I’m a sushi snob. A very big snob. I was put on to American-style sushi back in 2000 during a stay at the Loew’s in South Beach, Miami. At the time, they set the standard but since I’ve hard less than mediocre and and fantastic.
I’ve even found my favorite places to dine in Atlanta, D.C., Monaco and Manhattan. My go-to spot in in Atlanta garnered that title as a result of a home-rapport I’ve established with the chef-owner and his demure Korean wife. And, because they honestly put out good, solid, consistent and innovative sushi.
So, when I have an opportunity (or invitation in this case) to enjoy other sushi, I joyfully take it, but I do walk in with my set standard.
Genki was not spared any prejudgement, but from my minimal research, I knew it wasn’t the kind of place that should be put against my other traditional sushi houses. The relatively new joint in Sandy Springs (barely Atlanta) sits at the very end of a rustic, yet new shopping center with other bars, grocery stores and shops. The space is large and mostly bright, which is inviting but not intimate. The first attention grabber is the huge fish tank in the middle of the restaurant filled with pretty blue, orange, white, yellow and even purple fish. It gets funkier, though. Recessed at the very back is a scantily filled jelly fish tank. Usually, it’s replete with sting-ridden fish. There were little dots when I visited as an order of larger ones was pending.
The fish tanks set the mood for what I felt is more of a family joint than a sexy, date night spot. They provide great distraction for the kiddies. But for adults, the mood is a bit chilly with neon green lighting. I went with a friend on a Thursday night. It wasn’t full, in fact, maybe only 4 parties. I assumed this meant undivided attention.
Sure enough, we were greeted by Jason, the Las Vegas restaurant manager veteran, now Genki general manager. He’s young, spunky and loves food. He made a few suggestions from the extensive bowl and sushi menu and then introduced us to our server. She was thorough, but a bit too much for my needs. She literally went down every item on the menu. Perhaps that approach would be very useful for a first time sushi or noodle eater. Nonetheless, she did know the menu and acquainted us with the offerings.
I was overwhelmed, honestly.
Fortunately, their specials are highlighted in a colored block on the top left of the menu, so deciding on a roll isn’t as tedious. While hyper popular rolls take away the thrill of taking risks, I still look at eating sushi as an art of sophistication and respect. The cuisine is largely based on raw fish, so knowing how to handle and properly cut and present it takes special craft. Nigiri and sashimi are those special delicacies I take to heart and always dissect, but I also like to entertain the goodness of a lightly fried roll. Hence, I opted for one of their known favorites– the Super Crunch and Rainbow rolls. But before my highly-anticipated rolls came out, Jason tickled my fancy with a heart-shaped roll, bearing a mixed assortment of fish. It was beautifully decorated with pickled and green onions and a light green wasabi sauce. I took one bit and knew I had sinned. There was a distinct taste I’d not had in sushi to date. Digging into my knowledge of ingredients, even those I don’t eat, I realized it was shrimp! Gasped. I quickly finished that one lonely piece and sadly left the other ones to be devoured by my friend.
I don’t eat shellfish and knew there was something special about that roll. In my my 11 years of eating sushi, that was my first time biting into one with shellfish, and my oh my was it divine. It was meaty but slightly crunchy, smoky but with contrasting lightness from the mayo sauce. And of course, any roll with fresh avocado is a winner.
I don’t hate that I couldn’t finish the roll, but I am glad I got to taste so that I could impart it’s goodness with you. Do ask for the “Ladies Roll”.
(Ladies Heart roll)
My seaweed salad was standard but crisp and fresh. I point that out because yes, I’ve had wilted seaweed salad with flat and unappealing colors. And little details matter. Mine was garnished with contrasting red peppers, a touch I seldom see.
Our main rolls made their way out and we enjoyed them to the full extent of being sushi lovers. The Super Crunch roll was what I expected. The panko was flash fried to the right point. The amount of spicy mayonnaise didn’t interfere and allowed the fish to really speak.
(Super Crunch roll)
The Rainbow roll, another favorite on the menu was fresh in color and taste and was more up my alley of interest. Finely minced spring onions and black sesame seeds added texture to the raw fish and aesthetically complemented the avocado inside. These special rolls are strategically placed on the top left of the menu, as mentioned above. You can’t miss them. At $15, both rolls were a bit pricey in comparison to other really good sushi restaurants, but they will fill you up.
The only mishap came in the way of my lychee cocktail. It was too strong and didn’t bear any lychee flavor. Aside from that, I was pleased with the food. The presentation was nice and clean. The fish was definitely fresh–something every sushi restaurant should take note of! Nothing screamed at me, other than the lovely heart-shaped roll which is being offered through the end of March. But for the atmosphere, the food works well. The menu is family-friendly and offers a lot of variety for everyone, including the non-sushi eater.
There are bowl options which can be complicated to grasp, however, if you don’t have a server like ours that had plenty of attention to detail to spare. If you don’t know what to mix up in your bowl, simply ask for a recommendation and I’m sure you won’t be let down. Plus, they’re accommodating. Their staff is not so stuck up on not honoring substitutions.
Genki is working on a new bowl menu which I got to sneak peak taste. They are are being streamlined, but will still offer a number of sauces, protein, starches and vegetables. The goal is to make creating bowls easier and more affordable. Not a bad idea in this economy. Gas is going up every day, so a penny saved in eating good food is worth the trip.
I did have a change to meet owner, Reid Zeising, the restaurateur whom lived in Japan for some time and fell in love with the culture and food. Genki is his American interpretation of what he experienced and misses about that country. He’s very passionate about his chefs and what they put out. The Buckhead location, opened in 1996 is better suited for the swanky, in-town crowd, dates and private parties. Save a family night for the Prado location.
Weekly specials to take note of:
Wine Wednesdays: 1/2 off your purchase of wines
Ladies Night on Thursdays: Ladies enjoy a complimentary cocktail between 6pm and 10pm. You might get lucky and catch some live tunes, too.
* Zeising’s connection to Japan is the motivation for the restaurant’s commitment to helping in the Japan’s recovery from their devastating tsunami. Reid has returned the “Genki Gives” program, this time in aid for the American Red Cross for the Japan earthquake and Pacific tsunami relief efforts. On both Mondays at the Buckhead and Sandy Springs locations, 5% of all proceeds plus all sale proceeds on $2 chopsticks will be donated to the Red Cross. These donations will support disaster relief efforts.
GENKI SUSHI & NOODLE
5590 Roswell Road Northeast
Dinner: $10- $55 | Desserts: $8 | Sake: $12
Last Visit: March, 2011