Just about a year after opening MF Buckhead, owner/chef Chris Kinjo opened his upstairs omakase room — an 8-seat sushi bar where he prepares a special menu of his choosing. (”Omakase” is the term guests in Japanese restaurants use to signal they’ll leave the dinner in the chef’s hands.) Until now, he has steadfastly refused to let customers peek inside, opting instead to build the mystery.
The menu features the best, most exotic and most seasonal kinds of fish Kinjo’s buyers can score at the the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.
The price for such indulgence doesn’t come cheap. Kinjo says the meals (which, for now, he prepares every Thursday) will cost between $200 and $350. You can read my story about it here.
My wife and I scored two seats at one of the first such dinners. Our bill for two, with one extremely nice bottle of daiginjo sake, was over $600. But it was a meal we’ll never forget: 18 courses plus dessert, 4 hours, a roomful of people who became fast friends. There were more than a few transcendental taste moments, as well as a couple of “We’re eating WHAT?” moments.
We documented it as best we could with our iPhones. So please forgive the grainy and sometimes blurry images. (They get blurrier, the deeper we get into that bottle of sake.)
We settled into Italian white leather chairs, from which we had a nice view over the dining room downstairs. By about the third time I made the geek joke about being on the bridge of the Enterprise that my wife told me to shut up.
Pastry chef Lisa Matsuoka (left) was enlisted to serve.
After a champagne toast, Kinjo presented us with the guest of honor — a wild madai snapper that he filleted as we sat there. Half of the fish would be served as sashimi, half steamed and served later in the meal.
As Kinjo worked the snapper, his co-chef Fuyuhiko Ito brought this seasonal delicacy — a nabe (hot pot) with clear noodles, chrysanthemum leaves and marshmallowy mounds of shirako, or cod milt, or cod sperm. (Why am I thinking of Stifler from the “American Pie” movies?) The Japanese love and know where to find creamy sea foods; shirako is milder than uni (sea urchin) and without the metallic edge of monkfish liver, but somewhat akin in the way it melts and coats the tongue. On the left is a ponzu dipping sauce.
More sashimi comes next. These are meaty slices of ainame — a Japanese grouper — fanned around a red radish cut like a sea anemone (or maybe a pompom) and brightened with the finely grated yuzu (Japanese citron) zest. You can’t really see it, but these are funky footed bowls.
Here we have kawahagi (thread-sail filefish), served in kimojoyu, a sauce made by blending its own liver with soy sauce and seasonings. This was a more pungent fish, so the liver sauce really stood up to the flavor.
Now we move on to sushi. The slow increments in heft, flavor and complexity of each of the preceding dishes has the effect of making us all very hungry, so some rice is looking good right now. This is a fish Kinjo call “mekki aji.” He says it has shiny green skin. I can taste the sharp oily flavor I associate with shiny-skinned fish.
Ok, this picture could be something from a medical textbook for all you know. But it’s not. It’s sumiika — a fantastic fresh squid that was scored with a knife, charred on the grill and topped with a fresh sansho leaf. Sansho berries are ground into a tongue-tingling condiment (related to Sichuan peppercorns) often served with eel. The fresh leaves have a little of that dusky spice.
This bad boy is a fresh abalone that cost $400 a pound. We each got three slices. Raw abalone is quite chewy — a little like eating surf clam and a little like eating the skin off a bongo drum. But it’s an appealing chewiness (your teeth always vanquish), and the flavor is inimitable. It’s kind of like clam, kind of like scallops, but with a sweetness wholly its own. It’s a flavor that goes right to the memory banks.
These are “octopus caves.” Inside lurks a small, whole octopus whose “head” is filled with roe that pops in the mouth. There’s also a whole fried sawagani river crab that you keee-runch right down to its pincers. Do you want to see inside?
It’s a treat to see this flawlessly fresh fish presented two different ways.
Braised lotus root stuffed with lobster mousse. It’s excellent, but I’m starting to hit the food wall. One member of the dining party who woke up at 5 a.m. has quietly nodded off. Another is on her way.
But what’s a food wall when you have something this refreshing? Clean-edged tiles of tuna — not fatty toro but just plain tuna — topped with a chunky moromi miso, a variety of miso used as a condiment. It’s so bright on the tongue, salty and sweet, and the tuna is of a quality you don’t often find in sushi bars anymore. It almost makes me sad, this sudden memory of primo tuna. Maybe that’s the sake talking.
This is a homemade explosive device. Okay, it’s a stalk of braised burdock root wrapped with anago (sea eel). The fish is rich with that texture that makes your teeth stick together, and the burdock has a deep crunch and artichoke heart flavor.
Can we eat any more? No, and yes. And omigod. Seared Japanese wagyu beef (so rich it looks like pink marble when raw) topped with caviar in an uni-miso sauce and white asparagus. It sounds like a pile up of animals that don’t belong in the same zoo, but the flavors are convincing. I think beef this rich goes with any delicious garnish.
Now, the methadone starts. This is chawan mushi — a light egg custard soup plumbed with bits of chicken, shrimp and uni. The clean flavor of the dashi broth, Kinjo says, comes from quality dried skipjack tuna and soft water. This course comes as a balm.