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Western-style maki rolls on offer include the Bubba Roll

On a Roll

by Wendell Brock | Photo: Caroline Petters | Men's Book Atlanta magazine | May 10, 2013

Before the economy went bust, when people were still buying art at pricey Buckhead galleries, I scored an invitation to MF Sushi for an intimate dinner with a famous photographer known for his serene images of Japan. I remember the night as a dreamy interlude of luxury and extravagance. While a swirl of fashionably dressed people seemed to dance around the dimly lit restaurant, we sat in a swank private lair—slurping cold sake, feasting on impeccably fine sushi, enjoying our moment in the bubble.

After a long and storied run, the glamorous MF (for “magic fingers”) exited the scene with Titanic abruptness in late 2011, leaving a serious void in the city’s high-end sushi market. In its place comes Amura Buckhead, an Orlando, Fla.-based chain making its first out-of-state venture. The new restaurant finds itself in the unenviable position of being compared to its flashy forbearer while trying to swim the middle stream, from price point to design. In a choppy economy, treading somewhere between the inexpensive Ru San’s and the upscale Tomo is probably smart sailing.

Whereas MF was all sensitive lighting, skinny-model servers, $200 checks and a hint of attitude, Amura—a name derived from Japanese, meaning “village of love”—is a study in crisp white design, stark wooden floors and dashes of neon. The sparkling and curvaceous room is designed so executives can eye the financial markets from TV screens above the crescent-shaped bar, even as they ravish trays of pristine sushi or savor bites of wagyu steak, the latter of which the menu says comes from cattle “pampered with deep-tissue massage, beer, classical music and plenty of sleep for tenderness and flavor.” (Holy cow!)

Chef Takao Woo’s dishes—everything from steak and stir-fry to veggie skewers and fish—aim to please a range of tastes. Sensing that Atlantans have an educated palate, the kitchen offers an extensive list of gourmet appetizers: monkfish-liver pate, super-thin slivers of fish paired with citrus segments, and Hokkaido scallops with truffle salt among them. And then there are the Americanized maki rolls, rife with film and Disney references. The Bubba Roll is a fried-shrimp riff on Forrest Gump; the Beauty and the Beast a marriage of tuna and eel.

Meanwhile, ankimo (monkfish liver) is an acquired taste, and time will tell if Amura’s plain, livery-tasting paté, served with a yuzu-ponzu gel, will lure new fans to the delicacy. Tuna tataki carpaccio—slices of spice-rubbed and gently grilled tuna arranged around a green salad flecked with bacon—is a better choice, and so are the simply prepared Hokkaido scallops. Better still is the Fluke New-Style sashimi, a lovely tray of fresh white fish and blood-orange filets, drizzled with olive oil and basil infusion. (You’ll notice that virtually every plate comes with a pile of shaved daikon, a shiso leaf and lemon slices. Don’t let that lemon go to waste; a little citrus mist will brighten the fish.)

While the purist might enjoy a few pieces of nigiri (I sampled my holy trinity of tuna, fresh salmon and yellowtail), the staff really plays up the maki rolls, so I felt compelled to try a few. The aforementioned Bubba Roll—tempura shrimp, avocado, cream cheese and scallion—does not disappoint. The Hawaiian Roll is a pretty presentation of fresh tuna, salmon, avocado and cucumber, pepped up with spicy tuna. The maki-makers here are big on cream cheese and fried crunchy things, so, next time, I might want to try a more straightforward salmon-skin hand roll or the cucumber, shiso ume-paste option. The chefs seem to delight in serving sushi in a Gilligan’s Island-style wooden boat—a fun idea, even if it feels a bit like Trader Vic’s kitsch.

So here’s the thing: For a gentleman in search of a solo experience with a Sapporo and a tray of nigiri, or for wallet-watching sushi-snarfers looking to fill up on Japanese cuisine for less than a ticket to Tokyo, Amura is a welcome and satisfying diversion. While MF was a temple of fashion, this Terminus-complex newcomer wants to return the focus to food. What matters, to me at least, is that Japanese food lives on at the nexus of Piedmont and Peachtree. How sweet it is to enjoy a sushi meal without incurring a fish-related financial crisis.

Amura Buckhead
3280 Peachtree Road NE
Suite 110

Hours: Mon.-Fri., 11am-11pm; Sat.-Sun., 5-11pm

Where to Stash the Car

Parking is available in the Terminus garage behind the restaurant. Just be sure to get your ticket validated.

What to Eat
There’s something for everyone—from sushi and tempura to steaks and sophisticated appetizers.

What to Know
The glamour days of MF Sushi are gone. Style is low-key and family-friendly. Feel free to dress up or go casual.

What You Will Pay

Appetizers: $6-$24; entrees: $18-$48 (for wagyu steak); maki rolls: $6-$15; nigiri (two pieces): $5 to market price