Jason Liang, former One Sushi Plus executive chef and Craft Izakaya sushi chef, opened Brush Sushi Izakaya in Decatur in April 2016. Since then, Brush has become a fixture of the dining scene around the square, and Liang has become a star for his deft ways with omakase.
But Momonoki, the new casual counter service spot from Liang and business partner John Chen, is something different. For one thing, it’s located far from Decatur, in the Modera by Mill Creek development in Midtown.
And though there are hints of sushi and izakaya items exported from Brush on the menu, the featured dish is two types of tsukemen dipping ramen, along with several other styles of ramen, donburi rice bowls, katsu sando Japanese cutlet sandwiches, and a variety of salads and small plates.
The two-story build-out at the corner of Eighth and Williams streets overlooks the ever-busy Downtown Connector, with views from covered patios and upstairs and downstairs seating areas surrounded by glass panels.
At the entrance, sister spot Momo Cafe serves coffee from Stumptown Roasters, Japanese-inspired drinks, and desserts and baked goods made in-house by Liang’s wife, pastry chef ChingYao Wang. The liquor license is still pending, but expect a full bar soon with cocktails, sake, wine and local and Japanese beers.
Last week, Liang took some time out to talk about the transition to Midtown, and introducing the pleasures of tsukemen to unsuspecting Atlantans.
“Brush is up and running now, and we decided it was time to do something for everyone,” Liang said. “Brush is a little higher end. But we still see young professionals and even college kids come in, and they order ramen and rice bowls and more approachable things.
“That gave us the idea to plan a space around Midtown. This is exactly what we wanted, a place where we can open and go seven days a week nonstop. And when I saw this space, I said I want a coffee shop at the corner. And we’re able to utilize the patio space to double our seating.”
As to the name, Liang explained, it simply means peach tree.
“Momo is peach. Noki is tree, like wood or tree in Japanese,” he said. “I drew the logo on the back of a receipt with a tree and the symbol for wood inside a peach. We worked with our contractor to design the space with the look that we like. We wanted modern and rustic with warm wood and bare concrete.”
But if the look is nontraditional, Liang said the food is just the opposite.
“The food is definitely authentic, especially the ramen part,” he said. “We wanted to bring tsukemen to the city. It’s the dipping ramen, with the broth that’s heavier and saltier. So you don’t dump the broth in the bowl. You dip the ramen in the broth.
“The noodles and toppings are room temperature, and the broth is hot. The ramen is from Sun Noodle. But I had to reach out to them back and forth to get what I wanted. It’s a thicker noodle with a texture with a lot more bite to it than normal ramen noodles. And broth sticks to it.”
Like anything new, Liang said there’s been a bit of a learning curve when it comes to teaching diners how to eat tsukemen.
“We saw a lot of people just pouring the broth into the bowl,” he said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Why did you do that?’ But we have our cashier and food runners explain the way you should eat tsukemen.
Another menu item that is special to Liang, katsu sando, is much easier to understand.
“Everyone likes sandwiches,” he said. “I love good fried chicken and shrimp sandwiches so much that I wanted to make my own version. Because it’s simple, every element is important. Quality Japanese milk bread, house-made three-hour katsu sauce, fresh thinly sliced cabbage, and Japanese mayo.
“We have a few options to choose from, including chicken, filet mignon, shrimp, avocado, shiitake and A5 Miyazaki wagyu. And three sides to choose from, lotus root chips, Japanese potato salad, and ponzu salad.”
95 8th St. NW Ste 100, Atlanta. 404-390-3025, momonokiatl.com/
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