MF Sushibar

265 Ponce de Leon Ave., Unit B, Atlanta

When MF Sushibar opened its doors on Ponce in the heart of Midtown back in 2002, Atlanta was sorely lacking a real sushi bar. Then, nuclear neon niches of sushi spots were beginning to (and still do) etch themselves into the backdrop of Buckhead — palaces of fish porn where sushi gets served with everything from cream cheese to cranberries.

Inventive? Not really. And certainly not traditional. Soto was perhaps the only real sushi experience in the city at the time — yet even its kitchen’s creative wanderlust had a knack for the odd, pairing the fish with truffles and pears.

MF seemed the only place where fish was the focus. And while brothers Alex and Chris “Magic Fingers” Kinjo have grown a small family of restaurants, opening Nam the next year, and more recently the swank-yet-serious MF Buckhead in 2007, that impetus remains, first and foremost, why MF Sushibar is still one of the best sushi experiences in the city.

The coolish digs never fail to create the feeling of the set of “L.A. Law,” but they are nonetheless comfortable. And while Chris’s magic fingers may not always be behind the small sushi bar (the best seat in the house), he is diligent in hiring chefs who know how to expertly choose and cut fish.

Otoro may seem commonplace on menus these days, but the Kinjos were among the first to bring the silken texture and clean flavor of the fatty portion of the tuna’s underbelly to Atlanta’s attention and taste buds. Cut beautifully, its pink flesh shines through a nest of delicately shredded daikon enveloped in a plum leaf.

But before the sushi starts, MF offers traditional salads, such as a sesame-loaded wakame, and sunomono — pickled things — the best in the form of kani sunomono, where feathery fresh crab meat meets with thin-sliced cucumbers over seaweed. Baked scallops are a Western-style diversion, yet still meticulously Japanese, baked in a giant hinged shell with sweet eel sauce, masago (fish roe) and a very light mayonnaise that’s more like a hollandaise without the tarragon than a thick mayo.

But eventually, all chopsticks lead to fish, rice or both. MF pairs them together in beautifully constructed nigiri, where the rice maintains a perfect temperature under incredibly fresh fish, from the shimmering pink kinmedai (golden eye snapper) to the light, buttery taste of flounder.

Maki rolls are where the West has made its most indelible mark on the art of sushi, from the California roll to the Philadelphia roll, where avocado and cream cheese blend to create what is now considered old hat for most maki lovers.

MF stops short of westernizing its maki, though a “Tony” roll wrapped with tempura shrimp, kani (crab) and avocado comes close. Luckily, this kitchen would never dream of drizzling thick cream sauces better suited to chicken and biscuits over its perfectly cut rolls and classic earthenware.

Hand rolls are a traditional treat, and the spicy tuna roll offers a melt-in-your mouth buttery texture that lights your tongue on fire with layered heat. Uni is a delicacy, too; though its sulfuric headiness has always been something I’d rather leave for others to try.

That leaves me with more kampachi, which is light and fresh — the girl next door of raw fish. Or thinly sliced tako (octopus), tender and delicately chewy.

Sitting at the bar is a show of fish and facility, while a table brings an almost intimate veil to the whole experience. Either way, servers will care for you well. And expertly cut fish takes time; don’t be surprised if you wait a while between orders.

Fish like this is worth it.

MF Sushibar

Overall rating:

Food: Sushi

Service: Sometimes a little slow, but the fish is worth the wait

Price range: $$$

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Hours of operation: Open for lunch Monday - Friday from 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. and dinner from 5:30-10:30 p.m. (Friday until 11:30 p.m.). Open Saturday for dinner from 5:30-11:30 p.m. and Sunday from 6 -10 p.m.

Best dishes: Otoro, uni, hand rolls, sunomono, wakame salad

Vegetarian selections: A few salads

Children: A great sushi experience for kids; lunch is best

Parking: On street

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair access: Yes

Smoking: No

Noise level: Low to medium

Patio: No

Takeout: No

Address, telephone: 265 Ponce de Leon Ave., Unit B, Atlanta, 404-815-8844

Web site: www.mfsushibar.com

Pricing code: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. The price code represents a typical full-course meal for one excluding drinks.

Key to AJC ratings

Outstanding

Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.

Excellent

One of the best in the Atlanta area.

Very good

Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.

Good

A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit and miss.

Fair

Food is more miss than hit.

Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.

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