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A crunch lobster box

Pure & Simple

by Beth Weitzman | Photography by Sara Hanna | The Atlantan magazine | August 27, 2013

Walk into Umi on any given night, and you’re sure to feel at home. To your left may be resto regulars like Joel Katz, Chris Carlos, Paul Freeman, as well as Matt and Sara Ryan. To your right, any number of Hollywood A-listers who happen to be in town—think Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins, along with Atlanta’s own Sir Elton John, Dallas Austin and far too many others to list. While amid ATL’s finest, be prepared to indulge in a level of the Japanese culinary art form that is not easily found in the city. 

When chef Fuyuhiko Ito’s former digs, MF Buckhead, closed in 2012, patrons were left with an uncanny craving for his cuisine. Now, back in the saddle and helming the exquisite kitchen at Umi—located adjacent to The St. Regis Atlanta and across from Chops Lobster Bar—Ito, along with co-owners and longtime Atlantans Farshid Arshid and Charlie Hendon, are dishing up exactly what Atlantans have been craving, and then some.

Arshid and Hendon’s personal approach to dining is evident from the moment you walk into the intimate space. What was Arshid’s inspiration for opening Umi? “One was meeting chef Ito and dining with him and, second, to bring a new level of style and excellence to Atlanta,” he says. “It was somewhat self-serving in that way, actually. We, too, missed MF and wanted a place to go.”

In that vein, the impetus for Umi was born, and one year later, the doors opened. “The idea in defining the space conceptually centered on alchemy,” says local designer and artist Todd Murphy, who worked very closely with Arshid on the design vision. Goodrowe Hobby also consulted on the project. “Sushi is pure, clean food with simple, thoughtful and minimal intervention, and the materials in the restaurant reflect this philosophy. There is no color palette and a minimal paint profile—all of the materials are simply themselves and have their own unique qualities.” 

Oversize vintage photos of Japanese natives on the walls were also an organic touch. They were found in a 1920s-era camera that Murphy discovered at a flea market in New York City. He couldn’t believe the serendipity when the negatives that had been there all these decades turned out to be the perfect artistic accent to his latest project. The photos were developed, blown up and placed sparingly around the room. 

The subtly elegant interior welcomes guests with unique floor-to-ceiling black-washed burnt wood panels, polished light wood furniture and moss-green banquettes. Orb chandeliers, sculptural chairs and the thoughtful addition of shiny river rocks (to rest your chopsticks on) are all part of the restaurant’s inventive design.

And, as smart as all that is, the cuisine is by far the star. Fans of Ito will be excited to find some MF faves (remember baked lobster tempura?), as well as his interpretation of a couple of Nobu classics (beloved black cod miso) on the hot dish lineup. “The menu is inspired by my years of experience as a chef and lover of world cuisine.

I was trained as a French chef, then learned Japanese cuisine [later],” says Ito. Even with all his classical leanings, Ito isn’t afraid to work some modern culinary techniques into his fare. A bevy of original, innovative dishes have made it into the mix such as the Wagyu toban yaki and Chilean sea bass yuan-yaki, the latter of which is marinated in a yuan sauce, and then the paper wrapper it comes in is set on fire for a smoky flavor and presentation that’s full of pageantry. 

Backing up to the starters, the delicate monkfish liver pâté over daikon sprouts with ponzu sauce, Japanese red snapper carpaccio and grilled shishito peppers are standouts. A nice selection of authentic soups and salads are on offer to follow—the seaweed and cucumber salad with amazu topping the list. 

Moving on to the next course, choose from the collection of hot dishes (including chicken teriyaki, a nice option for non-seafood eaters) or the nigiri lineup—one of the purest I’ve experienced—or a plethora of delicious and memorable rolls. For nigiri, fresh options such as the mirugai (geoduck), amaebi (sweet raw shrimp), kinmedai (red snapper) and others are flown in from Tokyo fish markets five days a week and are put in the deftest of hands and cradled on the highest-quality rice. 

While traditional roll favorites such as spicy tuna, shrimp tempura and rainbow rolls are all available, it’s the unique ones that will have you coming back time after time. The box rolls are simply to die for, and one of my favorite dishes on the menu. Pressed into rectangular boxes, the spicy tuna version features spicy tuna as its core, topped with salmon, tuna, masago and hot sauce—a true melt-in-your-mouth experience. Other options for this decadent culinary journey are the crunch lobster box with lobster salad, rice crisp and onion opped with tobiko; eel box with eel avocado and eel sauce; and otoro box with otoro (blue fin tuna) and green union. 

Other speciality rolls that wow include the new page roll with shrimp tempura on the inside, topped with paper-thin sliced lemon and fresh salmon eel sauce on the outside; and the Kobe beef roll with 2 ounces of sliced slightly cooked Kobe beef, daikon sprouts and green onion. Aburi sushi, which is all the rage in Japan—the fish is slightly caramelized on an infrared grill for a flavor profile that’s more complex than raw sushi—is also a must. 

Take care to save room for a green-tea souffle dessert. A unique creation from Umi’s pastry chef (and Fuyuhiko’s wife) Lisa, only 10 of these piping-hot treats are served up per night. Surprisingly, its feather-light consistency remains intact, even after a pitcher of orange au glaise creme is poured over the top. Like the rest of the evening’s experience, it inspires wonder at every bite.

3050 Peachtree Road NW

Hours: Mon.-Thu., 5:30-10:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-11:30pm

Menu: appetizers, $5-$25; entrees, $19-$56; sushi rolls, $7-$36; desserts, $9-$12

Parking Plans
Valet at Chops Lobster Bar next to The St. Regis Atlanta, the restaurant will validate. 

Dress Code
While casual attire is acceptable here, you’ll want to dress to impress as you never know who may be sitting at the table next to you. 

Made to Order
Put yourself in chef Ito’s hands. Ito-kase is a hand-selected and coursed meal done at the chef’s discretion—available at the sushi bar. 

Why Go? 

The quality of the cuisine, scene, vibe and local hospitality.