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MF Buckhead: Sushi sequel

Magic costs money at MF's new outpost

"You're determined to ruin this meal, aren't you?" I asked Wayne.

We were sitting at the sushi counter of the new MF Buckhead (3280 Peachtree Road, 404-841-1192). It's located in the Terminus building, where we'd had a very mediocre meal the week before at Lola.

Wayne's irritation was provoked by the sake menu. There were no prices on it, so he asked the server, who said all small sake servings cost $15 to $25. This followed something of a gasp after noting the high prices on the general menu. He was ranting.

"You're acting like a Philistine," I told him.

"Well, precisely," he snapped back. "They want me to feel like a hillbilly – that if I have to ask the price, I can't afford it and shouldn't be here."

By meal's end, though, Mr. Philistine was bowing and smiling and shouting Japanese words at the chefs and servers, clutching two yuzu seeds he'd extracted from a sample of the fruit one of the chefs gave him. We already have a dozen calmondin bushes on the patio Wayne grew from seed. What's a couple of yuzus?

The transformation in Wayne's 'tude is a testament to the brilliant style and hospitality of Alex and Chris Kinjo, who have opened the restaurant after scoring hits with MF Sushi and Nam in Midtown. Like those restaurants, Alex designed this one's interior, and it is at once glamorous and serene.

The beauty is all the more impressive because the restaurant has no conspicuous signs – just a speakeasylike glass door with frosted lettering. But as soon as you enter, you're in another world. First you step through a white filament curtain and then, bam, you're in a room that looks gold with firelight. Italian hardwoods, black walnut countertops, Japanese porcelain, flowers arranged ikebana-style, unexpected blue chandeliers along the curved sushi counter – everything adds up.

There are four dining areas in the 8,000-square-foot restaurant, including a private mezzanine where twice-weekly special dinners will be prepared tableside. That sounds like fun, but apart from that I don't understand eating sushi anywhere but at the counter. MF's counter seats 24, and there are 12 chefs assisting Chris Kinjo behind the counter. This is somewhat of a shock to see when you recall fabulous Soto, the closed sushi spot across the road. Interminable waits were part of the experience there, because chef Soto made virtually every piece of sushi himself, with just one or two assistants.

The servers at MF Buckhead are all gorgeous, stylin' women, as they are at Nam and, believe me, you won't have any trouble getting an explanation of any dish on the menu. They can riff for three or four minutes on a single item.

The entirely à la carte menu is raw fish along with a good many grilled items. Our server explained that the oak-wood charcoal grill, a Robata from Japan, reaches 1,000 degrees, instantly searing in flavors. The temperature is controlled with handheld paper fans. It's the first such grill in Atlanta.

Although the menu is not as kinky as Soto's was, the restaurant undoubtedly aims to pick up the high-end slack from that restaurant's closing. We didn't eat anything that wasn't beautifully presented and delectable (or pricey).

Our first dish was king crab compressed into a round form and topped with uni mousse, the best I've ever tasted. There was also some avocado and a bit of caviar, which we fought over. We ordered grilled eel that was equally amazing. It was in the standard sauce but far more tender than I've usually experienced. On the other hand, broiled, rather rubbery octopus with shichimi pepper was a bit disappointing. I'd probably look to something else on the menu, but octopus does seem to be a dish whose quality ranges widely wherever you order it.

The Kinjo brothers are flying in fish from the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, and nothing demonstrated the high quality and freshness as much as simple nigiri – kampachi, very young yellowtail, and kinmedai, golden-eye red snapper. Creamy, al dente, not a note of "fishiness," but a minor explosion of the sea's flavors in the mouth. We also sampled a maki roll featuring toro (fatty tuna). It was yummy but, honestly, I'd stick with the nigiri. The quality of the fish is so high that the other ingredients in a roll seem almost like a distraction. And be sure you ask for the freshly grated wasabi. It is about 10 times more flavorful than the livid green paste.

Desserts, made by pastry chef Lisa Matsuoka, are fusion-style. Wayne chose a three-parter of crème brûlée accompanied by candied cranberries and green tea cake: sweet, creamy, crunchy, tart, earthy. I had chocolate cake surrounded by toasted hazelnuts and layered with green-tea- and hazelnut-flavored mousse.

As I said, carry plenty of money to MF Buckhead, but you'll end up feeling like it was worth every penny. "Clean plates – my favorite thing to see," our server said as she took away our dessert plates.

"Who could leave any of this food behind?" Wayne asked. "I can't believe how radically my mood has changed."

Here and there

I've mentioned it here before, but if you haven't visited the Standard on Memorial Drive in Grant Park on a Monday night, you're missing one of the city's great bargains – a big plate of Indian-style curry for less than $10. I recently discovered an addictive item on the regular menu, too: honey-drizzled plantains. Eat 'em with your burger or eat 'em with your wings. Whatever, they're like eating dessert along with your entree. ...

Please visit our food blog, OmnivoreATL.com, for lots of commentary you won't find in the paper. We try to look at food in a larger context than just restaurant dining. Check it out and leave a comment.



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