Japan is a dream destination for me. I am so fascinated by their culture, and I’ve always wanted to experience it. Especially when it comes to their cuisine! I mean, their food is so different than ours in America, and how they dine is also special too. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to experience a tatami-style room, and I can’t believe I’m telling you all this, but… I finally got to dine in a real, authentic tatami room!
I’m still pinching myself as I write this. What’s even crazier is the fact that I didn’t even have to leave Atlanta to have this amazing, authentic experience. I know… It’s insane. Let me back up and tell you a little more how all this happened.
Atlanta’s Own Authentic Tatami Room
I have my foodie friend Melissa (The Front Porch Gourmet) to thank for this wonderful opportunity. She invited me to join her at a private tasting at Japanese restaurant in Atlanta called Nakato. Now, Nakato is not your average Japanese restaurant. This place is the real deal. It’s owned by a woman named Sachi Nakato Takahara, who is a third-generation matriarch of this restaurant. Her grandmother, Testuko Nakato first founded the restaurant all the way back in 1972 right here in Atlanta. While fancy new eateries have come and gone, Nakato has remained a staple—it’s the oldest Japanese restaurant in Atlanta that’s still in business.
When I heard this story, I was in awe! It just goes to show that tradition and authenticity will never go out of style. And speaking of authenticity… I got a good dose of it during the tasting.
First of all, just to dine in the Tatami Room, it felt like a secret mission. Ideally, the room is reserved for anyone who has knowledge about traditional Japanese cuisine. Basically, you have to ask about this room in order to be able to dine in it—they keep it pretty low-key. Of course, since Sachi and Executive Chef Yoshifusa Kinjo invited us to be there, we didn’t have to sneak our way in or anything 😉 Oh, and if you’re wondering, a “tatami” is a type of mat traditionally made using rice straw to form the core of it, and that’s what is used as flooring material in a tatami room. Nakato’s private Tatami Room offer intimate, multi-course washoku dining. In the Tatami Room, guests trade shoes for slippers, sit on floor pillows, and are attended to by kimono-wearing servers. Pretty cool, right?
Now, despite how happy I was just to be in the room, it was time for us to sink our teeth into the amazing tasting Chef Kinjo had planned for us.
Now this is “Real” Japanese Cuisine!
We first started with an aperitif that gave me a good feeling for the things to come. It was a drink called a Shiso Shochu that had gold flakes in it. This drink was quite literally Instagram “gold,” lol! Next up was the appetizer, an amazing King Crab Salad with apple vinegar—the perfect way to start things off.
Then we really tested our appetites. We were given a “five point appetizer” which, yes, has five different foods on it! Here’s what it included: “Miso” grilled black cod, slow cooked “Tsubugai” sea whelk, salmon terrine, fried “Kawaebi” river shrimp, and “Sora Mame” broad bean. Talk about a mouthful! But seriously, everything was delicious—especially since I’m a big seafood lover.
And the sushi/seafood kept on coming (yay!). We then had the Three Point Sashimi Plate, which consisted of “Madai” Japanese snapper, “Toro” marbled tuna, and “Isaki” grunt fish. We followed these yummy Sashimis with the braised course, which was a traditional savory custard called “Chawanmushi.”
Wait, there’s more!
The tasting didn’t end there. We were then treated to family-style shared plates which delighted our tastebuds to flavors of Miso Grilled Eggplant, assorted tempura, and “Yakitori” skewers with sea salt and teriyaki glaze… delicious, of course. Following that, we had our sushi course served with short neck clam miso soup, and then it was finally time for dessert: Green Tea Panna Cotta! Even though I was full way before dessert, I kept powering through because everything they served us was so interesting and tasty! Plus, no one likes a quitter. 😉
What I admire most about Nakato is that they pride themselves on preserving their culture’s cuisine, so they always place emphasis on seasonal ingredients. They also serve up recipes that have been passed down through generations, making it feel like you’re tucked away in a little Japanese restaurant all the way across the world.
I like to think that during this whole process I was getting a little more familiar with the Japanese language, but I was really only learning the names of certain foods, LOL! Still, though, we got a very fabulous food-fueled lesson on traditional Japanese culture, which I am so thankful I got to be a part of! Chef Kinjo was beyond talented, and Sachi was extremely impressive with her cultural know-how! Thank you for giving me my first-ever tatami room experience—it was more than I could have ever imagined!
If you’re in the mood for authentic Japanese cuisine, visit Nakato Japanese Restaurant at 1776 Cheshire Bridge Road, N.E. in Atlanta.