Legends of sports and movie stars have followed their dreams to head their own restaurants for the love of food and its expression (and maybe ego). Yakitori Jinbei on Cobb Parkway, just outside I-285, is the confluence of skill and luck. Restaurateur and working optometrist Dr. Jae Choi was staring at abysmal pandemic sales when the Food Network came calling in season 30. Guy Fieri’s world-famous “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show propelled the rather non-descript storefront to a coveted spot on the “gotta try this” eclectic dining map. This combination of Korean and Japanese classics features clean-tasting fish, noodle bowls and proteins in a colorful array with unique chef-curated sauces.
Dr. Choi describes his Food Network journey. “My patient recommended us to the show. The experience was totally mind-blowing. I had no idea the amount of work that went into filming an eight-minute segment. There was an extensive vetting process, including interviews with the research team, description of recipes and submitting photos. I was very nervous, but excited to be in front of a camera. It was a total blast. The two dishes I prepared for Guy were Katsu Curry Ramen and Korean Fried Chicken.”
What’s currently missing from Yakitori Jinbei is the yakitori, skewered chicken. The restaurant’s to-go business during the pandemic shifted and they streamlined the kitchen process to a high standard of taste “boxed up.” Choi said, “It was too difficult to attend to the charcoal for yakitori, which needs to be eaten as soon as it comes off the grill. It would not create a great experience in a to-go format so I took it off the menu.” Thinking ahead when Braves games resume, Yakitori Jinbei, just steps from Truist Park, will be well positioned.
Choi’s traditional parents wanted him to pursue a more stable vocation over the restaurant path. After growing up in Chicago and attending the Illinois College of Optometry, he divides seeing patients three days a week in Peachtree City with running Yakitori Jinbei. His culinary adventure started with his Asian Chicken Wing sauce from the Chicago area. After moving to Atlanta in 2002, he craved it so much that his brother shipped it here to replicate. “Like a mad scientist, I took out all different ingredients and after many attempts, finally perfected it. That recipe is a secret.”
Yakitori Jinbei does not have an outdoor dining area, but its masked staff is eager for on-time curbside. Inside the sushi bar is closed (sushi is still served and artistically so). Japanese bamboo screens have been placed between indoor tables.
Takeout that we went crazy over
Kitsune Udon: Soup base is prepared for home assembly in separate containers: recyclable bowl with the udon, fragrant soft Inari seaweed, aged sweet tofu, tempura flakes, spring onion ($12), then the electives are packed separately. We had grilled corn and enoki mushrooms. Choi said he chose self-assembly because takeouts are often for busy businesspeople for lunch. Enough for two meals. To make it go even further, add extra broth $3, extra noodles $3.
Tropical Island: Thinly sliced super white tuna, flash-seared and topped with olive garlic sauce, masago, tobiko and chive served with creamy citrus sauce and shredded daikon radish.
Hawaiian salmon-avocado salad: Round raw salmon (or tuna) chunks over avocado, artfully layered over spring mix served with citrus olive garlic sauce.
Nigiri: Madai (snapper) with mini sliced radish and orange citrus salmon. The salmon was moist, fresh and perfectly placed; but no citrus was detected. Scallions and thin onions made for tasty toppings.
Tuna Carpaccio: Cuneal-shaped wedges of avocado layered with tomato and raw tuna.
Sushi – Hawaiian roll: Tuna, yellowtail, spicy mayo, jalapeno, cilantro wrapped with soy paper, drizzled with chili oil and fresh lime juice. A beauty!
To try next time
Okonimiyaki: Japanese pancakes, vegetarian option; Truffled edamame; and the Curry Udon with cabbage looked appealing with kikurage (dark, rubbery and wavy) mushrooms.
Yakitori Jinbei is open six days a week and closed Sunday.