Exploring Atlanta's Cocktail Scene, Japanese Style!

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Himitsu cocktails

Atlanta‘s best-kept drinks secret may, in fact, be Japanese. Above photo: Himitsu cocktails. Photo: Angie Mosier

Newly developed cocktail bar Himitsu is the brainchild of Farshid Arshid and Shingo Gokan, who are working with Atlanta craft cocktail artisan T. Fable Jeon and sushi chef Fuyuhiko Ito, the chef behind Arshid’s other project, Umi. For their new, upscale venture, a distinct philosophy is being put into place, one that combines the art of Japanese hospitality and holds true to the local Southern flair.

Umi: Bringing Craft Sushi to Atlanta

Before Himitsu, there was Umi; in the creation of this restaurant, Arshid learned many of the things he would need to know in developing his later venture.

When it came to creating Umi, it wasn’t until Arshid, a veteran music professional, met Ito San that he discovered his calling. First a patron of Ito San’s former sushi restaurant, Arshid became a self-described “patron” — comparable to Renaissance patrons of the arts — when the restaurant where Ito San was working closed. Arshid decided that a master such as Ito San needed a place for him to exercise his craft, and he decided he would be the person to create it.

Yellowtail, jalapeño, yuzu, cilantro

Yellowtail, jalapeño, yuzu, and cilantro. Photo: Emily Monaco

“Even when the restaurant closed, we thought it would reopen,” says Arshid. “But three or four months went by, they couldn’t reopen, and eventually I was like — this is not gonna happen. It would be truly a crime if Ito San wound up like, working at some generic place making maki rolls, because it would happen! If there’s no platform for you…”

Instead of allowing this fate to unfold, Arshid decided to create a unique locale for Ito San, a locale that became Umi. Umi is an upscale Japanese restaurant in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. When creating the menu, Arshid and Ito San took inspiration from such famed chefs as Nobu San, but many of the dishes are inspired from Ito San’s unique approach to Japanese cuisine.

chef Fuyuhiko Ito

Umi chef Fuyuhiko Ito. Photo: Emily Monaco

“This is a sushi bar, so Japanese cuisine,” Ito San explains. “But I have a passion for French cuisine,” he says. “If I want to do it, I just do it.”

sashimi

sashimi. Photo: Emily Monaco

His blend of Japanese flavors and French technique creates such dishes as Maine lobster with soy butter prepared à la meunière or foie gras with wasabi soy sauce, caviar and gold leaf that just melts in your mouth. But both Ito San and Arshid are also wary of encouraging first-time diners to delve straight into these more unique dishes.

salmon nigiri, crème fraiche, caviar and aioli

Salmon nigiri, crème fraiche, caviar and aioli. Photo: Emily Monaco

“I think that’s a mistake a lot of people make. They order wrong or they don’t know how to order, and they might have a bad experience,” says Arshid. “I try to tell the staff, ‘If they don’t know what they’re doing, start them super safe, and then let the palate develop.’” He claims that this is something that Ito San has always done automatically and is one of the reasons that they work so well together. Indeed, in an age where many chefs are more concerned with ego than experience, it’s refreshing to have a chef who wants to put the client first. It was this philosophy that Arshid wanted to continue to develop with his new venture.

Himitsu: The Secret Of Hospitality

Himitsu is Japanese for secret, but Arshid was willing to share a few of his ideas about this new venture, particularly its cultivation of “tanashi,” which Arshid describes as grace, humility, and hospitality first. In a day and age when it seems as though we’re pulling away from one another, this person-ability is refreshing.

“You can’t really teach it; it’s just a culture,” Arshid says of taniashi. “If you’re in service, it’s all about respect and taking care of the client.”

chef Fuyuhiko Ito

Umi chef Fuyuhiko Ito. Photo: Emily Monaco

Sounds a little bit like the old adage, “the customer is always right,” right? Not so, according to Arshid, or at least not necessarily. Arshid finds that the modern attitude of judging a client for what they like has removed some of the hospitality from the industry, making it less pleasant to go out and enjoy yourself.

“A guy that works at some night club two years ago now went and got some tattoos and wears a plaid shirt and then he’s a mixologist now,” Arshid says. “Like literally two years ago, he was like doing gin and tonic out of a fountain, you know what I mean?”

This will not be the case at Himitsu, Arshid says, where the client is always right. After all, Himitsu was first born because Umi was losing its personable touch. The restaurant, overwhelmed with reservations, had patrons spilling into the bar area, which Arshid found unacceptable. He decided he needed to create a place where Umi patrons could finish their evening in the same tranquil atmosphere they found in the restaurant, thus the creation of Himitsu.

Himitsu interior

Himitsu interior. Photo: Emily Andrews

“Our thing was like, you should have whatever you want to have, but we’re going to serve you the best way,” he says.

Saucy Sips

Himitsu cocktails

Himitsu cocktails. Photo: Angie Mosier

And what about the drinks? Those fall into the purview of Jeon, who Arshid met when he was doing a cocktail and sushi pairing. At first, Arshid was wary of his “mixologist” title, worrying that it might be overwhelming for patrons just looking to enjoy themselves. “I don’t need the chatter,” Arshid says. “It’s great to inform people, but you don’t really want to be preached to.”

Luckily, this was not the case with Jeon, who came to Atlanta specifically for the purpose of crafting the 10-12 seasonal cocktails, which will be changed twice a year. The cocktails will ideally be paired with chef Ito San’s food, a talent that Ito San said is so acute, “The cocktail becomes almost like a sauce.”

A Table-Touch City

But even being this tuned into the food, Jeon had one weakness: he wasn’t from Atlanta.

The variety of hospitality that is capitalized upon here at Himitsu is very Japanese in its inspiration, and yet Arshid, an Atlanta native, notes that being present in the local culture is just as  — if not more — important.

himitsu

umi. Photo: Emily Monaco

“It’s a table-touch city, and that part of it is very much the south,” Arshid says. “They don’t like outside groups for some reason, because I think they don’t like people coming and opening up and leaving. Every successful restaurant is local. They really support local.”

That’s why Arshid found it so important to have Jeon come and concoct his cocktails in Atlanta proper. “He had his own thoughts, but once he came here and spent some time here, we kind of introduced him to the culture here,” he says. “And we were like, hey, peach is the state fruit. It’s cool — without making it cheesy — when it’s peach season, it’ll be great to have something that has peach in it.”

The combination of international and local inspiration has made Arshid’s two addresses some of the hottest on the luxury Atlanta scene, but the keys to his success can — and should — be translated to businesses in any price bracket: an attention to the comfort and desires of the customer, a willingness to seek out perfection, and a true sensibility to local culture.

Have you visited Himitsu in Atlanta? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

 

Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
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