Tradition meets transition at Yuzu Sushi.
Just drive down Peachtree Boulevard near Chamblee Tucker and gaze at the spankin’ new developments going up, and it’s easy to see Chamblee as the hippest, most diverse community in recent ITP history. Goths and geeks as well as soccer moms. They’re all here, usually congregating in the produce department at the Whole Foods. Chamblee, as they say, is on the verge.
The earnest, unassuming Yuzu Sushi fits in perfectly. Located on the first floor of The Oliver, the chic, retro-style apartment complex, Yuzu draws crowds of hungry bohemians every night, clamoring for Chef Kenny Kim’s sushi, rolls and inventive Japanese dishes. Known-by-name customers gravitate toward host Anna Kim, his wife, who runs Yuzu with efficiency and grace. Anna transformed the vast, impersonal space into an intimate sushi bar-centric dining room with cozy tables basking in rays of recessed lighting and inviting banquettes cloaked in apple blossom upholstery. Walls of traditional Japanese art with geishas, samurais and landscapes as subjects create an ambience of authenticity.
Menu-wise, a similar ethos prevails. There were moments during my visits when I recalled Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the 2011 documentary about the eponymous sushi master. Like Chef Jiro, Kim exhibits laser focus behind the sushi bar, as if nothing else in the world existed during moments of fresh fish engagement. The flash of his razor-sharp Masamoto knives, the hand and muscle control, the perfectly calibrated slices. In other words, this chef is the real deal.
It’s a mesmerizing show, one that is best accompanied by sake (rice wine). Various grades are on offer (none exceeding $39), and Anna is happy to help you find one to suit your palate and pocketbook. On our first visit, we couldn’t resist the Humpty Dumpty, nigori (cloudy, unfiltered) sake that comes in a petite, egg-shaped bottle. On its own, it’s mild and fruity; with fish; it hints at smoke and earth. Just as good but far less complex was the sparkling Banzai Bunny, essentially a wine cooler—summery and perfumed with citrusy yuzu.
For eats, we chose the mixed sashimi plate, and what arrived is what I call “sushi bar primary colors”: French vanilla (escolar), persimmon (salmon) and aubergine (maguro tuna). The three were firm, sweet, silky and utterly distinct, but the escolar dusted with tongue-popping black tobiko (flying fish roe) was the favorite. A chutoro (tuna belly) sushi was extravagant, but so worth it: twin morsels of lightly marbled tuna belly, pure melt-in-your-mouth richness, set atop bite-sized mounds of seasoned rice. To my delight, Kim’s plating included two dewy petals of chutoro sashimi. The sight evoked a reaction not unlike receiving a Tiffany ring box: complete surprise and a resounding “Yes!”
We moved on to some menu building-block items, dishes with less obvious wow factor but no less impressive and tasty. First up was the steaming tempura udon, a huge bowl of umami-rich vegetable broth, thick slurp-worthy wheat noodles, piles of earthy Asian veggies and two golden fried shrimp tempura. It was enough to fill all of us, but with soup, there needs to be salad, and the baked salmon skin looked especially enticing. Crisp baby lettuce leaves, snappy green beans and tomatoes are the foundation for a mound of charred salmon skin bits, crunchy and rich without being too fishy. It was a satisfying closer to our meal.
Our next visit commenced with an outstanding Japanese ceviche, a variety of raw fish pieces tossed with red onion, cilantro and tomatoes in a house-made ponzu dressing. Follow-up selections were a nod to the Kims’ former beloved restaurant, Sushi Mania, now under new ownership. Over a Yoho Wednesday Cat, a light, fruity Japanese beer, we contemplated the myriad available sushi rolls, how the clever names were derived and who makes the cut. Is it a sort of Chorus Line operation, each roll auditioning for a “role” on the menu? The special spicy rainbow roll and the dragon roll were clear standouts, and both arrived as works of edible art.
The rainbow roll is a nori drum of spicy shrimp and baby asparagus kissed with Yuzu’s hot sauce. Exquisite, but the dragon roll was even better. A lightly fried shrimp and crab roll, topped with avocado and eel sauce, hits all points on the tongue’s taste map—crunchy-savorysweet— and proved utterly addictive. Our final selection was more of a “main course” dish: the crispy salmon plate. Fresh salmon and avocado are rolled and delicately fried like tempura, sliced and topped with a dollop of creamy, decadent red onion sauce.
If sushi-phobic folk happen to be in your group (kids, for example), Yuzu has plenty of options, including superlative versions of chicken teriyaki, gyoza, seaweed salad and the like. There’s something for everyone at Yuzu, and the Kims are committed to quality and consistency— an attractive draw in the midst of an ever-evolving culinary landscape.
5193 Peachtree Blvd., Suite E, Chamblee 30341
Prices: sushi menu: $3.90-$16.50; appetizers and salads: $4-$14.50; sushi special plates: $13.50-$17.80; sushi plates and rolls: $8.50-$16.50; dinner entrees: $13.50-$15.90; desserts: $4-$5.
Recommended: salmon skin salad, mixed sashimi plate, toro sushi plate, udon tempura, dragon roll, special spicy rainbow roll, Japanese ceviche, chicken teriyaki.
Bottom line: Creative and traditional Japanese cuisine, sushi and sashimi offered up by one Atlanta’s most beloved restaurant couples.
PHOTOS: Joann Vitelli
Food, beauty and interiors writer at Simply Buckhead. Linguist, teacher, chef, parent.