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Restaurant Review: MF Sushi

The Kinjo brothers Inman Park sushi restaurant lacks the magic of the original

Once upon a time, brothers Alex and Chris Kinjo were at the top of Atlanta's sushi game. Their MF Sushibar restaurant on Ponce de Leon Avenue, which opened in 2002, was some of the best sushi money could buy. They didn't serve cooked dishes, just sushi art created by Chris "Magic Fingers" Kinjo. It was a lunch go-to and a date night destination. I was a regular.

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The Kinjos opened MF Buckhead in 2007 in the Terminus building. It promised elegance. Though it had its loyalists, MF Buckhead's hefty price tag proved too much for a city deep in an economic recession. After closing MF Sushibar in November 2011, MF Buckhead filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and closed along with the brothers' Vietnamese concept, NAM, in early 2012. They left Atlanta and started a restaurant in Houston. They've returned to the city and opened MF Sushi in Inman Park in May.

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Given the crowds, Kinjo fans appear pleased to see MF return. But Atlanta has evolved into a more sophisticated restaurant town since the Kinjos left in 2012. Restaurants such as Umi, the elegant Buckhead restaurant from MF alum Chef Fuyuhiko Ito, proved Atlanta was willing to pay for a top tier sushi experience. Rather than developing a fresh perspective to distinguish itself as MF Sushibar once did on Ponce, the Kinjo brothers have more or less picked up where they left off nearly four years ago. MF Sushi in Inman Park has its moments, but overall the brothers' latest effort feels dated and confused.

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Chris travels between Houston and Atlanta. He was not behind the sushi bar during either of my visits. You can feel his absence. It's hard to have MF Sushi without the Magic Fingers. The restaurant sources its fish from Tokyo's renowned Tsukiji Market. The well-trained sushi chefs transform it into beautiful jewels in both classic and signature nigiri forms. The flavor combinations zig and zag in your mouth. Otoro (fatty tuna) with serrano pepper, Dijon mustard, and caviar with truffle soy is like Paris meets Tokyo. Shiso oil lends peppery notes to the Shima Aji (Japanese skipjack), which is also seasoned with lemon juice. Yuzu and lime zest brighten an otherwise tame piece of Japanese amberjack finished with Himalayan rock salt.

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The sushi roll menu is basic — no cream cheese to dull the quality of the fish. Most of the rolls I tried were enjoyable, although the spicy tuna Osaka box sushi — something I always used to order at MF Midtown — was not pressed firmly enough and fell apart when picked up.

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Interesting small plates abound. Slippery strands of crunchy jellyfish spun into a salad dressed in a tart sour plum dressing perked up my palate. Jellyfish is somewhat bland as an ingredient, but the dressing made it sassier. A plate of super fresh cucumbers was served with moromi miso, a creamy and less salty miso paste chunky with broken soybeans. Forget chips and dip. This is what I want at my Super Bowl party. Every waitress I had pushed the baked lobster tempura. That poor lobster. It was battered, fried, and slathered in some awful mayo-based sauce that did nothing to elevate its sweet flesh. My ginger crab salad had little actual crab. The mixed greens were haphazardly dressed and came with only a few small pieces of crab hiding under the leaves.

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MF Buckhead served robata dishes (ingredients grilled over binchotan charcoal) and the tradition continues here. The execution is problematic, however. Our overly fishy sea bass was grilled in the back and then brought to the table on a thin piece of wood that was beautifully singed and still smoking. The smoke annoyed adjacent diners — one couple even moved. The additional smoke created by grilled dishes like filet mignon and an overly salty mushroom assortment only exacerbated the problem.

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During my visits, the dessert menu was undergoing an overhaul. The green tea soufflés are gone. Now, there's only an assortment of mochi, a Japanese rice cake.

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The cocktail list is extremely disorganized. Instead of being grouped together, sections of mixed drinks popped up in between wine, sake, and beer selections. Many of the cocktails, such as the MF Lychee, made with vodka, Lychee Liquor, and white cranberry juice served in a martini glass, were overly sweet or ill conceived. I had more luck with the enormous sake list and well-balanced beer menu, which included finds like Echigo Koshihikari out of Japan.

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Former regulars visiting the new MF will notice design elements reminiscent of the old Ponce and Buckhead locations. Glowing red beaded fixtures like the ones that hung over the sushi bar at Ponce now hang over the bar in Inman Park. The silver beaded curtains and the twirling silver chandeliers look like they could have been plucked from MF Buckhead. Instead of inspiring nostalgia, however, the repetition comes off as dated.

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Service is the area that feels most confused. The over-tasked servers, dressed like flight attendants from some fancy airline, were spread too thin, while a suit-clad Alex circulated the room checking his iPad. My dinners have been marked by long lulls and servers who promised to be right back, but didn't return for notable stretches of time.

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When I go to a world-class sushi restaurant, I expect the service to be streamlined and the food impeccable. Such luxuries don't come cheap. All of the nigiri choices range from $5-$10 for two pieces. Most of the special rolls and larger plates — save for premium ingredients like filet mignon and lobster — are under $20. But you have to order a lot to leave satisfied. It's easy to spend $100 per person at dinner. Between MF's unreliable service and food, it's hard to justify the price.

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I went to MF Sushi expecting to find an extraordinary, boundary-pushing new chapter from a pair of restaurateurs that once defined sushi excellence in Atlanta. Instead, I found the experience flawed and lacking the magic the Kinjo brand once had. (2 out of 5 stars)

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