First Look: RA Sushi

Midtown Japanese struggles with disasters - natural and otherwise

“Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” our server yelled. She had just dumped a glass of water on our table and it was trickling into my lap to produce that unmistakable look of adult incontinence.

“Don’t worry about it,” Wayne said as about five men attacked our table with their rags.

“She told me she was going to do that,” one of them said.

We laughed. Ha ha. The server was still pleading for forgiveness. We told her not to worry. Mistakes happen. “We are amused.” I asked for some tonic water. She left to fetch it.

We were seated on the patio of the new RA Sushi (1080 Peachtree St., 404-267-0114). Open about three weeks, the restaurant already seems to be something of a hit. The vibe is youthful, the look is Disney-meets-Vegas-in-Tokyo. This is part of a chain out of Arizona and it seems to be quite popular in all nine states where it's opened.

Meanwhile, we changed tables on the patio and waited for our server to return with my tonic water and to take our order. Time started passing ... like sand through the hour glass. Where is she? Ten minutes elapsed. Someone who looked like a manager walked by and we told him that our server had disappeared. He offered to take our order.

The server suddenly showed up, breathless. “Where’s my tonic?” I asked. “Do you realize you’ve been gone for more than 10 minutes?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “We had a problem with the tables.”

By this time, I was annoyed. Wayne, who is absolutely insane in anticipation of his doctoral defense in a few weeks, continued smiling and commenting on the oddly pleasant breeze that swept over the patio on a hot summer day.

Suddenly, there was the sound of roaring. It got louder and louder and, the next thing we knew, something like a small tornado — a microburst? — swept over the patio, blowing everything away that wasn’t held down. The staff started screaming to get off the patio and held the door open. Everyone ran as instructed. Wayne, having rescued the one dish that had arrived — octopus and cucumber salad — rushed inside and leaned against a wall, eating the stuff, oblivious while the apocalypse raged outside.

I was over it. Unlucky service and an act of God were going to make everything taste bad. And, anyway, nobody was helping us find a table inside. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Nicely, the manager comped the salad and we left.

We returned the next night, Sunday, and dined inside. Happily, no natural or man-made disaster occurred. On the other hand, I haven’t got very much positive to say about the food, even with a fresh start. The menu is mainly sushi, small plates of various Asian dishes, some noodle bowls and a few large-portion entrees. The latter, including old standbys such as beef and chicken teriyaki, show no novelty at all.

We ordered both the sashimi and sushi assortments. I’d rate the quality of fish with Ru San’s ... or Publix’s, for that matter. It’s more about texture than flavor. Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, octopus, whitefish, shrimp and tamago all tasted bland. The sushi assortment included — what else? — a California maki roll that was utterly tasteless, right down to its rice. Another maki roll of sea eel and cucumber was better but also featured the weirdly rubbery rice.

My favorite roll was a salmon-skin hand roll. I give the kitchen props for obviously making it to order. The strips of skin were crispy and bursting with flavor, nicely contrasted with strips of cucumber. Normally, I prefer this dish with some Japanese mayo lining the nori wrapper. This was bone dry, with only the usual soy sauce and wasabi offered.

Besides the spicy octopus and cucumber salad, we ordered two other appetizers — pork potstickers (gyoza), and a strange little dish called “Scallop Dynamite.” The latter looked like a serving of macaroni and cheese when it came to the table. It was actually tiny scallops and sliced mushrooms baked in “dynamite sauce.” And what might that be? It’s the mayo I wanted on my hand roll. Actually, this dish was pretty good, in the way artichoke dip is good. Picking up the itty-bitty scallops is good training for novice users of chopsticks, too.

The pork potstickers, served with the usual ponzu sauce, were probably the best thing we ordered. Glossy and slightly crispy with a savory filling, they were as good as many I’ve eaten on Buford Highway.

The menu here also features a lot of “signature rolls” that are too Byzantine for my taste. I really, really dislike cream cheese in maki rolls and many of these feature it. I do think you should order the especially rococo “Viva Las Vegas Roll” that seems to include everything Elvis might combine with cream cheese if peanut butter weren’t available.

In summary: Barring tiny tornados, this is a fun place to go to drink and nibble on a few dishes. Honestly, despite our water dunking, the service here is mainly great. But when it comes to the menu, true sushi fans will not be happy. And don’t think it’s cheap, either.

$15 for paradise at Top Flr

I stopped by Top Flr (674 Myrtle St., 404-685-3110) to try the $15 three-course meal chef Shane Devereux is preparing there every Monday night.

My advice: Go! My meal included a celery-root and parsnip soup full of lobster chunks, spiked with truffle oil; slices of pimento-marinated, grilled beef (from the culotte) over golden potato slices; and a panna cotta topped with apricot jelly.

I can’t think of a better value in the city right now. Devereux changes the menu weekly. Also available last Monday was a crab cake with shrimp mousse and lemon-lime confit and sautéed trout with fennel-cucumber salad and crème fraiche.

Portions are generous. Of course, when food is this good, no portion is large enough, but I left happy.

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