Taka Sushi Café (385 Pharr Road, 404-869-2802, www.takasushiatlanta.com) is a curious restaurant. People either love it or hate it, and I speak as someone who wasn't initially impressed with the Buckhead Japanese restaurant. When I moved back to Atlanta from San Francisco — long before I blogged or wrote professionally about food — my parents suggested I eat at Taka. I didn't like it. However, my family urged me to return with them to give it another shot. I was so glad I did. While I was living in California, my family had formed a good relationship with the chef. As a result, my visit with them was infinitely better. While dining there, we encountered many more obscure dishes and new flavor combinations than I had on my solo visit. Now, Taka is a place I go to eat alone at the bar, the food I crave when I'm under the weather (the fresh ginger and honey tea will change your life), and a restaurant I visit when I want to eat clean, interesting food.
Taka, like many neighborhood Japanese restaurants, is the sort of place where your experience varies depending on how much interaction you have with the chef. It seems unfair that you can't just duck into a corner unnoticed, but you will have a considerably better experience if you engage the people who make your food. It's a matter of appreciation for appreciation; recognition for recognition.
Taka recently started offering lunch service, which means I can feed my addiction to all things Japanese during lunchtime — a notoriously hard hour to find clean Japanese food, especially in Buckhead. Skip the rolls, which, while well-executed, are nothing compared to the pristine cuts of fish nestled onto sticky sushi rice so fresh you'd swear Atlanta is an ocean town. Check the list of specials on the whiteboard out front for goodies like shoyu ramen, a deeply complex broth infused with some serious pork flavor and a mound of what have to be the best — read: chewy and springy — ramen noodles anyone is serving in Atlanta. Chef Taka Moriuchi's American roots show through in the menchi katsu burger, his entry into the now-tired burger wars. He places a panko-coated, fried, hand-chopped hamburger patty with a fried egg, mayo and shredded lettuce on a huge sesame studded bun as a platform. It's so big that you should share it with a tablemate and save room for some of the more traditional Japanese offerings. A huge plate of hearty beef curry, steamed rice, and magenta oshinko (Japanese pickles) will soothe your work-weary soul and satisfy without leaving you in a food coma. Beautiful flats of tonkastu (deep-fried pork cutlet) have no traces of oil. They are remarkably juicy despite their thin stature. Moriuchi does not serve the tonkastu with shredded cabbage or rice as it's traditionally done in Japan. The plate arrives with a dollop of mayo for dipping and a small scoop of his potato salad concoction. When asked why, he simply says the cabbage here just doesn't live up to Japan's. Other options on the dirt-cheap menu have a healthy slant — Moriuchi himself is health and diet obsessed. You can follow his diet and health journey on his quirky blog, www.sushiandpassion.blogspot.com.