Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Atlanta Restaurant Preview: Genki in Virginia Highlands

At first, I was dismayed to find that a chain was taking over the old Everybody's space. Now that I've had a chance to try Genki (thank you Caren West!), I think my initial reaction was too harsh. Despite what I assumed, Genki is not a chain in the way that say Chili's is a chain. In fact, this is only the third location. Even better, it's local. We even got a chance to meet the owner, Reid Zeising, who shares his childhood faves from Japan on the Genki menu.

The menu is composed of both family-friendly Americanized Japanese dishes and more traditional items hearkening back to his Japanese upbringing. We went more authentic for our bowl selection and chose the yakisoba, a satisfying mix of stir-fried ramen and thinly sliced beef. I'm often not a huge fan of Asian noodle dishes, but I could definitely imagine craving this dish.

I'm always a sucker for pot stickers when we order Chinese, so I couldn't resist trying Genki's gyoza, served with ponzu. Compared to the ugly little pile of dumplings I usually get, Genki had a surprising attention to aesthetics.
Another Asian fusion standard, tuna tartare served with housemade wanton chips, was bright and light, leaving plenty of room for the many dishes to come.

The hallmark of an Americanized sushi joint, especially in Atlanta, is an overabundance of gloopy mayo-based sauces. So I was pleased to see that although Genki certainly has sushi dishes to appeal to people who don't actually like raw fish, even many of their Atlantified sushi selections were gloop-free.  We sampled two of their newer options - the aptly named Virginia Highland and the Poker Face.

The Virginia Highland combined spicy tuna, avocado and jalapeƱo - always a good combination in my book, while the Poker Face consistend of ahi poke, cucumber, avocado, wasabi cream and red and black tobiko (get it...like playing cards?!) The fish was fresh and flavorful, and I was glad to be able to taste it without a mass of sauce or tempura batter obscuring it. I preferred the Virginia-Highland, as jalapeno always gives sushi an extra kick that I love.

One dish we'd considered getting but didn't order was the Hamachi Kama, described on the menu as, "A Japanese delicacy" consisting of marinated and grilled yellowtail cheek served with house made ponzu sauce. Fortunately for us, owner Zeising wanted to make sure we tried it as it's one of his favorites, so he showed up at the table with it anyway. Turns out it's a must-order. The delicate flesh is hot and sweet, and although you have to make some effort to pick it off from the bones, it is well worth it. Who would think you could actually get authentic Japanese food in Va-Hi?

We were glad we got to chat with Zeising. Turns out he's had a fascinating life, complete with an ad exec dad big in auto advertising during the Lee Iaococa heyday, and that's how he came to live in Australia and Japan. And in a pleasant surprise, just like my honey, he's a a Detroit native and a Wolverine, so he's gotta be a cool guy, right? He also mentioned that although many of these dishes would never appear on the same menu in Japan, instead being specialties of distinct types of restaurants, he wanted to combine all of his favorites under one roof. Since we don't exactly have an overabundance of Japanese specialists in town, I'm glad to have the options!

Personally dessert is rarely of interest to me at Asian spots, but Mr. AT couldn't resist the decadent temptation of a fried Twinkie. How this fits with the Japanese theme, I don't know, but clearly the folks at Genki just like the idea. An interesting idea, and fun to share but next time I'll just save room for another round of sushi or noodles!

Although I prefer to be right, I'm glad I was proven wrong by Genki. I will miss Everybody's, but I'm glad to have such reasonably priced, yummy, locally-owned and even somewhat authentic Japanese in my neighborhood. If I want purist sushi, I'll still probably schlep out to Sushi House Hayakawa, but more often than not, I want dinner close-at-hand and inexpensive without sacrificing satisfaction. Genki fits that bill for me, and for all the nearby families, it is likely to be the kind of place that can satisfy even those with un-adventurous tastes, too.

1040 N. Highland Ave.
Atlanta, GA

Genki Noodles & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Genki Noodles and Sushi on Urbanspoon



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