Umi is arguably Atlanta’s best sushi spot, and at the helm of this swanky, dimly lit Buckhead sushi house is Tokyo-born chef and partner Fuyuhiko Ito. With more than three decades of culinary credentials under his belt, including experience with both traditional Japanese and classic French cuisine, Ito offers creative Asian fare of the highest calibre. The chef’s sought-after bites are also served at Himitsu, a Japanese craft cocktail lounge recently opened by the Umi team.
But, before Ito was a sushi deity in Atlanta, he was a 17-year-old handling fresh fish from the Tsukiji Fish Market at Tokyo’s Chateau Lion restaurant. Ito went on to work under master chef Kono in the United States and a top Yakitori chef at Toriyoshi in Nishiazabu, Tokyo. As he worked his way through the kitchens of various restaurants, he developed a passion for knives and today only uses non-oxidizing ones. Every day, Ito fine-tunes each of his sharp tools by using at least three different grit-sharpening stones. When he isn’t slicing through fresh seafood and plating some of the most beautiful sushi rolls in the South, Ito enjoys exploring Atlanta’s food scene and spending time with his family, Umi’s pastry chef Lisa Ito and their six children. “I find culinary inspiration in Atlanta at every restaurant I dine out in,” he says. “There’s a great variety of cuisines available in our city. I learn from every chef I meet and every and dish I try.”
With such a wealth of knowledge, we couldn’t think of anyone better to give us the lowdown on where to eat, drink and be merry in Atlanta. Here are some of his favourite foodie haunts:
For a good cup of coffee: Ito enjoys Dancing Goats Coffee Bar, where the earth-friendly Batdorf & Bronson coffee keeps java-lovers coming back for more. “They use a high quality of coffee with different selections and techniques of brewing,” Ito says. Stop by the Ponce City Market location to enjoy your cup of Joe on the covered outdoor space, complete with a porch swing and water feature.
A late night bite: When the restaurant closes, Ito heads to Marcel. The throwback American steakhouse on the West Side offers a late night menu from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. with items such as oysters, steak frites and a juicy cheeseburger with thick cut bacon. Not to mention sweets such as a bananas foster sundae and strawberry mascarpone crepe cake. “Ford Fry does a great late night menu in an amazing atmosphere,” Ito says of the eatery named after French fighter Marcel Cerdan.
Hotel bar scene: See and be seen at Ito’s favourite hotel bar, The St. Regis Bar in Buckhead, where an original mural behind the bar depicts a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Order the St. Regis Special Selection 3.0 bourbon, handcrafted exclusively for the hotel by Woodford Reserve Distillery, or the famous Bloody Mary that is given a Southern twist of Tomolives. “The staff are extremely friendly and provide incredible service,” Ito says. “It’s always very energetic.”
Craft cocktails: It’s no surprise that a craving for cocktails takes Ito to sister spot Himitsu, where award-winning bartender and creative director Shingo Gokan executes a “by reservation only” ambiance reminiscent of a Tokyo-style cocktail lounge. “Shingo Gokan creates some of the most precise and interesting cocktails in Atlanta,” Ito says.
Date night: Chef Gerry Klaskala’s signature restaurant, Aria, is Ito’s selection for a romantic meal with his wife. The Buckhead fine dining establishment serves modern American cuisine, with dishes such as slow braised Kurobuta pork shoulder turning first time diners into regulars. “Aria provides a quaint setting with wonderful food and wine list,” Ito says.
Fresh seafood: Ito is a seafood specialist and when he goes out to dine on ocean fare, his pick (aside from Umi of course) is Buckhead’s Chops Lobster Bar. Although this old-school chophouse is regaled for its meat, the seafood – Alaskan Red King Crab, Nova Scotia Lobster Tail and Norwegian salmon to name a few – is flown in daily. “I love their oysters and fresh seafood selection,” says Ito.
Farmer’s market: Ito enjoys exploring the exotic produce, organic fruits and hard-to-find ethnic ingredients of Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, a grocery that has been family owned and operated since 1984. “I enjoy shopping here and looking around the market at their selection from time to time,” he says. Situated on the Atlanta highway known for its stellar ethnic eateries, the market lives up to its reputation as a United Nations of food products.
Dinner with the friends and family: When dining with his brood or besties, Ito heads to chef Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow. “It’s a super fun restaurant that offers an interactive dinner for a group of friends or family,” Ito says. Inspired by Chinese dim sum and Brazilian churrascaria restaurants, the concept allows diners to pick and choose inventive dishes off rolling carts and trays. The menu changes weekly and the open kitchen is culinary entertainment at its best.
A hidden gem: Tucked away in a nondescript Duluth shopping strip, Jang Won Jung, cooks up authentic Korean specialties such as dolsat bibimbap, ddukbaegi bulgogi and doenjang jjigae. “This is my go-to place when I want to dine casual. They also offer clean eating options,” Ito says.
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Atlanta from London Heathrow, making your trip to Atlanta’s top eateries easy.
Have you been to any of Chef Fuyuhiko Ito’s favourite Atlanta food spots? Let us know in the comments section below.