Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Minato Japanese Restaurant - Smyrna on Spring Rd

You can find Minato Japanese Restaurant at 2697 Spring Rd SE, Smyrna, GA 30080 near the intersection of Cumberland Blvd and Spring Rd, just Northwest of the Perimeter. This terrific restaurant is very under-the-radar, mostly due to its difficult-to-find location - it's in the basement of a short shopping center that holds Papa Johns Pizza, with access from the back (you drive around the side to see a bright red sign, the business extends to form an inviting entry.

I was led to Minato via my friends and neighbors, Adrienne and Lin, who raved about this place. Honestly, I don't get to this area very often so the last cuisine I would be looking for in Smyrna is sushi - rather I would eat at Swapna or Sri Krisha Vilas for moderately good Indian. Lucky for me that they were persistent as I found some of the best sushi I've had in Atlanta in this tucked-away corner of the world.

Minato takes itself seriously as a Japanese restaurant, outwardly by the Japanese entryway and inwardly through the use of stone as a natural material and the use of the grotto-like sunkin dining area, complete with fountain and plantings to provide a wabi sabi dinner setting. We of course sat at the sushi bar because that's what we were here for - it's all about the sushi. I could have forwent the flat panel TV above the bar, but understand why it's there - from one end it wasn't too obnoxious so we effectively ignored it to focus on the food. This place gets very busy so if you're planning an evening visit you'll want to call ahead - try to reserve a place at the sushi bar for the best experience (unless you're a huge party of drunks - for you guys you'll want to sit away from the chef).

The menu is your typical list of available common catch and an accompanying stand-up with both sides covered by rolls - I didn't see anything too unusual there. First a bit about my philosophy when it comes to sushi - for me it's all about the quality of the rice and the freshness and portions of the fish. Yeah I know it's a modern trend to have all sorts of funky rolls, made with progressively maddening ingredients, but those types of flavor combinations are fleeting at best. Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats extremely fresh fish when it comes to sushi, and Minato has that in spades. I rate the fish quality here as equivalent to my other two favorite sushi restaurants, Nakato and Sushi House Hayakawa. The fish here is just exceptional. That's not to say that all other sushi restaurants suck, it's just a "you get what you pay for" type thing. I'm perfectly happy at Nori Nori, for instance, as a buffet with cheap fish and rolls it can't be beat - however at Minato you get that rare combination of superior quality combined with moderate pricing. This same fish would be one-and-a-half to two times more expensive elsewhere.

Pickled Ginger Shoots

I won't evaluate everything we had when it comes to the sushi - take a look at my photos and you'll get all the answers you need -  but will highlight a few things - we also ordered the himachi jaw/cheek - I've never understood why this great piece of fish is treated so poorly by Americans. Lucky for us that Minato saves some from the cat-food bins (which is what happens to most of it) to serve it up as a delicious grilled entree. Next, try the cowboy and cowgirl hats (the first is a fried scallop-over-crab-salad on a rice wafer, the second is a mix of spicy tuna and salmon on a rice wafer) - they aren't on the menu but worth giving a whirl. Whatever you do, save your meal for the fish - anything you get here will be way above average and delicious.

Cowgirl Hat
Cowboy Hat
Hand Roll

Himachi Jaw (cheek)

The service was very good, as is typical of sitting at the sushi bar and I enjoyed the chef quite a bit. Add in a little beer and you're in for a fantastic time. When you look around online you see a huge variation in the reviews - it's almost like there are two different restaurants being described. All I can say is that my experience was fantastic. Perhaps it's more about what people expect than not - for me it's about the fish, and Minato does it right.


-- John

(shorter version of this review posted to Yelp)
Click to add a blog post for Minato Japanese on Zomato


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