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Sushi Mito: New izakaya in town

IzakayaMenu_add_Jun2010There are any number of Japanese restaurants around town that serve what can be called an izakaya menu — i.e., a vast list of small plates made for passing, sharing and washing down with an alcoholic beverage of choice. An izakaya is a kind of pub, and so the menu should reflect the demimonde of drink, or what Japanese call “mizu shobai” — the “water trade.”

But Shoya Izakaya broke out of the pack when it opened in spring 2009 because it was more than just a menu — it was the real deal. A loud, fun, modern-style izakaya zinging with boisterous energy. Plates clatter and pile up on rustic wooden tables. Beer foams up in ceramic cups, sake splashes, and the hapi-coated staff shouts “Irrashaimase!” whenever anyone walks in.

Now that izakayas are starting to have more crossover appeal, more and more Japanese restaurants are taking the plunge and introducing their customers to a style of dining that is, frankly, more popular in Japan than sushi bars. The latest is Sushi Mito, a Norcross spot that unveiled a full-tilt-boogie izakaya menu three months ago. Look for a hundred or more items on the menu (and a full page of seasonal specials), a fantastic selection of sake, cocktails made with shochu and — the biggest surprise of all — an incredibly thoughtful wine list. Dry rieslings, floral Spanish whites, dry roses from around the world, prosecco and white Bordeaux: am I seeing straight? And what about those 99 cent draft Japanese beers? Even if it looks like just another semi-fancy Japanese restaurant in a strip mall, this place clearly understands the water trade.

Here’s another surprise: the kitchen is headed by Seiko Kusaoka and Koji Kakuda — the duo that long-timers will remember from South Buckhead’s Imari, and long-long-timers will place back to Shiki in Duluth. These two guys know their way around traditional Japanese cuisine. Kusaoka-san can even fashion formal kaiseki meals on spectacular serving dishes.

But we came for the izakaya menu, and we loved what we found:

photo 1Nasu pimento ($4.25): Eggplant and peppers stir fried in a sweet, zippy miso-pepper sauce. Absolutely delicious.

photo 2Meatballs ($5.45): Beef and pork, in a sweet soy glaze. Japanese meatballs are typically made with a fair amount of breadcrumbs and can be quite light and soft as a result. These were more firm — not bad but not my favorite.

photo 3Yaki-onigri ($3.75): A well-seasoned, grill crisped rice ball with eggplant pickles on the side. It was memorable, but I think for the price they might throw in a second rice ball.

photo 4Butabara ($3.99): Skewered pork belly, seasoned with only a little salt and pepper. In typical Japanese fashion, it is simply cut thick and grilled. You may find the meat tough and the fat blubbery, or you may appreciate the textural striations.

photo 5Saba shio ($7.50): The best salt-grilled mackerel I’ve eaten in Atlanta. The oily meat pops with juices and the skin crackles. You can pour a little soy on that mound of grated daikon on the right for seasoning. I can’t wait to eat this again.

photo 1Ebi furai ($5.95): Panko-breaded shrimp served with hot mustard and tonkatsu dipping sauce. Super, super crunchy, with shrimp so pressed and manipulated inside that it seems more like dumpling filling.

photo 2“Fatless” chicken skin ($3.99): Scraped of its fat, cut into strips, threaded on skewers, brushed with sauce and cooked to crisp/chewy nothing-like-it-hood. Hellz, yes.

photo 3Gyu tataki ($7.95): Seared beef that comes with a ponzu dipping sauce. That red ball on the right is momiji oroshi — a mixture of pepper paste and daikon that you use to season the ponzu. The meat was both well marbled and well sliced, so each piece was something to savor like good sashimi.

photo 4Ika shoga ($6.50): This ginger squid is one of the three preparations of the large cephalopod. (The others are served with melting butter or plain salt). This was the best I’ve eaten in Atlanta — gorgeously tender with a smoky taste from the grill. That daub of fresh ginger really set off the subtle soy marinade.

photo 5Grilled snow crab ($9.75): I remember enjoying this dish at Imari years ago. Hot to the touch, a bit sticky, slit down the shell for your convenience and served with beautiful metal picks. Really lovely. The price is high, but the portion generous.

photo 1Kyoto cake ($5.00): Green tea sponge with red bean frosting. We devoured this with cups of wonderful (and free) green tea.

This meal was just a small sampling from a huge menu. The good news is that the menu comes with pictures of all the dishes, so you can see what the food will look like. The bad news is that in a couple of places the English translations read “menu description here.” Still, the staff makes newcomers feel welcome and are quick with recommendations.

With sake, shochu, beer and another couple of desserts, the entire bill came to $100. I’d call that a great value for a solid and satisfying meal for 4 people. This restaurant isn’t as much fun as Shoya, but the food is so good I imagine it will go into our regular rotation. I’m already planning my next visit.

9 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajcdinecritic, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Sushi Mito: New izakaya in town http://bit.ly/cySvaI [...]

steph

July 26th, 2010
3:47 pm

I love your “hellz, yes” comment. You’re great!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amanda Lauter, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Really enjoyed the new izakaya menu at Sushi Mito in Norcross. Can't wait to further explore it, and the wine list! http://bit.ly/a3RaIt [...]

Ilovefood

July 27th, 2010
9:01 am

I’m so glad you got a chance to try Sushi Mito JK! We used to go to the same strip mall location when it was Sushi Yoshi and have since “re-discovered” it as Sushi Mito. We consider it a very worthy spot on our rotation. I have to admit the izakaya menu is so large that, for me, it has been a bit too intimidating to chance away from our normal sushi routine but, since you have done such a great job of highlighting specific dishes, I am now salivating at the chance to try it. Might I suggest that, when you go back, try the crab stuffed shitake mushrooms (a carry over from Sushi Yoshi and quite yummmmy) along with the salmon cucumber rolls and some of their sashimi (white tuna and fresh salmon are awesome). They consistently have (very fresh) “melt in your mouth” sushi.

Really?

July 27th, 2010
1:58 pm

Funny that this little Norcross strip mall has two great spots to eat, Pallomilla’s Cuban is a great and now Sushi Mito. I cannot speak for the sports bar, but since it has been 5 different names since I moved to the neighborhood I will assume it is just a sports bar.

Lucy

July 28th, 2010
9:42 am

This place has been open a while back and I’ve given it so many chances. Sadly, I have always been disappointed. Bad memories include many meals with less than fresh ingredients and/or inconsistent flavors. I’ve long since banned them from my rotation but a re-visit may soon be worth it.

John Kessler

July 28th, 2010
10:14 am

Lucy — I wonder if you have been since Kusaoka and Kakuda have come on board. If you do give it another chance, please let me know.

Foodgeek

August 1st, 2010
7:36 am

This place is terrific. It was well worth the drive. I got the salmon special yesterday served with chawanmushi, plus some hamachi kama. I’ll be back soon.

John Kessler

August 1st, 2010
9:40 am

Glad you liked it, Geek.