I get a lot of grief for not venturing to Atlanta's northern suburbs often. For many of the 20-odd years I've been grazing, good restaurants in the boonies were few and far between. But that changed ... while my in-town dining habit did not. Happily, the lead critics at the paper have been fine with culinary safaris.
But the recession has slowed restaurant openings to a historic low. Meanwhile, the herd of great bloggers in the city circle soon-to-open restaurants like American Indian scouts spying on frontier settlers. The object is to be first to review a newbie. I rarely go to a new restaurant now that hasn't already been hit by a vigilant blogger.
Case in point is Sushinobo (4500 W. Village Place, Suite 1005, 678-401-7322, www.sushinobo.com) in far-away Smyrna, a land of trees encircling Aunt Fanny's Cabin when I was a kid in Sandy Springs. A friend told me about the place last week and, despite the address, I sped immediately to the new sushi bar, only to find that Tom Maicon of Atlanta Cuisine had put up a review weeks ago. I hate feeling like a stalker.
Sushinobo is the heir to Mt. Fuji Japanese Restaurant, a popular 20-year-old spot in Marietta that lost its lease on Cobb Parkway. The owners opened this new, much smaller venue a few months ago. It's located in a nondescript mixed-use development that houses a bunch of other restaurants, such as Lime and Crepe Revolution (which I reviewed in 2008).
The restaurant itself is as nondescript as the West Village location. There's a profusion of light fixtures from which glass bubbles dangle. There's not much else besides the sushi bar to draw your attention. The dining room is rather gloomy, but the sushi chefs and our server were plenty sunny. How many times have you repeatedly been called "sweetie" and "precious" by a young Bulgarian woman?
I confess that I've grown pretty weary with sushi and sashimi in our town. Outside the big names, it all starts to taste alike to me. So Wayne and I ended up ordering no nigiri or sashimi. We did order a couple of maki rolls but the extra-spicy, super-crunch roll included the expected fried shrimp, along with avocado and cucumber. Sections of the roll were topped with a slice of jalapeño painted with a dab of Sriracha sauce. So there was nothing esoteric about the "extra-spicy" and the heat was sufficient to fire us up. We both blew our noses repeatedly.
Our other maki roll, "the volcano," included spicy tuna and yellowtail topped with lava-like chunks of crab in a spicy tomato sauce. Flavors were first-rate and we enjoyed the volcanic presentation.
The restaurant serves kushiage — panko-coated, deep-fried, skewered goodies. We got a five-piece selection that included zucchini, mushroom, pork, shrimp and pumpkin, served with one sweet sauce and one mustardy one. Everything was cooked to order, wonderfully crispy and hot. The sauces were completely unnecessary to my palate.
You can also order from a yakitori menu. I ordered only one skewer containing wedges of purple-skinned eggplant dotted with a few sesame seeds. I've been on an eggplant binge lately and this ranked high. I'm anxious to try more of the yakitori.
One of the more unfamiliar dishes to me was musu-musu chicken — a wooden steam basket containing snow-white pieces of boned chicken with red and gold bell pepper and a few other vegetables. While the menu said the chicken was marinated, we found it virtually flavorless and a bit overcooked. Ponzu and teriyaki sauces made it more palatable, but I'd skip it. The pork version might offer more taste, but our server told us the whole point was to offer something to the diet-minded. It did come with miso soup and seaweed salad.
The most interesting dish we sampled was "Magic Mushrooms." This was fat, fried white mushrooms stuffed with shrimp and scallops. We didn't get high, but the crunchy texture and ocean-earth tastes made our palates happy. Eel sauce added a kick.
For dessert, I chose a decent crème brûlée made with a bottom layer of faintly sweet adzuki beans, which I liked. Wayne, as usual, chose green tea ice cream, a dish whose musky flavor never excites me. Yeah, give me adzuki beans any day.
Be sure to ask the chef if you can play with his wind-up sushi toys and ask for the sweet, precious Bulgarian to be your server. Sushinobo is a great, comparatively inexpensive place to sample a diverse Japanese menu.
Hunting BBQ on Memorial Day
I hope you had better luck than I did on Memorial Day finding a place to consume the requisite barbecue. After a lazy day, we headed to Fox Brothers. We were told there would be a 45-minute wait. About 10 minutes into our wait, I heard a server announce to a table that there were no ribs and no brisket and no this and no that.
We decided to head to Bucc's (313 Boulevard, 404-736-6197), the new all-beef barbecue joint in Grant Park. As we drove up, we realized this was take-out only. The former tenant had tables out front, but there are none in the newest incarnation.
So then we headed to our most frequent destination, Daddy D'z. We hadn't gone there in the first place because I don't recall ever going there on a holiday that they weren't out of just about everything. But we were told that everything was available. However, the ribs wouldn't be available for another 40 minutes. We said we'd come back another day.
We landed at Grant Central (451 Cherokee Ave., 404-523-8900) and had a very good pizza topped with prosciutto, arugula and tomatoes. It wasn't very Memorial Day-ish, but it didn't take a long wait and they weren't out of pizza dough.