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By Kaitlin Steinberg
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By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
'I'd forgotten how good the sushi rice is here," marveled my dining companion on a recent Saturday evening as he popped a perfect bite of madai (sea bream) nigiri dusted with powder-fine Himalayan sea salt into his mouth. "The rice grains have such a great texture, and they're so well seasoned," he opined.
It was my third and his fifth time dining at MF Sushi, chef Chris Kinjo and his brother Alex's new restaurant located in a modest strip mall on the outskirts of the Galleria area. We were about one-third of the way through an omakase (chef's tasting) dinner that had begun with three courses of jaw-droppingly fresh, make-you-swoon-with-pleasure sashimi.
That night, Kinjo, a famed sushi chef whose MF Buckhead restaurant in Atlanta was named one of the Top 10 Sushi Spots of 2009 by Bon Appétit magazine, started us off with a sashimi appetizer of shima aji with yuzu kosho (Japanese striped jack with pickled yuzu paste), and so perfect was the execution that I would have been happy to end the meal right then and there.
Delicate, precisely cut pieces of fish were spread fanlike on a ridged plate resembling the inside of a clam shell, the slices arranged a uniform width apart, with the pink-tipped corner edges contrasting beautifully against a well-preserved silvery film of fish skin.
When I took a bite, the fish itself was firm, supple and mildly flavored until the pea-sized dollop of dark green yuzu kosho hit my senses, giving off a quick burst of slightly spicy, aromatic citrus. I ate each exquisitely formed piece slowly, reverently, absorbing the splendid purity of each morsel.
I didn't believe it was possible to top the first course, but then Kinjo handed us a plate of Ora King Salmon from New Zealand, thick-cut rectangles of sashimi created with such meticulousness that when he arranged them side by side, the individual pieces sat flush against each other, coalescing to form a seamless square whole. Eating it was like taking a puzzle apart piece by piece, each bite of the silky, buttery fish punctuated by an exciting zing of wasabi relish.
And then there were the thinly sliced cuts of rosy, pink-fleshed kinmedai (golden eye snapper), so clean and pure that they leaped to life with nothing more than a few slightly bitter, fragrant shavings of green lime zest.
To truly appreciate MF Sushi, you must abandon the normal rules of dining. Forget about menus and ordering what you think you want. Be sure to reserve a place at the 14-seat sushi bar, and when the server asks if you will be joining them for an omakase, just say "Yes."
Omakase means "trust chef." When you agree to an omakase experience, you enter into this sort of informal contract with the sushi chef. In return for your trust, it's understood, he will do his best and offer you the best of everything in the house.
One night, for instance, a serving of o-toro (fatty tuna) sashimi was of a quality so remarkable that one of my persnickety friends, the guy who's always complaining about this or that, could not stop gushing: "The only time I've ever had o-toro this good was at Nobu in New York City, where it cost me $20 per piece."
Other nights, it's the nigiri sushi that shines. In fact, it's Kinjo's mastery of nigiri sushi that separates him from his peers. There is an art to the way in which he makes his rice, a craftsman's skill that takes years of practice to perfect. Kinjo himself will be the first to admit that he's still working at it every day.
With a few slaps of the hands and twists of the wrist, he fashions a clump of sushi rice that's full of air, each grain clinging almost defiantly to the next, like fingers that are barely touching. He tops each mound of rice with a slice of fish, then bastes it with a nikiri glaze made of soy and mirin. The result is a nigiri sushi so fragile in composition that you can actually see the air deflate if you let it sit too long.
"Just one bite!" he'll command if he sees you try to dip it in soy sauce. He makes each piece of nigiri so that it can be enjoyed immediately and as is. Then he stands back and watches your facial expressions, looking for signs of how you've received his food. I'll close my eyes briefly and murmur incoherent sounds like "mmm," reveling in the power of a flawlessly carved sliver of fish and the way that it intermingles with the warm kernels of seasoned rice, wasabi and soy to produce a feel-good endorphin rush.
This repeats itself for a heart-pumping procession of some of the most delectable nigiri sushi you'll ever have the pleasure of tasting, progressing from leaner fish such as the prized akamutsu (rosy sea bass) from Japan, a silky madai, a smoky inada (baby yellowtail) or a crisp kanpachi (almaco jack); to the fattier, more buttery pieces of hamachi (yellowtail) belly, salmon belly and chu-toro (mid fatty tuna); to the richest and most decadent cuts of beautifully marbled o-toro or the textured golden mound of grade-A Santa Barbara uni (sea urchin).
I'll def check this place out but so far nobody can top Sushi Miyagi. The wait is absolutely worth the Shaggy Dog.
@jenmartino427 Do you eat the nigiri or the sashimi at Sushi Miyagi? Just curious. Will be interested to hear about your experience at MF!
Outstanding article, Mai. You captured what Chef Kinjo truly enjoys - omakase. I believe that he uses Tamaki Gold as his sushi rice and I'm interested to know about this portion/ratio. I'd also love to know about the tamagoyaki/dashimaki. When he's working with you (one on one), his yanagiba (knife) appears to be a natural extension of his hand. As always, I envy your writing. Well done, Mai.
@CarlRosa Carl, what very kind words. I will see what additional information I can get from Kinjo-san about his sushi rice and tamago. You are definitely one of our city's strongest proponents of sushi, so your opinion means a lot! Thanks!