"Hey, bro, I could use some of that. I haven't eaten in a day."
I turned from the sushi case at Publix to see an apparently homeless man. "You want sushi?" I asked.
"I love that shit."
"Well," I said, "take your pick." He scooped up a tray and handed it to me. I paid for it, gave it back to him and watched him take a seat outside. He worked the wasabi into the soy sauce, handling the chopsticks like a pro. "I like the plain stuff best," he said, holding up a piece of nigiri.
So much for sushi being a mysterious pleasure of the epicurean class. With Publix selling it and the homeless begging for it, it's completely mainstream now and has been for at least 10 years. Regular consumers of it can readily tell the difference between quality sushi, like you find at MF Sushi, mediocre stuff such as Publix's and really bad stuff at places that will go unnamed here for now.
The newest sushi bar in town is Fune (860 Peachtree St., 404-541-9322) in the Spire building in Midtown. It is, to say the least, a looker – a glamorous space that turns into a lounge after hours. It resembles a futuristic airplane hangar (or the Hollywood Bowl), with dramatic arches whose lighting changes color unobtrusively but hypnotically if you turn your gaze upward. Surreal Japanese videos are projected on the rear wall.
This is a kaiten sushi bar, meaning it features a 110-foot conveyor belt that languidly travels by most of the seating in the restaurant. I do not believe there is currently another such restaurant in the city, although there used to be a kaiten bar in Sandy Springs that actually featured sushi toted on a model train.
One wonders, of course, how long the sushi, enclosed in plastic containers, has been traveling on the conveyor belt. Press material for the restaurant says a computerized system, employing radio-frequency tags, actually monitors each plate and automatically discards any dish that isn't scooped up promptly.
Of course, you have the option of ordering from the menu instead of grabbing the often unidentifiable pieces from the conveyor belt. Further, the restaurant offers yakitori (skewered grilled items), kushiage (panko-fried items), tempura, grilled fish and a variety of other small plates, as well as sushi rolls and nigiri.
Here's a warning: Carry a flashlight. The dark-gray back page of the menu, featuring specialty rolls, is unreadable. We relied on our server to describe available rolls. He said the menu was to be reprinted in more readable fashion soon.
Your meal begins with the server – Shane, in our case – pouring a bit of warm water on what looks like a pill in a little plate. It pops up – "How erectile!" Wayne said – and turns out to be a paper face towel.
I might as well break the bad news about this new restaurant now. Despite its really engaging ambiance and staff, the food is going to have to improve significantly to gain a following among aficionados who are still dreaming of defunct Soto and regularly go to MF Sushi. In truth, I found the sushi generally inferior to the other dishes we sampled. Here's the run-through:
Probably my favorite dish was udama, quail eggs fried in panko, kushiage-style. They were a bit overdone but the crispy exterior was terrific with the springy white of the egg and its creamy yolk. We also liked aspara kushiage – beef with asparagus in panko.
Takoyaki, the popular Japanese street food of fried dumplings stuffed with octopus, were disappointing. Each dumpling had one lone little cube of almost inedibly chewy octopus.
The one yakitori dish we tried, scallops wrapped and broiled in bacon, was very good.
Sushi, as I said, fared less well. Expensive uni did not taste fresh, although sashimi of surf clam was startling in its clear flavor. A salmon-skin roll was mediocre and falling apart, while a spicy tuna roll with asparagus, "Red Dragon," was much better.
We enjoyed Shane, our server. He's a former Ansley Starbucks barista and grad student in child psychology at Emory. We asked him the meaning of "Fune" and he replied, "It stands for, let me see, um, 'fun,' 'unique,' um, I don't remember, and 'experience.'"
On the way out, Wayne asked two other employees before we got the real story. "Fune" means "boat." Nice try, Shane. Still, you're Waitron of the Week.
The restaurant is open for lunch and its nightly transformation into a lounge is irregular at present. Its website, FuneSushiBar.com, says that when it does turn into a lounge, "a futuristic and stylish energy permeates the space where Atlanta's most beautiful come to play."
Wayne and I thus beat a hasty retreat as the music volume increased.
Lunching with Jeff
My friend Jeff Boyle has moved to Florida – and he's not even retirement age. I've always said I'd rather die prematurely than retire in Florida, but other people love the peninsula. Jeff grew up there, so I guess he feels at home amid the oranges, geriatrics, hurricanes and lack of civilized culture.
He visited last week and we had a couple of good lunches. Our first was at Anis in Buckhead, where the spring weather made this my first patio lunch of the year. As usual, Jeff ordered the blandest thing in sight – a chicken sandwich – but I had a really remarkable special of grilled scallops over a fava bean ragout seasoned with lavender. I could eat that weekly for a year. ...
We also lunched at MetroFresh in Midtown Promenade. We both had the day's sandwich, egg salad. Who knew egg salad could be so good? I also ordered a Caprese salad-like stack of red and yellow tomato slices with goat cheese and green olive tapenade. But the highlight of the meal was an awesome lemon cupcake. It was so rich, in fact, I had to have a second one.