Midtown’s Momonoki was ready for switch to takeout

Takeout items from Momonoki include (clockwise from upper left): chicken karaage bowl, poke bowl, a pastry assortment, shrimp katsu sando and egg custard sando. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
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Takeout items from Momonoki include (clockwise from upper left): chicken karaage bowl, poke bowl, a pastry assortment, shrimp katsu sando and egg custard sando. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

In March, as fear of COVID-19 set in, chef Jason Liang noticed that reservations for his luxuriously priced omakase experience at Brush Sushi Izakaya in Decatur were dwindling.

At the same time, a few hard-core fish lovers told him high-end sushi was their first choice for dining out. Slightly puzzled, he asked them why.

Turns out, people who are serious about consuming raw fish often put the same trust in their chef as their doctor. Sushi chefs not only must have impeccable knife skills, but also are expected to be fastidious about food safety and handling.

Momonoki makes beautiful, delicious takeout like this poke bowl (top) and chicken karaage. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Caption
Momonoki makes beautiful, delicious takeout like this poke bowl (top) and chicken karaage. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

After closing briefly, Brush began offering family-style boxes of takeout nigiri in early April, then slowly expanded its menu. Until Liang reopens his dining room June 18, customers may get his thoughtfully sourced and handled sushi 5-7 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays. And, when guests reconvene at the bar, they’ll find him wearing a mask (gloves on request), while remaining true to his craft.

“If people commit and prepay, that means they are confident with their health and my health,” he said. “We are not going to be open if we are sick. It’s like, ‘I trust you, and you have to trust me.’”

The same unblinking attention to detail can be found at Momonoki, the second restaurant from Liang and his pastry chef wife, ChingYao Lang. The owners recently reopened the patio of the casual Midtown spot for ramen, katsu sandos and poke bowls (as well as sweets and coffee from their Momo Cafe in the same space), but you can't go inside, unless you need to use the restroom. You fetch your takeout from the coffee bar's sidewalk-facing pop-out window. (Momonoki 's dining room also reopens June 18.)

In addition to carryout, Momonoki’s online app allows diners to order on the spot; food is brought to the patio when ready. (Liang said the same service has been available at Brush for two weeks, though no one has used it yet.)

Although Momonoki’s al fresco dining has been slow, he’s noticed guests have begun to take baby steps and sit outside, particularly on weekends. (When I stopped by to retrieve my takeout on a Tuesday, I observed four patrons at two safely distanced outdoor tables.)

A pastry assortment can be picked up at Momonoki/Momo Cafe in Midtown. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Caption
A pastry assortment can be picked up at Momonoki/Momo Cafe in Midtown. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

Overall, however, Liang has seen a substantial dip in sales (and his staff of 30 to 40 has been trimmed by half). Before the pandemic closed schools and offices, a significant slice of Momonoki’s business came from Georgia Tech and nearby tech-industry workers.

That said, Momonoki’s original menu was designed with takeout in mind, so it’s easy to tuck neatly sliced, wax paper-wrapped sandwiches in white-paper boxes; snap plastic lids over bowls of cooked and raw food; and pack soft serve into pint containers, rather than cups and cones.

Ramen, made from hot broth and noodles, is more of a challenge. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is selling less of it. But, for those in search of top-quality ramen to slurp at home, Liang cleverly has put together do-it-yourself ramen kits, available only at Brush.

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MOMONOKI/MOMO CAFE

Menu: ramen; katsu sando sandwiches; bowls with raw fish, cooked ingredients, rice and greens; coffee, tea, pastries, soft serve

What's new: special online discounts

Alcohol: everything available to go

What I ordered: shrimp katsu sando, tamago (egg omelet) sando, poke bowl, chicken karaage bowl, pint of black-sesame soft serve. The food was elegantly packed, and absolutely delicious. A scoop of poke (tuna, salmon, yellowtail) was fresh and jewel-like, wonderfully coated in house-made chili-soy, and sprinkled with sesame seeds — lovely against sliced radishes, shaved daikon and cucumber, avocado, etc. The karaage is like chicken nuggets for grown-ups: a bowl of rice topped with finely shredded cabbage; expertly breaded, fried and seasoned bird, drizzled with a light wasabi dressing; and half a soft-boiled egg. I liked the egg sandwich (the omelet is coated in panko crumbs and fried; the sweet sauce may surprise you). I was absolutely gaga about the shrimp. I also am a big fan of the rich, nutty black-sesame soft serve, though my new crush is the Portuguese-style egg tart, generously included in a surprise box of pastries.

Service options: takeout and patio dining; delivery via GrubHub and Uber Eats

Safety protocols: follows all CDC and state guidelines

Address, phone: 95 8th St. NW, Atlanta; 404-390-3025

Hours: Momonoki: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Momo Cafe: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily

Website: momonokiatl.com

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