Tasting Intown: The secret of Himitsu’s success

The bar at Himitsu
The bar at Himitsu

By Megan Volpert

Friends, prepare to part with your money. Himitsu belongs in New York and I’m glad to find it in Atlanta – a city whose finest chefs have been beleaguered by its second-class status in national round-ups of cuisine.

The Itos, that sushi master and pastry chef power couple of Fuyuhiko and Lisa Matsuoka, are raising their game from the lovely work they do at Umi to Umi’s little sister restaurant, this perfect new hotspot nestled in a disguised location in Buckhead.

Himitsu means “secret,” after all. You have to find the email address needed to request a reservation. They email you back a confirmation, and then two hours before your reservation, you receive a keypad code. Use Umi’s valet, but you’re not going to Umi. Turn a few corners to find the fake storefront, enter your keypad code, then greet your gatekeeper to the dining room.

Avocado salad
Avocado salad

The dining room is on two levels and seats about 80 people. Himitsu’s ambience is about finely blended combinations of light and shadow, from the stunning gorgeousness of its orange blown glass chandelier hanging eye level with the balcony tables to the subtlety of the yellow tones in the superbly backlit bar. The bar is the star of the first floor – or the corner table with a velvet bench for three is the star, or the golden votive holder with precisely geometric laser cut-outs is the star, or the very many kinds of unique barware and stemware are the star.

This place has ambience to spare, right down to the sparse, soft electronica piping in from hidden speakers and the giant Todd Murphy mural, “King of the Birds.” Everything here is nice to look at – brilliant, edgy, sophisticated. Go with somebody you want to impress, whether for romance or signing contracts. Go to celebrate when you finally get that promotion. Go if you already like the food at Umi and would gladly pay a little bit extra for the awesome atmosphere.

Right now, most of the Himitsu menu is drawn from Umi’s menu. This is understandable. Himitsu is the type of place where management thinks just as much about design and service as it does about food, and they are taking their time to get each element right. By the time you’re making reservations for Valentine’s Day, they’ll be ready to show you the menu on an iPad – little bursts of digital starshine lighting up the face of the film star at your neighboring table.

Mille-Feuille
Mille-Feuille

So let us remember that Umi’s menu is totally great. At Himitsu, you can find some of the “sushi boxes,” which are not bentos but sushi rolls that are pressed into squares. They don’t have seaweed holding them together. The missing seaweed makes everything a bit sweeter and creamier, and the unusual sushi shape delivers ingredients in a fresh, more balanced way for the palate to consider. Don’t forget to order the avocado salad. Is it really just a half avocado with a pit dent full of wasabi vinaigrette? Yes and no. Technically, yes. But they could bottle that wasabi vinaigrette and retire next year on the windfall.

You can also just go for drinks and dessert. We got five fluffy profiteroles piled like something out of “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” each filled with an individually icy gem of black sesame, yuzu, ginger, green tea or five spice. Wow, the five spice – a perfect wintry mix of warm and mysterious. The mille-feuille was also manna from heaven, with its two layers of chocolate between an infinitude of paper-thin French pastry slices and layers of cream, miles beyond a good tiramisu.

Plan to order two different cocktails. I’m not worried about which ones – this selection of divinely balanced cocktails is the work of Shingo Gokan, who performed similar magic at legendary NYC speakeasy Angel’s Share in NYC. Himitsu is the lovechild of a restaurant development dream team, and it shows in the every detail. Sure, it’s pricey, but consider Himitsu as a brief staycation in the land of elite privilege for moments when decent sushi alone is simply not enough.

To find Himitsu, visit Umi at 3050 Peachtree Road, Buckhead, umiatlanta.com.

Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture.

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