First Look: Katana Teppanyaki & Sushi

The new Buckhead Japanese joint serves up an elevated hibachi experience

There is always an element of theater when dining in a teppanyaki restaurant — the places we Americans decided to call "hibachi." (The word "hibachi" actually refers to an open-grate grill fueled by charcoal.) Shrimp is thrown, volcanoes of onions are set on fire, knives are tossed, and mountains of fried rice are shoved before diners and the strangers sitting next to them to gorge upon before the main courses are cooked together, divided, and served alongside pre-prepared sauces. Katana Teppanyaki & Sushi, which opened back in November, changes this form and offers instead an experience inspired by a true Japanese steakhouse where "teppan" means "iron plate" and "yaki" equals "grilled, broiled, or fried."

Located in the former Truffles Café spot across from Lenox Square, Katana is the newest restaurant from Mali Hu and George Muh, originally from Korea, who also own the One Sushi in Brookhaven and Ichiban Steak and Sushi in Alpharetta. Inside, Katana has a Japanese minimalist feel accented with natural elements: a piece of driftwood here, a block of pink salt there. A beautiful warrior and her katana greet you from a huge mosaic mural in the dining room. (Michonne from "The Walking Dead" would dig this chick's steel.) The space appears sparse but in a clean, Zen sort of way that draws your attention to the preparation of food, exactly Muh and Hu's intent. At the hostess stand you must choose: a seat at one of the iron griddles on the teppanyaki side or the more straightforward sushi-and-sit-down-dinner side?

Dining on the teppanyaki side of Katana feels very much like attending a performance. Each seats up to 10 people and has a distinct menu that cannot be ordered on the other side of the restaurant, which is divided by a well-stocked bar. Unlike your run-of-the-mill, suburban hibachi joint, this cooking show is less kitschy and more reserved. The chef does not speak except when spoken to or to explain a sauce or ingredient. There is an exceedingly precise choreography of cutting, stirring, and plating. Each order is prepared before your eyes, separately, with finesse.

Angus beef filets are sliced by the focused chef from a marbled piece of meat and served with a truffle-onion-mushroom purée, microgreens, and truffle salt ($34). The tender, heavily truffled steak was cooked to each diner's specifications perfectly. Chilean sea bass comes plated, or rather, bowled with a dashi including sizzling sesame oil, ginger, and onion. A must-order can be found under the add-on section of the menu. The scallops are first placed on a pink block of salt while a cilantro jalapeño emulsion is stirred in a tiny vessel upon the grill. After a nice sear, they are plated in what seems to be too much sauce, but it isn't. The creamy emulsion is vibrant, spicy, earthy, and matches the smokiness the scallops imparted from the grill. Make sure there are spoons nearby.

On the more traditional side, the sushi bar is the focus of the serene, minimalist-style dining room, although there is no seating at the sushi counter. Menu items include a slew of rolls, sashimi, sushi, hot and cold small plates, and "big plates" like the green tea encrusted salmon with dashi pearl couscous and a charred lemon-mint emulsion ($24). Katana also has a great version of Nobu's Bang Bang Shrimp tempura ($16), the light tempura rock shrimp with drizzles of sweet-spicy mayo. Most diners seem to go for the rolls. The Mount Rushmore ($11) is a tasty choice with big bits of lump crab, creamy avocado, and umami-rich flakes of bonito.

Katana's lunch menu comes with its own set of eating-style choices: box, fork, hand, or chopstick. Boxes have soup or salad, rice, vegetable tempura, and a choice of roll along with protein choices ranging from chicken to lamp lollipops ($11-$18), a great value for the amount of food served. The 12-piece sashimi ($16) is chosen by the chef — tuna, salmon, yellowtail, nothing too crazy. It's vibrant, fresh, and precisely cut.

Cocktails are inventive at Katana. The Momo-Ma is a layered, spicy mixture of bourbon, white peach liqueur, ginger, bitters, lemon juice, and a large ice block on a stick. The wine list boasts many by the glass of both old and new world wines. An in-house sake sommelier will help navigate the large list of sakes and Japanese craft beers.

Service is attentive, valet parking is complimentary, and standards of Japanese cooking are upheld. They do sauces really well at Katana and the experience of having them blended and whisked before your plate is hypnotic.

Katana is two restaurants in one set in a Zen-like environment where the ingredients on the plate are the focus and skillful saucery becomes the star. Sushi is more basic than hot spots like Umi, Tomo, and Craft but it's nevertheless fresh and well cut. The experience on the action side is more sophisticated than Japanese steakhouses in Atlanta like Benihana or even sister restaurant Ichiban. It's a great stop before or after hitting the mall for a quick sushi fix or a dinner theater experience of cookery on a teppan griddle.

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