The Kinjo brothers are back.
Maybe you remember MF Buckhead, the glamorous, 8,000-square-foot restaurant that Chris and Alex Kinjo opened in Buckhead’s Terminus Atlanta tower? It was a wildly expensive, ostentatious temple of smoked glass, white leather and raw fish.
In other words, it was just the kind of place that could not survive the Great Recession. Not long after the housing market tanked and your retirement plan disappeared, the Kinjo brothers lost everything to bankruptcy. They left Atlanta and regrouped in Houston to revive the MF Sushi brand. It looked like our city would never see them again.
During that time, this paper’s former dining critic, John Kessler, kept in touch with the brothers and eventually chronicled their return to grace (and Atlanta) in a long story published earlier this year in these pages. It is the story of a brilliant sushi chef, Chris, and his brother, Alex, whose stability and business mind help channel Chris’ talents to greatness. There are too many reversals of fortune, hidden histories and family secrets to repeat here. You certainly should read it, if you haven’t yet.
But, enough about the past, let’s talk about today.
The new Inman Quarter location is a touch chastened in comparison with that behemoth in Buckhead. The footprint is much smaller and the design is more understated, but not by much. This is still a lovely, glittering room of charred wood and glossy surfaces. You can still spend an enormous amount of money here.
On one of the first days that MF Sushi reopened, and one the last days before Kessler left Atlanta, we ate omakase prepared by Chris Kinjo. Omakase is the purest expression of sushi, a chef’s choice of dishes, often delivered one piece of nigiri or plate of sashimi at a time.
So, how was it? It was incredible, of course. Chris is a self-taught master, a chef who is pushing the boundaries of flavor that can be contained in a single bite of nigiri. Having mastered the precise minutiae of knife-work and traditional techniques, he forged beyond that. Oh, and he knew who he was performing for.
It was a meal of masterful pacing, starting off with little simple nibbles of lotus root and seaweed salad and building toward stunning, show-stopping bites of nigiri.
Chris painted kampachi with yuzu zest and studded it with rock salt. It almost knocked me off my seat. A bite of o-toro was topped with a wildly indulgent combination of caviar, truffle-infused soy and a tiny slice of Serrano pepper. I had to close my eyes in ecstasy. Then a piece of unctuous A5 Kobe beef came out, sliced, scored and seared with a blowtorch like steakhouse nigiri. The result was as meltingly tender as the o-toro.
It went on and on like this for who knows how long. I didn’t just lose count of the dishes, I lost count of how many were truly incredible. Neither of us had any intention of reviewing the place at the time; we were just there to enjoy it. To say that we did is a vast understatement. It was certainly one of the best sushi meals I’ve ever had.
My recent visits to MF Sushi have been a little different. Alex Kinjo is still the front of the house manager, but I haven’t seen Chris, who is spending more time in Houston, at the other MF Sushi location.
I’ve been successful, I think, in not being recognized, but spending less is difficult and maybe a little foolhardy here. Omakase starts at $125 a person. Theoretically, you can order rolls or a la carte dishes and entrees for plenty less, but you’re probably going to end up getting close to that figure and with a lesser experience. You might be able to stick to just a few pieces of nigiri or a simple plate of sashimi, but I don’t have the self-control for that.
Is it worth it to order omakase if the master isn’t in the house? It depends on your bank account, but, if you’ve got the dough, I’d say yes.
On my most recent visit, I was methodical about documenting exactly what one gets for that $125 entry price. I counted 11 dishes: a couple pickled vegetable bon mots; a trio of tempura plates, including a lovely pile of tiny, crunchy river crabs; a dish of ponzu-drenched flounder; a 10-piece sashimi sampler; a plate of four fresh nirigi pieces; another of four seared nigiri pieces; a sweet miso glazed hunk of black cod; and mochi ice cream for dessert.
Are you starting to understand why I lost track the first time? As with my previous meal, the nigiri is the true highlight here, again packing wonderfully complex and satisfying combinations of flavor through strokes of a brush, little garnishes of caviar and the searing touches of a blowtorch.
Some gold leaf is used as a garnish, I suppose to remind you that your bank account is taking a hit tonight. It wasn’t the precise, ecstatic reverie of taste that I experienced at the hands of Chris Kinjo, but it was truly great.
Atlanta is lucky to have them back. Let’s hope we can keep them this time.
MF Sushi Atlanta
299 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta
3 of 4 stars (great)