Restaurant Review - You sexy MF

MF Sushi Bar takes raw to a new level

On the corner of a quickly gentrifying but still slightly sketchy stretch of Ponce, MF Sushi Bar radiates a tawny glow from under its black and white awning. Glancing through the windows on our way in the door, I see the backs of eager customers seated along the sleek sweep of bar, chopsticks in hand. Other folks are waiting for tables off to the side, wearing blank, impatient stares. As I grasp the door handle, I catch the first thumps of the techno beat that will pulsate over our heads for the next two hours.

Welcome to the next evolution of sushi dining in Atlanta.

The restaurant is the brainchild of two brothers, Chris and Alex Kinjo. Chris, whose nickname "Magic Fingers" lends the establishment its name, works with studied absorption in the center of the sushi bar, flanked on either side by two or three other chefs in white. Above their heads is a row of red-lit, beaded light fixtures whose shapes bring to mind Robert Mapplethorpe's "Man in Polyester Suit." Alex, clad in black and sporting blond streaks in his hip, shaggy hair, scans the busy dining room with an aloof expression partially hidden behind dark Gucci glasses.

There's something intrinsically glamorous about sushi. It's beautiful to look at. It feels light but satisfying on the stomach, engendering a sense of health and contentment. It makes diners feel daring and adventuresome. And though our city has its share of sushi bars, some quite good, MF capitalizes on its glamour like no other place in town.

The menu consists almost entirely of sushi and sashimi. That's right — no sweet potato tempura, no miso soup and certainly no chicken teriyaki. They do serve excellent edamame ($5.50), which is brought to the table hot and well salted, but mostly it's raw fish, baby, and lots of it. As a place to learn about more unusual varieties of seafood and savor intriguingly crafted rolls, this is some of the best sushi in the city.

At the beginning of meals here, the server offers an oshibori (hot towel) for hand washing and asks for a beverage order. I suggest starting with sake. Though they serve hot sake, the best kinds are served cold. The staff is well versed in the subtleties of the different varieties and can guide you to some solid, affordable recommendations. One night we try Momokawa Pearl Sake ($12.50 per bottle), a delicious, unfiltered version with a milky texture and a sweet, complex taste. A beer-loving friend is fond of Sapporo ($7.50), served in a shapely, frosty glass.

Sushi enthusiasts typically start with sashimi, the rice-less presentation of delicate, thinly sliced seafood. Though you can order a la carte, the sashimi combination for one ($25) offers three pieces each of nine different varieties and gives the chef the opportunity to pick what's most fresh. When the plate is brought to the table, make sure to ask the server to point out which kind is which so you can remember the ones you most like.

The lesser-known chutoro (toro means "melt") cut of fatty tuna lives up to its name. Its buttery texture and mild taste practically dissolve on the tongue. Ditto the hamachi and kampachi, two gossamer types of yellowtail, the former just slightly more toothsome than the latter. Even the salmon, which seems commonplace next to the more exotic types, is such a revelation of freshness and quality that we end up dividing the last piece into little morsels to share.

I'm not crazy about the almost crispy texture of the giant clam. But hey, part of the fun here is pushing your boundaries to discover new likes and dislikes.

Nigiri sushi and rolls are presented together on lovely, uniquely shaped earthenware. The traditional rolls — California ($5.50), Spider ($9) and Rainbow ($9.50) — are all pristine and a notch above most other places in town, but Kinjo also conjures more remarkable, albeit still restrained, creations. The sumptuous Tony Roll ($10.50), for example, pairs shrimp tempura (aha! something cooked!) with avocado and honest-to-goodness crab, all loosely bound with a judicious use of mayonnaise. An Osaka-style sushi roll ($14.50), on the list of specials one evening, is a different take on the typical format: The "roll," made without nori seaweed, is more rectangular in shape, the rice more compressed, and the claret-colored bluefin tuna laid on top.

There was a ripple through the press recently informing food lovers that most of what is passed off as wasabi on these shores is actually horseradish dyed green. Well, now's your chance to try the real deal. For a $4 surcharge, a server will painstakingly grate the lime-colored root in front of your very eyes. Pungent but smooth, and exceptionally delicious on sashimi, it's worth it.

After concluding the meal with ginger ice cream and chewy, ice cream-filled mochi confections ($3.95 each), we leave the techno beat behind and stroll contentedly down the sidewalk to claim the car. MF's valet service is shared with the Old Spaghetti Factory. It's readily apparent who's coming from which restaurant: Rowdy families in khaki shorts and T-shirts stand in line next to striking, dapperly dressed couples. As we get into the car and drive down Ponce, I notice the "Hot Donuts Now" sign is lit up next door at Krispy Kreme. For once, I feel not a pang of desire. Another time perhaps.