North Fulton might consider itself lucky that the Lims jumped ship, as it were.
I’m not gonna lie and tell you that Natsu is a sushi destination par excellence. It’s a solid neighborhood restaurant, with capacious, minimally appointed wood-paneled interiors, a friendly staff and some damn good rolls with silly names.
I’m no purist: I’ll eat a roll with a schmear of cream cheese, and sometimes those super-crunchy bits make for a superlative textural counterpoint to fish, rice and nori. Plus, you gotta love a place that calls its $100 sushi boat for three the Titanic and the $130 boat for four the Enterprise. (Hear that, Mr. Spock?)
Natsu Sushi Bar & Ocean Grill serves its Tuna & Avocado appetizer in a vessel of shaved cucumber. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Arriving here for a Saturday dinner with no reservation, we were seated immediately, and after navigating the ambitious, something-for-everybody menu, we had a lovely experience. Starting with a cold appetizer (called Tuna & Avocado) and a warm one (a small plate of fried oysters), both good.
For the fish, the chefs go to great lengths to arrange mandoline-thin slices of cucumber into a little bowl, then fill it with what you might think of as minimalist poke (pristine cubes of tuna and avocado massaged with sesame oil and a touch of spicy sauce). The oysters were wonderfully juicy and just right with a dip of tangy mayo.
Overwhelmed by a menu of Dirty Old Man, Spice Girls, Pink Lady, Casanova, Red Devil, Philadelphia and TGIF rolls (among innumerable others), I let my friend choose while I ordered the nigiri.
The No Name Roll was a rice-on-the-outside roll with a spike of tempura shrimp down the middle, a draping of tuna and avocado, and lots of spicy squiggles. (The chefs here love them some squirt bottles.)
Even better was the Volcano Roll, a standard-order California roll jazzed up with something called conch dynamite (a mixture of chopped shellfish, mayo, masago and spicy sauce). The dish is placed under the broiler for a few seconds, so that the sauces and fishy tidbits turn into delicious ooze with crispy edges. Sushi mavens may scoff. We inhaled it.
I played it safe with the nigiri — tuna, hamachi, salmon, shrimp, eel and conch — and the results were equally safe: fresh fish, beautifully presented, hardly mind-blowing.
Natsu Sushi Bar & Ocean Grill offers daily bento-box lunch specials like this one with salad, California roll, nigiri and other goodies, for $13.95. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
Same with the bento box I had on my second visit, at midday. It was a very pretty lunch set with a salad, slices of California roll, some rather ho-hum little tuna and cucumber rolls, and standard-issue nigiri. Best thing on the tray were the hot items: a little corn fritter and a spring roll.
Neither the food nor the lunch service was as polished as my dinner visit.
The server placed the check on the table soon after bringing my food, mumbling about how busy they were. Alas, I was contemplating dessert, and the room was hardly overflowing. To go, I ordered a katsu donburi (fried pork cutlet on a bowl of rice) with a plain boiled egg but went home with the spicy version with veggies instead. Oh, well. No biggie.
The owners of Natsu Sushi Bar & Ocean Grill in Alpharetta are Korean, and they offer cuisine from their homeland like this platter of bulgogi (grilled beef) with mushrooms and onions. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK
I’d be remiss if I did not sample the Korean cooking. A $21 sizzling plate of bulgogi, thinly sliced hanger steak with mushrooms and onions in a hearty brown sauce, was quite tasty and a generous portion, too. That said, when I want Korean barbecue, I’ll head to Duluth.
In Florida, the Lims had a restaurant called Haru (the Japanese word for spring). It only makes sense they’d call their new restaurant Natsu (summer). Here’s to change and new beginnings. And, every now and then, a little sushi with cream cheese.
NATSU SUSHI BAR & OCEAN GRILL
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; dinner: 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. 3070 Windward Plaza, Alpharetta. 470-448-1919, natsusushi.com.
Recommended: Tuna and avocado appetizer, fried oysters, Volcano Roll, bulgogi.