First Look: Chef Jackie Chang does modern Japanese at District M in Sandy Springs

Pitched as a modern Japanese restaurant rooted in traditional omakase service, District M recently opened for lunch and dinner in the new Modera Sandy Springs mixed-use development on Roswell Road.

Chef-owner Jackie Chang, formerly of Umi in Buckhead and O-Ku on the Westside, leads the team of chefs working in the open kitchen and at a sprawling 20-seat sushi bar, touted as the largest in metro Atlanta.

The upscale, minimalist-chic concept is accented with wood and steel, and the design includes a cocktail bar with a window that opens to the patio, a dramatic, dimly lit dining room, and a loft that does double duty as a private dining room and an intimate late-night lounge.

District M downstairs dining area. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

Using premium, seasonal fish flown in daily from Japan, A5 Japanese wagyu beef, uni and other high-end ingredients, and a state-of-the-art Japanese grill for yakitori, the menu ranges from chef-curated omakase and moriawase to contemporary carpaccio, hot and cold appetizers, and charcoal-grilled and sauteed dishes. And, of course, a la carte nigiri, sashimi and specialty rolls round out the offerings.

From bar manager Joshua Kuckuck, collections of Japanese Kavalan, Iwai and Hibiki whiskey, and Hitachino beer on draft, join sake, shochu and more familiar spirits on the beverage menu. And look for signature cocktails, such as the strawberry and basil Sakura Smash and the ginger and yuzu Green Tea Mule.

Last week, general manager Simon Lim joined chef Chang at District M to talk about how they are creating a new kind of sushi restaurant in Sandy Springs.

District M general manager Simon Lim (left) and chef Jackie Chang (right). Photo credit- Mia Yakel

“The main difference we’re trying to bring forth to Atlanta is this open kitchen style,” Lim said. “What you’ll find at most sushi restaurants is that the counter has a bit of a ledge, and you can’t really see what the chefs are creating for you. We’re trying to fuse the open kitchen and the flat sushi bar together so that what you see being prepared is going to be served to you.

“It’s a more inclusive experience. You not only get to see the craftsmanship from chef, because he makes some amazing dishes, but you can see everything that’s going on — from the hot side to the appetizers and everything in between.”

Besides an up-close and personal view of the kitchen, Lim noted that Chang’s style of service is often very hands-on, too.

“Chef also does something a little different, called an edomae-style omakase,” he said. “You’ll find that a lot in Los Angeles, and mainly in Tokyo and New York City, right now. What that incorporates is chef passing a guest individual pieces of nigiri and sushi over the bar so they can eat it as soon as he prepares it. Chef recommends that you eat it within 45 seconds for freshness’ sake.

“But chef loves to interact with his guests. The open kitchen allows him to show the guests a good time, drink a few shots of sake with the guests, and incorporate that humble hospitality feeling.”

For his part, Chang said he is aware of all the changes in the Atlanta dining scene. And he mentioned the fact that Nobu, the most famous of Japanese fusion restaurants, will soon be opening at Phipps Plaza as a reason for staying ahead of the curve.

“I put all my culinary experience and everything I learned into this,” Chang said. “This is the first restaurant of my own, so it’s exciting, but a little scary, too. Especially in Sandy Springs, we are the first kind of fine dining Japanese restaurant, with a lot of modern techniques and French ingredients.

“There’s a lot of contemporary nigiri sushi on the menu, and sashimi, too. And we have three different kinds of omakase. But it’s very exciting to have the open space and be talking with the guests. I’m having fun. And with my staff and my team, we are trying to do something a little different here.”

6125 Roswell Road, Suite 900, Sandy Springs. 678-974-2820, districtmatl.com.

Scroll down for more images from a First Look at District M in Sandy Springs

Tasting of Three Types of Uni with Green Tea Seaweed. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.
A5 Wagyu Ssam with Uni. Photo credit- Mia Yakel
A5 Japanese Wagyu on Stone, served with three types of salt. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.
Chef's Choice Moriawase. Photo credit- Mia Yakel
Chilean Sea Bass with Soy Ginger. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.
Contemporary Nigiri Sushi. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.
Sakura Smash and Green Tea Mule cocktails. Photo credit- Mia Yakel.

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