First Look: MF Sushi

Courtesy of Brad Kaplan
Creative Loafing Atlanta - July 2015

On the timeline of Atlanta sushi greats, MF Sushi was once the champ. Brothers Chris and Alex Kinjo first opened an intimate spot on Ponce de Leon Avenue in 2002, adding MF Buckhead — an ambitious sushi wonderland where the bill to experience chef Chris "Magic Fingers" Kinjo's edible art in the private omakase room ran $350 per person — in 2007. MF Buckhead was a sushi temple built for good times, ultimately mired by an economic bust that bankrupted the MF empire in 2011. The Kinjo brothers decamped to Houston, where they had family, to start from scratch. Meanwhile, Tomo, which opened in Buckhead that same year in similarly fancy digs, cemented its place in the city's sushi pantheon. In 2013, former MF executive chef Fuyuhiko Ito reappeared at new, glitzy Umi, proving the city's expanding appetite for upscale Japanese.

Now, after years of regrouping and scouting, MF Sushi has returned. For their newest location, the Kinjo brothers set up shop along the increasingly foodie-friendly Beltline in the Inman Quarter development. The location is a bit awkward, down a side street, surrounded by apartments, but once you've walked through the black-as-coal charred wood exterior, concerns from the outside world fade away. Just like old times, you'll be greeted by the dapper visage of uber-stylish owner/manager Alex Kinjo, confirming that yes, MF is back, with its former panache and exquisite nigiri menu fully intact. Despite the return to form, however, MF still has work to do on the service side of things if it hopes to match crosstown rivals like Umi and Tomo.

Inside, the new MF feels intimate and elegant. Despite having the acoustics and audio track of a W Hotel lobby — boom, boom, boom — the intermingling of orange and gold floral print fabrics, warm wood surfaces, and shimmering metallic chandeliers sets a serene scene. Behind the sushi bar, which runs the length of the narrow main room, half a dozen chefs slice immaculate fish and shape flawless grains of rice in studious silence.

Since it was finally issued a liquor license in mid-July, the restaurant has added a nice selection of sake, as well as wine, beer, and cocktails to its repertoire. The extensive food menu includes many of MF's signature nigiri offerings, and covers all the categories you'd expect at an upscale sushi joint. There are seafood-centric salads, cooked and raw starters, rolls, robata-grilled vegetables, and mains like miso black cod.

The hamachi nigiri comes simply presented: two torch-kissed slices of yellowtail over perfectly formed beds of rice, topped with thinly sliced lemon and drizzled with truffle soy sauce. MF trots out the truffle soy like it's going out of style, which, indeed, it did, about a decade ago. But damn that stuff is good. The chefs manage to keep its umami power in check, using it as a delicate accent in dishes like MF's heavenly spicy tuna avocado balls topped with truffle soy mousse.
The cooked appetizers are less elegant-looking than the nigiri. Both the steamed green mussels and the lobster tempura are, for example, topped with the same messy mélange of Japanese mayo, eel sauce, masago, and scallions. These are built for sensory overload, and offer some welcome drama and contrast to MF's more pristine, sashimi-centric dishes. I suggest alternating between raw and cooked courses during a meal here.

Other dishes worth seeking out: the barely seared and pleasantly smoky A5 wagyu beef that literally melts in your mouth, the toro Osaka box style roll, and the robata-grilled miso eggplant served over smoking coals.

A warning that may not need stating: MF, like all of the city's top sushi joints, is expensive. Given the quality of ingredients and the degree of skill to which they are prepared, expect to spend $100-plus per couple. And be sure to ask for prices on any specials. We enjoyed a lovely little plate of four small slices of kinmedai sashimi — a type of sea bream with gorgeous, blood orange-colored skin — but did not enjoy discovering the $32 price tag when the bill came.

It's early yet, but the restaurant's major flaw lies in the overall service experience. Despite Alex's presence walking the dining room and even bussing tables, the service felt out of synch with the elegant ambiance and excellent food. On one visit, we sat waiting more than half an hour between courses while nearby tables received dish after dish. Another time we experienced the opposite, receiving a pileup of plates that prevented us from enjoying the dishes to the fullest.

MF Sushi delivers near perfection on the plate (the overly sweet and sticky apricot sauce dousing our yuzu milk chocolate mousse dessert, notwithstanding). Like its peers Tomo and Umi, MF successfully and skillfully delivers plates of pristine purity alongside dishes of exuberant overload. I just hope the Kinjo brothers can find a way to make sure the entire experience measures up to the elegant setting and stellar nigiri.

Inman Quarter