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Umi: swank new sushi bar in Buckhead

Umi: All photos by Becky Stein

Umi: All photos by Becky Stein

The occasional visitor to MF Sushibar or MF Buckhead — those great-but-now-gone Japanese restaurants — would surely remember owner and head chef Chris Kinjo. Slender and intent, he worked with laser focus, hunched over the fine ceramic dishes on which he created edible art.

AJC Chief Dining Critic John Kessler writes about all cuisines.

AJC Chief Dining Critic John Kessler writes about all cuisines.

Regular MF customers also will recall with equal fondness the man who was at Kinjo’s side, Fuyuhiko Ito. In many ways he was the opposite of Kinjo with his stocky fighter’s build, round face and easygoing manner. He handed pieces of nigiri sushi across the counter with a quick smile. He liked to chat — about the fish behind the display case, but also about his home in Japan and his motorcycle excursions in North Georgia. When he fell in love with and married Lisa — the smart, pretty pastry chef at MF Buckhead — everyone in front of the sushi bar and behind it cheered them on.

Now the Kinjo family has decamped to Texas (where their resurgent MF Sushi Houston is getting rave reviews). But all is not lost for Atlanta. Two of chef Ito’s biggest fans have made him a partner at Umi, a stunning new spot in the heart of Buckhead.

Owners Farshid Arshid and Charlie Hendon, working with Atlanta artist Todd Murphy, have lavished attention on the design of this intimate space. Distressed white oak flooring offsets the glossy coal blackness of charred cypress walls. Sepia-toned Japanese photos have been blown up to dominate the walls, and their stern, ghostly subjects gaze down with creepy cool. On the table you will find elegantly tapered disposable chopsticks of a quality you’ve never seen and a pearl grey porcelain tea cup that is a joy to cup in your palm.

130620kessler0628These trappings might register as icy minimalism were it not for Fuyuhiko and Lisa Ito breathing their warmth and personality into the room. Together they execute a tightly edited menu. She prepares a dozen or more kitchen dishes as well as dessert; he runs the tradition-minded sushi bar.

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17 comments Add your comment

ATL Born and Raised

June 27th, 2013
2:43 pm

We had a horrible experience at UMI and I will probably never go back there. We had an 8:15 reservation and weren’t sat until after nine! We should have just left and went somewhere else, but it was a Saturday night in Buckhead and you can’t just walk in and get a table at any of the nicer restaurants around the neighborhood during prime hours like that. The managers were apologetic and did bring us free drinks and appetizers while we waited. When we were finally sat the service was better and the food was good. But it took forever for plates to come out. We didn’t leave until after eleven. It shouldn’t be a 3+ hour experience to get dinner at a sushi restaurant, upscale or no. It was just a huge turnoff. Won’t be back.

jimmy

June 27th, 2013
2:55 pm

Service was slow on a busy weekend night after a first time restauranteur just opened his new restaurant? Weird.

Dave

June 27th, 2013
3:15 pm

Nice ad for the actual article behind the wall.

MANGLER

June 27th, 2013
3:55 pm

Born,
You should have checked your attitude at the door along with your coats. Opening weekend. Stuff happens. Go back on a Tuesday night and compare. You said the food and service was good, and management tried to appease you with free drink and food. I’m sure your party was extremely understanding and appreciative and not standing around complaining constantly and raising your voices because you are entitled to immediate satisfaction. Did you go hover over the diners and ask them why they were still sitting at the tables?

Sheila

June 27th, 2013
6:41 pm

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see what you had to say when you thought the restaurant was a worthy establishment in your eyes. Paula Deen is a poor representation of the South – all that fat, all that sugar. Your review of this place was lyrical. I think that you, and others who have criticized her, and practically salivated at her troubles are food snobs. Cradle away with that pearl gray cup and think about the many families who use food to connect to their past and their families, and possibly widen their horizons without dropping a hundred dollars at one of your acceptable venues.

ATL Born and Raised

June 28th, 2013
9:12 am

@Mangler Yeah, except we didn’t go opening weekend. That restaurant has been open for months. Those kinks should be worked out by now. Don’t assume you know how we acted. We waited patiently in the lobby and were polite to the management for being so apologetic. But a 45+ min wait for a table we had reservations for is absurd. And then another 2+ hours for dinner is ridiculous. I assure you if that happened to you you would feel the same way.

ATL Born and Raised

June 28th, 2013
9:13 am

Think my last comment got eaten….

We didn’t go opening weekend. That place has been open for months. Those kinds of kinks should be worked out by now.

ATL Born and Raised

June 28th, 2013
9:22 am

@jimmy If you read the article…not a first time restauranteur. One of the operating partners is an MF alum. They have experience with busy Buckhead dining. If I’m going to drop beaucoup dollars on a meal (and trust me, this place isn’t cheap) I expect certain things from my experience. I’m sure you all do as well.

@Mangler Not that you know what attitudes we were exhibiting, but we were very patient despite our 45+ min wait for a table we had reservations for. I would imagine other diners were sitting at their tables wondering where their food was since it took 2+ hours to get all of ours. Another issue would be their hostesses sitting people out of turn. They mistakenly sat a 5 top ahead of us, extending our wait even more. Hence the drinks and appetizers…

Lower back

June 28th, 2013
9:23 am

stan

June 28th, 2013
1:08 pm

so did any of the investors get their money back from the Kinjo Brothers. Didnt they blow through a few 100k…. literally up there nose?

Chase

June 28th, 2013
1:44 pm

I am so glad we now have a restaurant such as Umi in Buckhead, which has had a gaping hole for great sushi since the close of MF. For the record, they have only been open about a month (I remember seeing the pic in the paper of Elton John at their opening party). I’ve eaten there pretty much weekly, so 4 times total (2 weekend nights, 2 weekday evening). Yes, the service is slower on the weekends, but that’s the case with any high calibre restaurant in Buckhead. And, on a Saturday night, I don’t want an expeditious meal anyway. I want to make a night out of it and enjoy my outing…and I’m probably not alone in that mindset, hence why the tables take so long to turn over. Another reason is also the amazing food, we order it in rounds because we always want more. The best sushi in Atlanta, period. And the desserts are incredible too…I don’t even like green tea, but the souffle is amazing. Love this place!

berry steve

June 29th, 2013
8:06 am

Publix has good sushi, no waiting!

[...] Umi: swank new sushi bar in Buckhead [...]

The Real Foodie

June 29th, 2013
2:43 pm

Another bait and switch review. Meh!

rebelliousrose

July 1st, 2013
7:37 am

Umi opened AFTER King and Duke did. It’s less than a month old.