Shoya Izakaya - Doraville, GA

Atlanta, Georgia . . . The city seems like a huge metropolis to someone like the likes of me from Durham, NC. In fact I consider it to be one of the top 10 biggest cities in the US. Maybe I'm just naive. Atlanta is currently only the 33rd largest city in the US by population but packs more quality restaurants than some of the big boys. Shoya belongs in the big city, it produces super fresh seafood and yakitori while seemingly at full capacity at all times.

This is a long post so bear with me, I promise that some of these foods, as bizarre as they may seem, are truely delicious and deserve your attention if you stop by this strip mall eatery.

You may or probably have no clue what I'm talking about when I talk about Izakayas. Think of an izakaya like your local sports bar that you frequent that also sells fresh grilled chicken hearts. Izakayas are drinking establishments through and through, they just happen to serve up substantial Japanese eats. But don't come around here looking for wings and/or fries or you'll be sorely disappointed.

Tako Wasabi - Raw octopus with marinated with pickled wasabi leaf
I will say this, the order that these pictures show up are purely the order that we ordered this gargantuan meal. My cousins know how to eat. My girlfriend Em, she knows how to eat. We start with the palette cleansing raw octopus that has been marinated with pickled wasabi leaves. It's pungent to the nose, but nice and subtle to the palette. Think of it like drinking ocean water while someone shoves wasabi up your nose. It's pleasant, trust me.

Sea Cucumber Sunomono - Variety of seafood, cucumber and seaweed with vinaigrette
A lot of what Asian food is is texture. A lot of times we use the main piece in a dish as the medium for the sauce that surrounds it. If the main piece has a great texture it's like a win win for us. Sea Cucumber is light in flavor when fresh, and almost crunchy while being soft at the same time. The classic soy vinaigrette that comes with this dishe is nice and over powering to work in harmony with some of the "interesting" flavors of the sea cucumber.

Mountain Root Salad - Shredded mountain root, scallion, daikon radish, baby greens, and seaweed
And speaking of texture, sometimes, the texture of some dishes is just too hard to swallow. This is one of those that is a bit much for me. My cousins seem to love it, but I just can't seem to get around the consistency of the mountain root. It seems all crunchy like an Asian pear when you bite in to it, but then the slimey, mucous, consistency starts right in. It's like the inside of an okra without the seeds.

Ankimo - Steamed monk fish liver with ponzu sauce, scallion, and chili radish
I know the idea of eating a steamed fish's liver seems a bit far fetched. After all usually the experience we have with fish liver is cod fish liver oil. Supposedly really healthy for you but also some of the fishiest nauseating smell, am I correct? Well ankimo doesn't hold true to this assumption. The flavor is very mild, and the texture is much like a firm pate. This dish is extremely rich so don't go popping several into your mouth or you may just ruin your meal. The flavor is very much like a particular, but once you forget that it's monk fish liver, you actually start to like it a lot.

Ko Mochi Shishamo - Grilled half dried smelt fish(with eggs) with sea salt
I don't know how to explain to you that these dishes are not as odd as they seem. If I didn't grow up eating fish roe, then the idea of eating an impregnated fish would seem far fetched and gross. But I know how delicious fish roe is. Yes these fish are grilled whole with their egg sack intact. Yes they still have the head attached. But trust me, if you get beyond all of the aesthetics of it all, it's an extremely delicious dish.

Gindara - Grilled marinated silver cod with dashi soy sauce
I just realized I may have come to the first "normal" dish on this list of food. Silver cod is a nice oily fish with tons of flavor and there is an almost molasses-y sweetness to this fish. I can only say one thing umami(delicious).

Shishito Peppers - Served with lemon and sea salt
I wonder if these thin skinned peppers are in season. Eating Shishito peppers is like playing Russian roulette. You may or may not get one that's really spicy and will turn your mood south. At the same time though, maybe you can just consider it a reason to keep eating! There isn't much much that needs to be done with shishito peppers, just pop them in a broiler and get them a little charred sprinkle some sea salt and a squeeze of lemon and that's it. Simple.

Chicken Heart and Japanese Conch - Served with lemon and sea salt
This was only my second experience with an izakaya. My first time was at Yakitori Totto in NY, NY. And my first time I had to eat chicken hearts as well. Remember I was talking about texture and how important a roll it plays in asian cuisine. Well, chicken hearts are nice and chewy and have a very meaty flavor to them.

Funny enough these two dishes came out at the same time and seem to have very similar textures. Though the flavors couldn't be farther apart, the texture is very similar. Conch tastes a bit fishy but in that steamed clam sort of way. Not offensive, just good.

Chicken Meat Ball - With Cheese
Funny enough, when I was going through these pictures to create this post, I got to this picture of the chicken meat balls and was more grossed out than any other dish. Just the thought of putting american cheese on what looks like a glorified hotdog made me a little grossed out. I can say though that this meat ball is safe for the kiddies. They'd probably love how it comes on and stick and has cheese on it. Very juvenile, but also comforting in the same way.

Pork Onigiri - Two rice balls with bbq pork
Onigiri comes in all different variations with all sorts of fillings. I obviously gravitate towards anything pork. I am what I eat I guess. I wasn't so fond of their preparation of this onigiri. I was expecting a grilled rice ball with a nice crusted outside and a smokey flavor, but instead these were wrapped and grilled and lacked all that I love about grilled rice balls. However, another not-so-difficult to eat dish. Easy on the palette and the texture is quite easy to stomach even for beginners.

Chicken Skin - Served with lemon and sea salt
How many times have you wanted to eat the chicken skin off of a nice fried chicken wing only to be told that it will give you a heart attack? Well this dish is for all those times. It's just what you think it tastes like. Crispy, fatty, goodness. And oddly enough, it's not as rich as you would think. In other words, they remind me more of a potato chip fried in lard (YUM!) than a stick of butter.

Chicken Gizzard - Served with lemon and sea salt
If I were to hand you a skewer and said "here eat it, it's chicken gizzard." Would you? Well I guess that's not fair, you'd be out of your mind to eat a skewer of chicken parts from who knows what source and eat it. I digress. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is, if you don't give it a try on your own account, then you may never know the wonders of odd chicken parts. The gizzard is almost 100% texture. The flavor is light and what flavor you do get from it can easily be covered with the lemon and salt that goes along side the dish. The texture is crunchy though. At first you don't think that any meat product should be so crunchy but then you forget what you're eating and the next thing you know you're snacking on gizzard.

Tonkotsu Ramen - Egg noodles in creamy pork soup with roast pork, boiled egg, and more
And so we get to the final two courses, noodles and dessert. Kind of. So it's no secret I love noodles. So easy to eat, filling, and portable. These are the japanese versions of the famous ramen noodles. Don't get the water boiled out and set your timer to 3 minutes for these bad boys though. You're never going to get the richness of creamy pork broth without a ton of effort and time. I want to believe that tonkotsu ramen is one of the more classic ramens because I love to eat it at any chance I get. The broth is nice and creamy and the trimmings are superb. Now if I could just get this to dehydrate well.

Tan Tan Ramen - Egg noodles in spicy soy-chicken soup with pork, boiled egg, and more
Just based on the flavors going on in this ramen dish, I would venture to say it's influenced by chinese cuisine. The broth has more kick and the ground pork reminds me of chinese dan dan noodles. Either way, I'm in love with this dish and would probably go back to Shoya just for these noodles.

Okonomi Yaki - Japanese pan cake with pork, egg, and vegetables
The first time I heard about okonomi yaki was when I was studying to be a food lover watching Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. His episode on Japan really opened my eyes to a lot of Japanese cuisine. I called this dessert only because it was so late in the game showing up to the table, what else could it be? Think of okonomi yaki as a japanese "Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity". It's a pancake of sorts, filled with all sorts of savory goods, fried on the griddle, and topped with bonito flakes and japanese mayo. I also like to call it a cardiac arrest. It's dangerously decadent and probably should come with a warning label for the roof of your mouth.

Anyways, I'm sorry you had to sit through that one. It was a long road but you've made it. Now go out and get some good eatin' done!

--Joe Kwon

For more info on Shoya click on this link.