marie Let’s Eat.

Happy Sumo can serve up a pretty temaki roll, a cone shaped sushi oft favored by the Japanese housewife.

Happy Sumo can serve up a pretty temaki roll, a cone shaped sushi oft favored by the Japanese housewife.

I tend to judge sushi places by the quality of the fish in nigiri sushi. This variety, thick slabs of fish atop vinegared sushi rice, is the purest test of the quality of the fish in a sushi house. You can’t hide discolored fish, as you can in a stock roll. The simplicity of the presentation makes it a more extreme test of quality.

Tuna and salmon sashimi plate.

Tuna and salmon sashimi plate.

So we sat, we talked, we ate sushi. I was generally pleased with what we ate. We had nigiri, hand rolls, and a nice big plate of sashimi. Happy Sumo has a tuna and salmon sashimi plate I can highly recommend, and their hand rolls are a visual delight. Service quality in the sushi bar is quite good. Staff are friendly and service is constant.

Would I go back? Probably not for teppanyaki, as I see no reason to do teppanyaki when my family doesn’t favor the style. But the sushi at Happy Sumo is quite good, service is pleasant, and it’s totally suitable for a business dinner or a casual respite.

Happy Sumo
135 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 248-0203

Happy Sumo on Urbanspoon

The Sarku Japan booth in the Mall of Georgia is very minimal, and in that, ironically, it is perhaps more Japanese than the oversized metroplex izakaya that so many foodies love. The classic walkway eatery has no place in America, except in our food halls, and even if the Sarku product is modest, it gives us a small taste of the “walk by and grab it” scene.

As a minimal restaurant, perhaps more authentic than our more common metroplex izakaya.

Are there things to complain about? Sure. I’d have much preferred a small grill oriented izakaya, where I could grab something to drink and a toasty octopus tendril at the same time, but this is food court cuisine, where teryaki chicken morphs into “bourbon” chicken, and everything exists to feed a crowd of thousands as fast as possible. Seldom is the food high end, but it is very often original, as the competition for mouths in a food hall is ruthless.

I’m also on record as saying the obsession with sushi in the States is peculiarly American. Americans do things with sushi that its creators never dreamed of, and obsess over it endlessly, as if it’s the beginning and end of Japanese cuisine. It’s akin to judging all Mexican cuisine by the quality of the “Speedy with beans” that they serve. That said, let’s get down to the business of looking closer at Sarku.

tuna and salmon sashimi, as delivered.

Food, when you get it, is ice cold. That long display case in which they show their goods is actually a refrigerator, and given how cold my seaweed salad was, in full working order. One guy mans the cash register, 2-3 others man the case, and build foods for their audience. There aren’t many nigiri or sashimi choices, perhaps 5 or 6, and they are pretty straightforward choices at that (tilapia, tuna, salmon, etc).

Since I’m a diabetic, I got sashimi rather than sushi. Sarku serves their fish with slices of pickled ginger and a bit of sliced vegetable. I enjoyed the fish, delivered ice cold, and felt it was better than what I could get at, say, Publix, and perhaps not to the quality of what I could get at Waraku or Haru Ichiban. The fish wasn’t as firm, I thought, perhaps not as good a cut.

In summary: It’s clean, neat, accessible, geared to fast delivery in a food court environment. Better than grocer’s sushi, but doesn’t reach the quality of a full service Japanese restaurant, much less a high end sushi specialty shop. Recommended for what it is.

Sarku Japan Sushi Bar
3333 Buford Drive #K106
Buford, GA 30519
(770) 831-2069

Sarku Japan Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Samurai Chicken is a brightly colored restaurant at the corner of Oakland Road and Lawrenceville Highway, Highway 29, and at first glance it looks like another Japanese influenced eatery oriented towards inexpensive hibachi style meals. This is, of course, a concept that has been tried in Lawrenceville before, with the now-closed Totori Fresh Grill. But a careful perusal of the Samurai Chicken menu shows some interesting quirks, things that push this restaurant up into the “worth discussing” range, perhaps even to the “culinarily interesting” point.

For one, the staff is clearly aware of the Chinese heritage of various Japanese noodle dishes. Their yakisoba is also labeled Lo Mein. For another, if the magazines the staff were reading are any indication, they are fluent in Vietnamese (I asked afterwards; the staffer who spoke with me had both Korean and Vietnamese heritage).

That makes Samurai Chicken’s soups and their sandwiches yet another deal entirely, as I don’t recall a single Vietnamese restaurant in Snellville or Lawrenceville.

Samurai Sandwich or banh mi? When it looks like a duck..

So, after having had hibachi, I went ahead and ordered their grilled chicken Samurai Sandwich.

Yep, it has the good banh mi bread. it has the nice banh mi spicing. The sandwich is nicely wrapped, and large, substantially larger than other banh mi I’ve had. In retrospect, maybe more mayo than I would have preferred, but the chicken was nicely done.

I haven’t had their pho yet, but I’d be interested in trying it.

To note, there is no pork here. The proteins du jour are chicken, steak, fish, and shrimp. Outside of hibachi, sandwiches, pho, they also serve Samurai Wings (buffalo wings), spring rolls, cooked sushi. So, this is an easy place to get a fast meal. But for the Snellville/Lawrenceville foodie, the first appearance of a convenient source of pho or banh mi is of perhaps more interest, as Japanese (i.e. Sushi Avenue, Sushi Gallery, Kanpai) is not hard to come by in these parts.

Samurai Chicken
2346-A Lawrenceville Highway
Lawrenceville, GA 30044
(770) 559-0672

Samurai Chicken on Urbanspoon

From the Five Forks – Oak Road intersection, the easiest way to get to Samurai Chicken is to head down Oak Road towards Lawrenceville. It will turn into Huff Road after the railroad tracks (if you take the right turn) and Huff will intersect Lawrenceville Highway. Head north one block. Samurai Chicken will be on your right.

Otherwise, from Snellville head down Ronald Reagan towards Duluth and exit at Bethesda Church Road. Follow the road until you intersect Lawrenceville Highway. Head north to the intersection of Oakland and Highway 29.

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

Gogi Brothers was mentioned by a reader of my blog some time ago, but life, work changes, and all made it really impossible for me to run around Snellville the way I normally do. My focus was inward, towards the city of Atlanta, not out of it. I never found this restaurant until I made an ill fated run for jerk chicken towards Grayson (I should realize that small, mom and pop Jamaican eateries are invariably closed on Sundays).

It turns out that Gogi Brothers has occupied a building a stone’s throw from the Mellow Mushroom on Highway 78, and so most Snellville residents can find Gogi simply by heading down 78 towards Loganville. It will be on the right if you do. The building is handsome, a pretty brick, and if my memory serves, the building used to be home to a Dickey’s BBQ in the past.

Kimchi as an appetizer. It's not on the menu but you can ask for it.

Now, Gogi is the word for “meat” in Korean, and this restaurant doesn’t easily fit into any single category. Instead, it’s a cross cultural assortment of foods that they serve, everything from Korean influenced dishes, Thai dishes, some Japanese dishes (teppenyaki style dishes, mostly), American and American-Korean favorites — what else is a bulgogi burger — and they also push their hot wings. They serve beer and wine, and this place will deliver as well.

Gogi's babimbap. No stone bowl, and a lot of greens in this version.

Bulgogi

When you cover this much ground, some things are lost. Korean dishes are not served in stone bowls, so the bibimbap here isn’t like what you can find in, say, Assi Plaza. In fact, my favorite Korean dish here goes by the very proletarian name of “spicy pork”. They have “spicy chicken” as well.

Spicy pork.

Staff here is largely Korean, well dressed and mannered, and pretty nice. And what this place loses in authenticity it makes up for in sheer willingness to serve. Snellville is better off with this place than without, as Korean is a bold assertive cuisine, and any inroads they can make into our dining habits are probably good ones.

Gogi Brothers
2624 Cindy Lane
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 837-2201

Gogi Brothers on Urbanspoon

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