On a roll: Taka takes off with eccentric sushi
Somebody at Taka has a serious thing for the color blue. From the moment you walk through the door of this sedate yet modish little sushi bar, it is all blue all the time. The walls are painted languid shades of azure and sapphire, sake is served in opaque cerulean decanters and servers all sport cobalt-colored shirts (yes, I had to bust out the thesaurus).
And which waltz by Strauss is that I hear playing overhead? Why, it's "The Blue Danube." Somebody around here also has a sense of humor
Chef/owner Takao (Taka) Moriuchi is the character-in-residence He struck out on his own last year after first working at the brilliant Soto in the Disco Kroger shopping center, and then moving up the street to the achingly trendy BluePointe (there's that color again). His restaurant on Pharr Road, a former Taco Mac, is small but not overcrowded, though the short bar - usually coveted seating for sushi-loving zealots - feels a bit cramped. Go for a table.
Edamame ($3.50) is the first thing I crave when I sit down to eat sushi, and the earthy green pods arrive from this kitchen so satisfyingly steamy I can barely pick them up, though they aren't salted enough for my taste. There's a fine selection of cold sakes, mostly in the $8-$9 range for single servings, and the ultra-attentive servers here are eager to inquire about your tastes and help you make a choice.
Taka takes his appetizer cues from his days at Soto. The list is extensive and the flavors unusual but mostly well balanced, though I find I'm more taken with the sashimi and cold starters than I am with the hot. A citrusy red snapper sashimi salad with lime wasabi dressing ($8.50) is a swift vacation to South Florida. I finish the plate craving more sunshine. Monkfish pate atop thin slices of flounder sashimi ($8.50) are little fusion hors d'oeuvres that work, silken on the palate.
An absence of heavy breading is the secret behind the "best fried calamari" ($8.50). It's odd to see the little ringlets naked, and they're tender and buttery, albeit monotonous after a few bites. There's not much zing to the little fried chunks of popcorn chicken ($7.50). I will admit I can wolf down an order of tempura-style spring rolls filled with snow crab and brie ($5), but that's probably because I'm a sucker for oozing cheese.
Moving further into raw fish territory, the nigiri sushi is traditionally simple and the quality of the fish exemplary. Salmon ($4), unagi ($4), and yellow tail ($5) are some of the best of their kind I've had in Atlanta. O-toro, the often-rare fatty tuna belly ($14), is a crimson, voluptuous treat. I'm not as fond of the pressed sushi choices ($8), shaped into rectangles and cut into pieces. The amount of rice is disproportionate to the thin pieces of eel or smoked salmon draped across the top.Nowhere on the menu does Taka's humor and personality shine through more than in the sushi rolls. Mixed in with the classics - California roll ($5), spicy tuna roll ($6.75) and rainbow roll ($11) among them - are some truly wacky creations, many of them inspired by our fair metropolis.
I had to try the Diet Coke roll - just for the taste of it ($10). Rice is wrapped around eel, cucumber and blessedly ripe avocado, then adorned with red and white tuna to craft a lovely stand-in for the Coca-Cola logo. The Home Depot roll ($8) has salmon, cucumber and avocado with, of course, a blanket of the company's Day-Glo orange (provided by fish roe) blanketing the top.
Then there's the now-infamous Copacabana roll ($10), with a personal dedication to Mr. Barry Manilow next to the roll's description. Wrapped around a summery scallop salad and swathed with a sheer layer of mango, it's so yummy that it has me singing new words to that fossilized disco tune: "His name is Taka, he rolls the sushi ... "
Desserts are an experience. I have to give the kitchen credit for trying to reach beyond just the typical sushi restaurant assortment of plum wine and red bean ice creams, but the selection is ... well ... just darn weird. The universally maligned green tea tiramisu has been evicted from the menu, but the Japanese Neapolitan ($6), flavored with French vanilla, coffee and chocolate-Grand Marnier ice creams, is still around, and it stings the palate with freezer burn. Strange yet compelling is the dense, powdery green tea ice cream over thin wafer cookies paired with dorayaki ($5), a chewy pancake filled with red bean paste. It looks and tastes like a surreal breakfast some character in a David Lynch film might start the day with. Crispy fried bananas with decent vanilla ice cream ($6) hold no exotic surprises.
If you want a peaceful meal in Buckhead early in the evening, this is a lovely place. The crowds don't roll in until 8 p.m. There Taka will be, standing behind the bar in his Kangol hat (next to the framed, autographed headshot of Barry Manilow), humming along to "The Blue Danube." Somebody bring that man a recording of Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue," or, even better, a copy of Joni Mitchell's Blue. I'd love to see what kind of sushi rolls an earful of that album would inspire.
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