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Behind the Review: Bishoku

 Portrait of Jackie Fukuya-Merkel, owner, with Yuuki Kurimaru, head chef. (Hyosub Shin)

Portrait of Jackie Fukuya-Merkel, owner, with Yuuki Kurimaru, head chef. (Hyosub Shin)

How does a restaurant reviewer write about being a regular?

I had long been eager to share some impressions of Bishoku with readers who may have noticed this place and figured it for another strip-mall sushi joint. As some of you who have read me for a while know, Japanese food is a subject near to my heart.

For this week’s review I visited the restaurant twice — once at lunch and once at dinner — to stay consistent with my policy of basing the star rating solely on the merits of review visits. As much as I liked the true-tasting Japanese comfort food and the calming environment, the salient merit of this restaurant is how well the staff is attuned to regulars and repeat customers — including me.

Generally, newspaper restaurant critics try to write from the perspective of an average Joe: we want to tell readers who walk into the restaurant from the first time what they can expect. This, usually, is the contract between critic and reader.

But in order to convey the special spirit of this place, I decided to write from the perspective of a regular. I spent most of both visits watching the room and observing how owner Jackie Fukuya-Merkel and her staff spoke with diners. From the looks of it, at least two thirds of the customers on both visits were regulars. When I interviewed Fukuya-Merkel, she told me that she keeps dossiers on all her repeat customers that note their food and service preferences. The food is very good here, but this restaurant is more about hospitality, and that’s the message I wanted folks to take from the review.

Here are a few more points I couldn’t shoehorn into the review:

  • Those desserts: The freebie dessert at the end of each meal is no afterthought. You might get a snowy mound of yuzu (citron) granita, or an incredibly good square of chef Kurimaru’s homemade yokan (sweetened bean jelly). Trust me: you want sweetened bean jelly.
  • 美食: The name Bishoku combines the characters for “beautiful” and “food.”
  • To start: As at another great Japanese restaurant, Sushi House Hayakawa, meals here usually begin with a gift from the chef — usually a three-compartment tray. Count on interesting nibbles such as marinated chicken livers and nambanzuke (fish that has been fried, then vinegar marinated like escabeche). I got my 12-year-old to eat a chicken liver. She liked it!
  • Bishoku doesn’t have a huge selection of spirits, but it keeps a few options for Japanese beer, sake and shochu on hand. If you like sake, I highly recommend starting with a bottle of Kukusui Daiginjo ($34.35) to share. The sake has that nice, surprising contrast of mellow, tongue-coating body and bright citrus sweetness. It’s such a good first sip of alcohol in the evening. Bishoku also has some great sake decanters on hand, including a ceramic fish that pours through its mouth.

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[...] admin wrote an interesting post today Here’s a quick excerpt AJC metro Atlanta dining critic John Kessler reviews Bishoku for his Food and More blog. [...]


September 24th, 2010
3:40 pm

The food rocks. Nuff said.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajcdinecritic and Nicole Williams, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Behind the Review: Bishoku [...]