November 6, 2011
First Bite: Tomo Buckhead
A Seeger’s-Like Experience with Sushi
By Nancy Staab
Tomo’s swanky new digs at The Ritz-Carlton Residences now match the superlative food, but best to bring your wallet for this worth-every-penny culinary experience
There are not many high temples of gastronomy left in Atlanta now that Seeger’s, Joël and The Ritz-Carlton Dining Room have pulled up their stake; the recession hit; and everyone turned to more casual farm-to-table menus. One island in the stream of the quality-casual trend is Tomo, the cult sushi spot that has long wowed food aficionados in its unassuming, strip-mall Vinings locale. Locale and décor don’t really matter when you have a master fusion chef, trained under the famed Chef Nobu Matsuhisa at his namesake Las Vegas outpost NoBU, working his magic. Tomo Naito was born in Osaka, Japan, but moved to New York City to pursue a theatrical career before falling in love with the kitchen. In keeping with his global outlook, he typically overlays his Japanese fare with French and Italian culinary techniques and flavors borrowed form all corners of the globe.
During a recent visit to the new Buckhead outpost, Chef Tomo stopped by the table and recounted a story about a famously loyal client who drove from Jonesboro every week to lunch at Tomo’s Vinings counter. The minute that Tomo relocated, the besotted diner took up residence at The Ritz-Carlton condo, so that Tomo’s fare would be just an elevator woosh away. Now one of the most decadent entrées on the menu is named after him. The point being that locale is not a critical factor in a destination restaurant’s success when the chef and the cooking are superlative like they are here. But when you DO combine superlative dining AND a subdued luxury setting, the result is an almost reverential, special-occasion dining experience along the lines of a Seeger’s, Alinea or Per Se. Or so seemed to think my very foodie-forward dining companion for the night (who has dined at all three of the above gastronomy temples and proclaimed the new Buckhead Tomo to be “the Japanese equivalent of Seeger’s!”) Not surprisingly, prices seems to have inclined with the move (try the soon-to-open lunch or the sushi bar if watching your wallet) but quality remains emphatically intact. According to Atlanta Eater.com, “Tomo has hired three heavy-hitting Japanese chefs to work at the new location with experience at places like Bishoku, Taka, MF Sushi Buckhead, Haru Ichiban, and Nobu.” We haven’t confirmed that information, but there was a presence of no less than 6 sushi counter chefs the bustling night of our visit, and Tomo was very much in the house.
After depositing the car with the complimentary valet, we entered the new Tomo temple with lots of sleek wood, glass windows letting in gorgeous light, and designer light globes that look like they came out of a Metropolitan Home spread. Cozy seating is aligned along the window-lined left side and a drinking bar and sushi counter along the right side of the elongated, high-ceiling space. The restaurant was designed by Tony Akly of Restaurants Consulting Group, Inc. who also tricked out the spaces of MF Buckhead, Taurus and Three Sheets). The dinner menu offers an array of sushi and sashimi; appetizer-like small plates that can make a meal of themselves-- though diminutively proportioned; and larger (but still not large in terms of American oversized portions) entrées. Everything was presented beautifully and immaculately, each flavor--like the jolt of Serrano pepper, the drizzle of white truffle oil or sprinkling of the mild Japanese pepper known as Sansho-- precisely articulated without overwhelming the base protein. The food was both sparely poetic in the Japanese way (with the exception of the truly decadent Lobster a la Musso) and yet lush and melting in the mouth. We think even Gunther Seeger would be proud of his Far Eastern-inflected, Atlanta fine dining successor!
Tomo Buckhead at The Ritz-Carlton Residences, 3630 Peachtree Rd. NE, 404.835.2708 or www.tomorestaurant.com but please note the website has not yet been updated to reflect the new location and menus. Lunch service starts Thurs. Dec. 1.
Here is a brief overview and photos of what we sampled:
The Kampachi (yellowtail) Serrano Sashimi appetizer ($18) included six slices of buttery flish, kicked up with the bite of serrano pepper and garlic in a yuzu soy sauce.
The Tomo Baby Lamb Chops (two to an order for $17) from New Zealand were perfectly charred and seasoned with the mild Japanese pepper sansho.
The Uni-topped sushi (two to an order for $11) was nothing less than divine—tasting profoundly of the sea in its rich brininess and sourced fresh from San Francisco. I did not get a photo of this dish.
Lastly, the Lobster a la Musso ($26 ) was one giant nod to decadence, featuring live lobster meat, uni, garlic, ginger, scallions, olive oil, sesame oil, and white truffle oil and, to gild the lily completely, topped with a quivering raw qauil’s egg.
And don’t miss the ethereal desserts by Tomo’s wife Kimiko. Each one was a marvel --from the sublime green tiramisu ($6) to the banana flan with chocolate sauce and whipped cream ($6), pictured below.
But the iconic dessert dish to order is the utterly playful, El-Bulli-esque, “Mango Sunny-Side Up.” The famed dish appears like eggs and bacon on a plate but, in this case, the “bacon” is a curvy strip of fried crepe with raspberry streakings, the egg consists of a sunny mango yolk that breaks like a real egg over a coconut panna cotta egg white, and it's served with a dollop of raspberry sauce “ketchup” on the side. “Salt and pepper” shakers of powdered sugar and cocoa powder complete the diner-plate illusion. Now all this would just amount to show-offy chef tricks, if the dish weren’t as sweet and delicious tasting as it looks. Even the late, famed El Bulli kitchen could take a page from Kimiko’s clever cookbook.