Haru Ichiban 

Falling in love (again) with Duluth Japanese

Falling in love with an old friend is sweeter than new love. You know him better. You trust him. It's like discovering something wonderful that was always there, right in front of you. Falling in love again with an old favorite restaurant is also a beautiful thing. I abandoned Haru Ichiban (3646 Satellite Blvd., Duluth, 770-622-4060, www.haruichibanjapaneserestaurant.com) years ago for what I thought were newer and more exciting Japanese options. Those flings were a good time, but I missed the stability of Haru's unwavering consistency.

The spark reignited simply, with uni nigiri topped with a raw quail egg. The quality of a restaurant's uni speaks volumes about the rest of its seafood. Haru's uni promised great things were to come, melting on the tongue like an oceanic creamsicle.

And great things did follow: Pristine slices of sashimi were soft, with a touch of resistance, and more protein than water. You can order à la carte, but the assortment platter — especially the deluxe — presents a bounty of surprisingly affordable and beautiful seafood. Pay close attention to the specials board near the sushi bar, where one often finds treasures such as a platter of four monstrous oysters from California topped with sliced green onion and minced fresh ginger.

Perhaps it's due to the ramen craze hitting the nation and Atlanta, but Haru's choices have grown, and are damn cheap for the heaping portion you receive. You can "build" your ramen by choosing a broth (e.g., soy-based or tonkotsu) and then your style (topped with pork, seaweed, etc.). I'm addicted to the tonkotsu ramen. The sensation of slurping and chewing the crinkles of egg noodles out of a milky pork and chicken broth tangled with seaweed, tender pork, green onions and julienned bamboo is downright mesmerizing.

Japanese fried chicken arrives on a staggeringly large platter. Bronzed nuggets of chicken have no trace of oiliness, and the marinade imparts slight undertones of soy. The dish comes with a finely shredded cabbage salad, a cold noodle salad dressed in a sesame oil-laden, creamy dressing, and a dollop of mayo for dipping the chicken.

Haru's space is quintessentially Japanese, right down to the clichéd cries of welcome that meet you when you walk in the door. The decor is minimal, but the space always feels like home. A safe and warm place — like true love.


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