Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sushi House Hayakawa - Atlanta

There’s nothing quite like the unifying power of sushi. When the occasion for a trip to Atlanta arises, I know a few things are certain. When traveling between Oxford, Alabama and the Georgia border, I will curse the 55 mph speed limit for 40 miles straight. I’ll consider looking for lunch in Tuscaloosa but keep going to Birmingham or skip lunch and head to Atlanta. Of course, once I arrive there’s the inevitable event of warm greetings that turns into a collection passive aggressive, openly aggressive, and condescending remarks that my sister and I call a civil conversation. Eventually the conversation will steer towards dinner choices and then the floodgates open wide. I stoke the fires and suggest Honey Pig. Jennifer suggests something closer and that is listed with Scoutmob or some other discount coupon and Aaron usually avoids the discussion entirely. All of this brings me back to sushi.

During this last visit to Atlanta, we were in the midst of the usual row over dinner when I suggested Sushi House Hayakawa. As if by magic, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and the sun filled the sky; this suggestion suited everyone. There may not have been a discount coupon, but it really is that hard to turn down the promise of high quality Japanese cuisine.

When it comes to sushi in Atlanta, I’ve tried a decent variety of venues but I generally return to the comfortable favorites, Shoya Izakaya and Nakato. While those are quite good in their own right, sushi is not their sole focus and that's where Sushi House Hayakawa comes into play. If you read through the Atlanta based blogs (here, here, here, and here), there’s a lot of talk about the quality of the product and the skill & creativity of chef & owner Atsushi “Art” Hayakawa. So we arrived at Sushi House Hayakawa with high expectations and empty stomachs.

I don’t pay much attention to the world of Japanese beer, but I was intrigued by the idea of a black Asahi.
Asahi Kuro Nama has a flavor similar to Guinness but I’m not sure it was the best choice for sushi. Despite the darker flavors and incompatibility with sushi, it was a new side of Japanese beers that I’d like to explore.

The first appetizer brought to our table was an order or two of gyoza.
Perfectly pan fried with a simple pork filling, these gyoza were excellent .

Switching to fried seafood, an order of the fried oysters was next.
Thickly coated with a crispy, salty batter, these oysters were juicy at the center and very well fried.
Frankly the side of housemade tartar sauce was unnecessary; the oysters had plenty of flavor on their own.

The last appetizer plate was an order of what can best be described as octopus meatballs.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of these meatballs. The exterior was crunchy and nicely fried but the interior was oddly crumbly. Textural problems aside, these meatballs were full of octopus pieces that were meaty and tender. It was a new way to enjoy octopus and I liked it.

Before we had time to finish our appetizers the first round of sushi hit the table.
One annoying feature about Sushi House Hayakawa is that all the nigiri is one piece per order. While this was a pain, I suppose it’s a necessary evil when your sushi is flown in daily from Japan.

Engawa or halibut was the first fish on the plate.
I wish I knew what this tasted like, but some treacherous tablemate snatched this one away while I wasn’t looking.

At this point, I lost track of which piece of sushi was what.
Judging by my bill, I’m guessing these were fluke and snapper. Either way, they were astoundingly fresh and quite satisfying.

Salmon and sweet shrimp were next on the plate.
The salmon was on par with the rest of the nigiri while the ami ebi (sweet shrimp) was a stellar mix of contrasting textures. The top of the shrimp had the consistency of glistening custard while the bottom was as meaty as could be.

If there was one downside to the meal it was the fact they were out of the highest grade tuna, otoro. Aaron and I decided to console ourselves with a few pieces of chutoro or medium grade tuna.
Blood red fatty tuna belly with just a touch of wasabi pungency, I know it’s unsustainable but it is delicious. As for the uni behind the tuna, I’ve begun to cultivate a taste for this pungent roe. This uni was much milder than others I’ve tried. I don’t know if it will make any uni converts, but this roe was creamy with a flavor that was initially subtle but quickly bloomed into the full pungency of uni.

Although we could have spent the entire meal getting lost in the nigiri section of the menu, it was just too hard to pass up a few rolls.
Soft shell crab, crunchy shrimp and spicy tuna all looked excellent.
Starting with the soft shell crab, I was surprised to find a relatively average roll. The crab was decently fried and I enjoyed the drizzle of sticky, sweet eel sauce, but it wasn’t anything special especially in comparison to the nigiri.
The crunchy shrimp roll lived up to its name. Topped with a sweet shrimp and stuffed with a meaty filling, this was a superb roll.
Topped with what looks like a little dab of sriracha, the spicy tuna roll was the definite standout of the plate. This wasn’t just a roll of mushy tuna and some lazily applied spice mix, each piece was bursting with tuna flavor and a healthy amount of pungency. These are by far some of the best spicy tuna rolls that I’ve ever had.

One highlight of the meal was the chef’s special.
Consisting of striped bass that has been hit with a butane torch and topped with a yuzu sauce, this was meaty, fishy, pungent, and delicious.

When I ordered the lobster box, I was expecting a few pieces of lobster over rice; I wasn’t prepared for the stunning presentation that was brought to our table.
Looking more like a strawberry shortcake than a piece of nigiri, this was lobster topped with pink rice paper and touch of roe. The flavors were balanced and each bite was full of sweet lobster meat, both a visual and taste masterpiece.

At the point in the meal, we finally reached the last plate and it was a doozy.
On the left is two orders of unagi and on the right was a gunkan of freshly grated wasabi topped with a quail egg.
Starting with the eel, I was missing the textural contrast of crispy, burnt edges and creamy meat that I usually find with eel, but the subtle sauce and excellent eel still made for a nice piece of nigiri. As for the wasabi, I’ll admit that I left this for last on purpose. I was hoping I’d be too full and that I wouldn’t have to swallow my words of "I'll try anything", but a little goading from Aaron and Jennifer made sure that wouldn’t happen. Hoping for the best I took a bite and I was amazed to find the quail egg made for a creamy texture that only highlighted the floral and smoky taste of the wasabi. Of course this wasabi flavors were short lived as that first bite quickly developed into a rush of sinus clearing pungency.

Sushi House Hayakawa may have ruined sushi in Atlanta for me. The creativity, the quality of the ingredients, and the personable staff is head and shoulders above the rest. Until I can get a seat at one of the MF omakase meals, I think I have a new gold standard for sushi in Atlanta if not in general. It may have been a long drive to Sushi House Hayakawa, but after that meal, I’d make it any day of the week.

Sushi House Hayakawa Address & Information
5979 Buford Highway NE, Atlanta, GA 30340 // 770.986.0010 // Sushi House Hayakawa Website // Sushi House Hayakawa Menu
Sushi House Hayakawa on Urbanspoon


the sister said...

We do not argue in all of our conversations and I don't always insist on using coupons - I just like to take advantage of discounts when possible. Oh and the first fish was a flounder. There were two different versions and you did have one of them:)

Cynical Cook said...

-semantics and I thought we ordered two versions of flounder but when I was looking at the bill, it said otherwise. Regardless, I was still short a piece of nigiri that I ordered.

Cynical Cook said...
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