Sunday, July 27, 2008

My New Favorite Atlanta Sushi Joint - Tomo

(I wish I had more pictures, but I didn't start taking them until half way through our meal. I really wish I had taken pics of everything else because the presentations were lovely)

I was dragged to Tomo, I'll admit that. It is in the Vinings, and I am NOT a Vinings girl - perhaps it is a misconception on my part, but it has always seemed very vanilla and nothing special to me. With the exception for a few restaurants, I've always remained inside-the-perimeter and up 85 loyal. When I do venture up I-75 too far, it is usually for a pretty specific reason. Then, I am in and out.

For those who are unfamiliar with this restaurant, it is the restaurant of Tom (short for Tomohiro, I think) Naito who has worked as a sushi chef all over the US, including working under the world famous NoBu Matsuhisa in Las Vegas for three years. Tomo is located in a Kroger shopping center. That's not what I was expecting, but most of the great sushi restaurants in the Atlanta area aren't in the most glamorous of locations. (take Circle Sushi and Tanaka for example) The restaurant was pretty small and nicely decorated. We decided to eat at the sushi bar. At first, we regretted our choice since it was pretty tight in terms of space and I wondered how we would enjoy our meal without elbowing the people next to us in the eye. It ended up being one of the best decisions that night. (eating at the sushi bar...I did not elbow anyone in the eye)

Seated next to me was a man, eating alone and reading a book about Iraq Snipers. He had a very serious look on his face. From time to time he'd tell Chef Naito that he wanted this and that. The chef seemed to know who he was. Either this guy was a friend of the chef or he was a serious foodie...perhaps critic, but if you were a critic, why would you make your presence known? Hmmm... curious.

The menu was an interesting one - very innovative and I wanted to try just about everything. When trying out a new sushi restaurant, we normally make sure to order certain specific items so that we can get an idea of the restaurant overall. We did order some of our standards, but we ended up so enchanted by the innovative menu, that we threw some of our first time visit rules out the door. One thing that I forgot to order was a roll. We generally like to try at least one roll in the line up to get a general idea. In the end, I don't think it was necessary because we were impressed with all the technique and flavor combinations in each dish.

Half way through dinner, we ended up talking to the man with the book. It turns out he is a regular at Tomo and was eating at the restaurant almost every night while his wife was out of town. He knew the whole menu inside and out and was well versed in what fish was currently in season, which nights were best to come, etc. It's always fun to meet fellow foodies! We had already ordered, but after talking to him, we ended up ordering another dish that happened to be in season. (This visitor was clearly an asset to this restaurant--we joked that perhaps Chef Naito should put him on commission) We also learned that Tomo's restaurant has actually been around for a couple years. Somehow it escaped our radar until this week. That's what I love about Atlanta...there's always something new to explore no matter how long you've lived here.

Decor: Nice. Nothing to write home about, but it set a nice tone and had a modern and fresh look with appropriate lighting.

Service: Excellent. The service was professional but still personable and attentive without being obtrusive. If I had to sum up the service in one word it would be - thoughtful. There were a lot of little things they did that made the experience great - eg. a salad came with one of our orders, and the server split it just because she knew we were together. It sounds like a silly thing, but it is the small things that count, right?

One thing that I really noticed was the timing of dinner. Dishes were served with a nice progression and pace. The dishes were served one by one so that you could really appreciate each dish and not get one big hodge podge of stuff at once. You were never rushed and they always asked if they could take a dish away before they did. I could tell that the staff and sushi chefs knew everything that was going on in the restaurant so that they could make this possible and so that food didn't sit before being served. Wonderful..and they were able to do it with such grace.

We also enjoyed seeing how much passion all the servers and chefs had for the food. You could see Chef Naito hard at work and putting great detail into each dish. He is extremely personable and conversing with his customers at the sushi bar. Before speaking to him, I was a bit shy about whipping out my camera to capture his artwork, hence the missing pictures. I finely asked him and he seemed tickled that I enjoyed my meal so much. In fact, his regular customer was eager for me to snap a shot of one of his dishes as well.

Food: The food was amazing. All of the fish was well selected and the technique and knife skills were impressive. I know Soto was considered the great one in Atlanta before his move to New York, but I have to say that I even enjoyed my experience at Tomo more. (Don't get me wrong, I loved Soto) Between the two of us, we split at least 6+ dishes if not more. I can't think of a single thing that we did not like. The only dish that was not as impressive was the Yellowtail Serano Sashimi topped with a pepper slices. It was still good but I've had better. Everything else was a delight. I have to say that my favorite dish of the night was the "Tomo Urchin". It was two beautifully presented fried cylindrical pieces containing urchin. We were instructed to take the spoon to scoop up the bottom salsa-looking concoction and place it on top of the urchin before eating it. I was a bit skeptical about the combination but I was floored by the textures and flavors. I could have easily eaten an entire tray of them, but that wasn't exactly in my budget for the night.

Other dishes we tried: (no order)
  • Tempura Lotus Root: Thumbs up! Perfectly battered, evenly fried, and served at the perfect temperature.
  • Chirashi: When this dish came out, I was already feeling a bit full. We were surprised and impressed to find a generous serving of Chirashi. This is one of the dishes we measure how much we like a new sushi restaurant. Each piece was beautifully selected and cut. The mackerel skin looked as if it had been torched, adding a nice texture. The Tamago was nicely done - maybe my second fav in Atlanta. As a whole, I could not find a single thing wrong with this Chirashi dish.
  • Tomo Urchin - Fantastic! My favorite (see above)
  • Miso Soup & salad - I usually wouldn't comment on this but it was pretty good here. The soup was the first thing they serve everyone. The salad was also light and made with better quality greens than most places
  • Yellowtail Serano Sashimi - see above; My least favorite of the night, but still good.
  • I forgot the name of the dish - but it is a signature dish; Sashimi slices with dabs of urchin on the side. Great flavors and exquisite selection of fish and knife skills.
  • Sock-eye Salmon Tartar served with truffle oil - Beautifully presented and a nice addition to the meal. This was currently in season and suggested to us.
  • Sakes - There is such a nice selection of sakes here. I don't think you can go wrong with any of them. Next time, I'd like to try his sake tasting menu.
All in all, I'll be back. Tomo is hands down my favorite sushi restaurant in the Atlanta area. I still love Circle Sushi and Tanaka, esp for their price points. Sushi House Hayakawa is also another decent one. Tomo, on the other hand, is on an entirely different level. You'll certainly pay more, but it is quite an experience.

In the words of the man with book - "The only sad part of the evening is when you're too full to eat another bite of Tomo's creations"


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