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Georgia on My Mind

Gotham continues to suck the best sushi chefs from the rest of the country

I was sent to Atlanta in 2002 by a glossy magazine, charged with eating in the city's best restaurant. As I hopped from place to place during the weeklong pig-out, I asked diners I'd recruited to eat with me if there were any restaurants missing from my list. The answer was often: "Soto." This modest sushi parlor was inauspiciously located on the edge of a shabby strip mall. But the sushi was amazing, featuring fish flown in from around the globe, incorporating innovative techniques that hadn't yet been seen in New York.

Now, sushi impresario Sotohiro Kosugi has pulled up his tent stakes and boldly moved here. Once again, he has located obscurely, this time to an anonymous storefront on Sixth Avenue in the Village perforated with square peepholes. The room is all whiteness and blond woods, and a mere seven stools line the sushi bar, with a pair of appurtenant tables. There's a banquette on the facing wall with 10 more two-tops. An elfin presence with a hank of dark hair peaking out from under his white cap, Kosugi presides at his sushi bar in the traditional position—nearest the door, in order to greet regular customers.

There's no sashimi on the menu. Rather, three sections offer sushi, kitchen-made hot dishes, and, best of all, raw fish transformed in any number of delightful ways. Typical of his stunning creativity is chayutoro tuna tartare ($20), a puck of pureed fatty tuna topped with a thin layer of whipped Japanese guacamole. Landscaping this creamy meadow is an artful arrangement of green chives, dried ginger shreds, and black caviar. Every bite is divine. Other inventions include a carpaccio of red-rimmed Japanese stripe jack bathed in truffle-ginger soy sauce. Stacked in layers like a very organized haystack, a horse mackerel tataki ($15) sprouts shiso blossoms like tiny purple gladiolas. Everywhere on the menu, visual pleasure precedes gustatory excitement.

Kampai!
photo: Willie Davis
Kampai!

The kitchen menu is similarly kooky, including a fried soft-shell crab ($14) with a curry rub like melt-in-your-mouth sand; barely steamed swatches of sea bream, skin attached, painted with ginger scallion oil; and, in lieu of tea, dobin mushi soup, which comes in a doll-size teapot. First pour the broth into the little bowls provided, then pull the gingko nuts and assorted seafood out of the top with your chopsticks.

The delights of the plain sushi menu are not to be missed, either. Given the level of fish quality, the 12-piece sushi omikase ($56) is one of the city's best deals. The single-file procession of sushi on the long plate reads from left to right, drawing you forward like an engrossing episode of Law & Order: SVU. Don't bother asking for soy sauce or wasabi—the itamae (sushi master) has overseen the perfect seasoning of each piece. On a recent evening, the plot began with blood-red tuna and ended with king crab shreds wrapped in nori and dabbed with a drop of lemon mousse. Along the way we enjoyed Atlantic salmon, Long Island fluke, and an orange cloud of scintillating sea urchin bursting from its seaweed restraint. The ever-varying sushi list notes the geographic origin of each piece, allowing you to opt at least partly for local sustainable fish when you order by the piece. Think globally, fish locally.

 
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