Back in April, I stopped by a Ponce de Leon Avenue destination restaurant for takeout, and snagged a feast of fried trout tacos and strawberry toast strewn with glorious tangles of flowers and herbs plucked from nearby farms. Last week, I returned for a sit-down experience. This time, I ate fried octopus balls, chawanmushi, sushi rolls, nigiri.
That you, 8Arm?
Indeed, it is.
In one of the more noteworthy dining-room reinventions to emerge from the pandemic, the restaurant founded five years ago by the late Angus Brown has been reincarnated as an entirely new creature.
Owing to the departure of executive chef Maricela Vega and the arrival of Tokyo-born Hiro Endo, 8Arm has shifted its gaze from land to sea. Rice, rather than corn, is the new grain of choice. And beverage manager Joshua Fryer has introduced an abundance of sakes to a cellar that heretofore focused on natural wines and spirits.
Where once there was a plant-forward menu with nods to Vega’s Mexican ancestry, there are now classic Japanese dishes with local twists, clever sushi rolls, pristine fish.
As for the physical space, 8Arm works its many tentacles at once. There’s a cluster of parking lot-adjacent picnic tables; a sunny, open-air patio with a tropical vibe — and a bar; a minimal dining room with a splashy new mural; and, at its heart, a dimly lit sushi lair with all of six seats. Thus, you may book a reservation for an elegant, multicourse meal of hot and cold dishes, drinks and dessert — or enjoy an impromptu solo encounter, alone on a bar stool with snacks and beer.
Under Endo (owner of the well-regarded Ginya Izakaya) and chef de cuisine Allen Suh, 8Arm remains a memorable night out.
We started with a Hanami (an Americano riff with cherry-blossom aperitivo, Japanese vermouth, cherry-bark bitters and sparkling water) and the bar’s take on a whisky sour. The former drank like a fancy Coca-Cola highball, a bit on the sweet and medicinal side to me. I liked the sour — Suntory Toki (a blended whisky), plus lemon, cane and miso paste — better, and the 8Arm Old Fashioned (with Richland Rum and peach bitters) sure sounds delicious. Next time, though, I may drink beer with those first salty bites.
Speaking of which, our miso cod was sheer perfection, delicate fish, charry skin, just a hint of funk. Chawanmushi — egg custard served cold and topped with house-cured ham, chanterelles, English peas and yuzu-tinted flying fish roe — was as elegant as anything I’ve tasted in Japan. Takoyaki (fried octopus balls showered with okonomiyaki toppings) were quite molten when they arrived at the table; once they cooled down, they were delightful, scarfable. A selection of grilled skewers — buttermilk chicken and scallion, peach, shishito, steak, minced chicken, sunchoke, squid — was fun to nibble, and we especially loved the luscious potato salad that came on the side.
Moving on to sushi, we enjoyed the Watermelon Dealer roll (tuna, cucumber, watermelon kimchi) and found the Butter Me Up (scallops, fresh butter, cucumber, orange, rice, torched nori) so intriguing. We ended the repast with a few choice pieces of nigiri (big ups to the green snapper, smoked skipjack, eel, and salmon), washed down with sips of Terada Honke’s Katori 90 sake, which the menu describes as having whisps of butterscotch, morel, lemon peel, star anise, banana, barley tea and manchego. Dry and clean-tasting, it was a swell pairing.
In many ways, 8Arm’s transformation makes total sense. Nhan Le, who owns the restaurant with partner Skip Engelbrecht, has always been a disciple of Asian cuisine (see his So Ba and Octopus Bar in East Atlanta Village), as was Brown (Lusca).
“Like an octopus, we shift our colors and adapt to changes and thrills,” the restaurant said in April, when it announced the changes on social media.
So far, the new 8Arm lives up to that exciting credo.
Menu: Japanese izakaya and sushi
Alcohol: Full bar, with special attention to sake, organic wine and Japanese-inspired craft cocktails
What I ordered: Whisky Sour, Hanami cocktail, carafe of Terada Honke Katori 90, Junmai Nama Genshu sake. Kushiyaki platter, miso cod, takoyaki, chawanmushi, Butter Me Up roll, Watermelon Dealer roll, sardine nigiri, green snapper nigiri, salmon nigiri, skipjack nigiri, eel nigiri, tamago.
Service options: Dine-in
Mask policy: Optional
Address, phone: 710 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta; 470-875-5856
Hours: 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays. Kitchen is closed on Sundays and Mondays, when the restaurant hosts special events and pop-ups.
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