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Feedbag - Box lunch

A first taste of Matsuri Japanese Restaurant

The landlords who have contrived to make Midtown Place on Ponce the one-stop shopping destination for intown yuppies have found an ambitious new tenant. Matsuri Japanese Restaurant now occupies the entire second floor of the satellite building that also contains Qdoba Mexican Grill and the Mattress Firm. Its tagline: "Atlanta's Most Authentic Japanese Cuisine."

The vast, wood-paneled dining room is closer in atmosphere to Oceanaire's than RuSan's. A dark-suited maître d' greeted me warmly from a credenza covered with potted orchids. Then, as if out of The Memoirs of a Geisha, a handsome middle-aged woman appeared, clad in a red kimono, to usher me to my table. Another woman, younger and in plain waitress garb, cleared the extra settings from the white tablecloth, placed an array of menus in my hand and offered me water. From my seat I could survey the sushi bar, two separate hibachi grills surrounded by arena seating and, in the distance, a liquor bar. An elegant porcelain soy sauce service bearing the restaurant's logo made for fun tinkering during the brief wait for my order.

Any one of the six bento boxes offered as lunch specials ($9.95-$10.95) would make a good sampling of Matsuri's lengthy menu. They are preceded by both miso soup and a nicely composed house salad. The soup had less seaweed and fewer tofu cubes than I find ideal, but I couldn't quarrel with its soy paste and mushroom flavor and balanced seasoning.

The box itself is a big lunch. The Osaka Bento, in its black lacquered crate, includes a large serving of shrimp and scallop teriyaki; six pieces of yellowtail and tuna sashimi; a thick, caviar-clad shrimp tempura roll; pickled radishes; and honeydew melon. The sashimi was firm and lustrous. The shrimp in the teriyaki had been nicely browned on the hibachi grill, and the batons of zucchini, onion and carrot revealed their flavor through a light, noncloying sauce. The jasmine rice was perfectly cooked. Only the shrimp tempura roll — a soggy, muddy mélange that came with the protruding shrimp tails intact — disappointed.

I'm eager to return for dinner here, when the hibachi grills are running and the sushi chefs are working at a theatrical pace. But I worry that the price point Matsuri has chosen may scare away Midtown customers looking for a Japanese supper. The entree-size teriyakis, Don & Noodles and Special Katsus range from $14.75 to $32.50. The à la carte Special Rolls start at $11.75. For diners in this league, there is plenty of interest at Matsuri, and they won't find the luxury of surroundings or service wanting.

chuck.oboyle@creativeloafing.com

BIRTHDAY OPA!

Kyma celebrates its fourth anniversary Wed., Jan. 18, with a fete that will include Greek cuisine, wines, and dancing all evening. Executive chef Pano I. Karatassos will collaborate with his colleagues from other top Buckhead Life restaurants to prepare a celebratory multicourse meal. The anniversary menu is $65 per person, with wine pairings for an additional $20. Live entertainment will begin at 7 p.m. Reservations are recommended. 3085 Piedmont Road. 404-262-0702. www.buckheadrestaurants.com/kyma.

HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU, KID

Every first Wednesday of the month, Imperial Fez hosts a monthly sampling of Moroccan appetizers and a wine tasting. The next "Taste of Morocco" is Wed., Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. Cost is $28 per person. 2285 Peachtree Road. 404-351-0870. www.imperialfez.com.

OFF THE MENU

Pura Vida offers themed "Mesa Latina" dinners, held monthly. Chef Hector Santiago prepares a special menu that focuses on a different theme for each dinner, including "Culinary Meccas of Spain," "Techniques from WD-50" (a restaurant in New York City), "Tapas Culture of Spain," and more. Each dinner has a pre-set menu, with a wine pairing available. 656 N. Highland Ave. 404-870-9797. www.puravidatapas.com.

Tapas in L5P

The folks behind Front Page News have just opened Sabroso, a tapas bar, in Little Five Points. The menu consists of small plates inspired by Italian, Mediterranean, Asian and Latin cuisines, including plenty of vegetarian options. 353 Moreland Ave. 404-475-8888.





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