Along a strip of Peachtree Industrial leading north to Norcross, Japanese restaurants begin to dot the landscape. Whether you're looking for teppanyaki, tempura or tuna, these restaurants cater to a clientele of largely Japanese descent with stiff shots of sake, tatami rooms and authentic specialties.
Sushi Yoshi crouches below the bustle of Peachtree Industrial and looks a little seamy from the outside. The cluster of cars on a weekday night allayed fears that no one would be present: Inside, nearly every table was packed with sedate Japanese diners.
Two cautious, yet earnest waitresses wearing matching pink kimonos, white cotton socks and red-strapped bamboo sandals gave us a warm "Irasshaimase!" greeting as we walked in, welcoming us to the restaurant. We were seated at a booth (we bypassed the sushi bar) and handed warm towels to clean our hands before the meal. We were then served a tidbit of marinated cooked tuna as a starter. They meant business here for sure.
The large, cloth-bound menu is a bit daunting at first glance. Up front, it's all written in Japanese hiragana and kanji characters, but keep flipping through the pages and you get to the English text at the back. Several pages of appetizers include varieties of dumplings, noodle choices, and grilled and fried vegetables and meats. We chose a sampling before getting to the separate sushi menu.
We started with skewers of kushi katsu ($3.25) -- deep fried pork and onion -- and yakitori tare ($2.65) -- grilled chicken and green onion. The pork was thick with batter and difficult to get off the skewer but warm and juicy, even better when dipped in the sweet, thick house katsu sauce. Unfortunately the yakitori weren't as successful. They were soon cold after arriving at the table and the teriyaki-like sauce in which they were basted lacked flavor. Yakitori skewers are fast, finger foods served out of huts all over Japan, and these American cousins were a disappointment. A cold dish of goma ae, boiled spinach with a sesame seed sauce, was great ($2.65) and was gobbled up quickly. Nikujaga ($3.85) was a pungent bowl of simmered beef, potatoes and onions in a sweet, soy-based sauce. It was a new selection for me and heavier than the other selections sampled.
Before the appetizers arrived, we ordered a tempura combo entree of shrimp and assorted vegetables($10.50). The combo came with a selection of miso soup as well as a salad. In addition, we also ordered a bowl of kake udon ($5.50), a soup stock of thick wheat noodles, sliced fish cake, seaweed and green onion. Thankfully neither the miso nor udon was too salty, as they sometimes can be, and were simple and satisfying.
The tempura was the tastiest thing ordered all evening. Selections of squash, sweet potato, zucchini and shrimp were battered and fried to a warm crispiness. Although the batter was light and flaky it was a little heavy-handed and had to be scraped off of some pieces to keep from being overwhelming. A mixture of soy sauce, daikon and ginger was served alongside for dipping and was an especially great compliment to the tempura vegetables.
With all the appetizers and entrees, we only left room for a few sushi rolls of spicy tuna, avocado and cucumber, and tempura shrimp ($2.95-$5). The rolls were excellent -- fresh and moist -- but not as prettily prepared as I expected from such an authentic establishment. Instead they were left a little sloppy and not perfectly formed. Despite the lack of attention to this detail, the sushi was still better than what most intown establishments put on their menu at higher prices.
After the server cleared away the many plates from the table she asked if we were ready for the final course of the meal -- ice cream. The plain vanilla ice cream was served with a bit of red bean paste on top. The sweet addition of bean paste changed the whole composition of the ice cream, much as the restaurant has done for the surrounding neighborhood. Sushi Yoshi has taken a little bit of Japan and plopped it down in the middle of nowhere to make something from nothing.