Gone Fishing

Ride the surf at Azumi.

By Jane Marion - May 2015

Review: Azumi

Ride the surf at Azumi.

By Jane Marion - May 2015

A sushi platter from Azumi. -Photography by Scott Suchman

Tug on the samurai sword door pull as you enter Azumi, move beyond the bar with Japanese characters laser-cut into a steel sheet, then pick your path: a faux eel-skin banquette in the lounge, the raw-fish bar gleaming with live sea urchin, or a booth with breathtaking views of the harbor.

Welcome to The Land of the Rising Sun by way of The Land of Pleasant Living.

When we heard that Alex Smith and his partner George Aligeorgas of the Atlas Restaurant Group (known for the Harbor East hotspot Ouzo Bay) decided to stick with the concept of Japanese fine-dining when Pabu closed on the same site last year, the comparisons from Pabu's dedicated fan base—present company included—seemed inevitable.

Wisely, Smith and Aligeorgas kept what worked at the former izakaya (Japanese for pub), going so far as to rehire master sake sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto to preside as a consultant over the beverage program, which boasts the best sake selection in the city. And they changed what didn't—broadening the menu to encompass not only authentic Far East imports (live black tiger shrimp and baby octopus from the famed Tsukiji Market in Japan), but also more approachable fare such as cooked sushi rolls, rock shrimp, and even roasted free-range chicken for the inevitable finicky eater.

While Pabu was pretty, designer Patrick Sutton has slicked up the space for Azumi (think: Nobu, Morimoto, and other internationally known fish emporiums) and created a more fluid flow, while even the front door was hard to find at the former iteration.

When my dining companion and I arrived early on a Saturday night, the trendy house music was already in full force, and grown-up versions of the cool kids were holding court at the buzzy bar. Though our waitress was sweet, her understanding of the menu seemed mostly memorized, so, as was our habit at Pabu, we summoned Soto (who actually helped recruit chef Eiji Takase and lived in Japan for several years).

Our dining neighbor offered that the fish was as good as any he'd had while on a recent trip to Tokyo.

While Soto can wax rhapsodic over the sake selection, she is equally excited about helping design your dinner from a menu comprised of starters, sushi, entrees, niku (meat) and sides, as well as an omakase chef's choice tasting menu. The tab can get high here in no time, so plan properly and take Soto's unerring advice on the best way to move through your meal.

Since its opening in December, I've visited Azumi numerous times and have taken every tack, from sampling the bold (bite-sized Sawagani crabs flash-fried with sea salt and lime) to trying the more banal—though no less delicious— age dashi tofu, which was crisp and impossibly soft and resting in a soy dashi broth.

On this visit, we ordered from almost every section of the menu, though it's the fish dishes—served hot, cold, cooked, or raw—that rate. Our favorite appetizers included an exquisitely plated kanpachi amberjack glistening with black-truffle oil and a tangy yuzu juice served on a crisp yucca chip, and the exceptionally fresh blue-fin toro sashimi (flown in daily from Japan). We ordered ours nigiri-style, with the buttery belly meat blanketing a ball of rice, and served properly with a dab of wasabi tucked between the layers, so that no additional sauce was needed. As we savored each bite, our dining neighbor offered that the fish was as good as any he'd had while on a recent trip to Tokyo.

On the sushi side of the menu, we chose from among a list of more than a dozen unique rolls. Having found fish bliss with the miso-marinated black cod entrée on a previous visit, we were eager to try the black cod roll fortified with spicy miso, crispy satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato), and a kick of shiso ginger. It was as pleasing to the eyes as it was to the taste buds. A plate of delicate Scottish salmon crudo garnished with beet threads and flower petals also astonished.

To go with our surf, we included some turf—in this case a Wagyu New York strip steak. Expectations ran high for the prized piece of rarified A5-grade beef served with three house-made, soy-based dipping sauces. While full-flavored, the intensely marbled meat was difficult to chew and made me wonder: Why $58? On an earlier visit, the Wagyu skirt steak—way more fairly priced at $29—was preferable to my palate (and my pocketbook).

The desserts are artful and elaborate, adorned with hand-spun sugar sculptures and 23-karat gold flakes, though the simplest one, a selection of house-made mochi ice creams (mango, green tea, yuzu), is the standout. Sad as I was to say sayonara to Pabu, there are, in fact, other fish in the sea. Or at least along the Patapsco.





You May Also Like


In Good Taste

Open & Shut: Prime Corner; Blackwall Hitch; Cafe Zen

The latest restaurant openings, closings, and recent news.

Food & Drink

Ready or Not

Baltimore’s first distillery bar adds an experiential element to Old Line Spirits.

In Good Taste

Gundalow Juice Stops Production to Focus on Catering Services

CEO and founder Dana Sicko discusses the next chapter with Gundalow Gourmet.


On The Town

Fall Craft Beers You Should Be Drinking This Season

Local breweries focus on lagers and session beers as the colder months approach.

On The Town

Baltimore's Best Halloween Parties, Concerts, and Festivals

Get in on food, fun, and frights at these local Halloween events

On The Town

Best Boozy Trivia Nights in Baltimore Every Day of the Week

Test your knowledge and get tipsy at these Charm City game nights.

A sushi platter from Azumi. -Photography by Scott Suchman

Connect With Us

Most Read


Baltimore Musician Hunter Hooligan Debuts Song at New York Fashion Week: "Pink" served as the soundtrack to designer Stevie Boi's rose-tinted vision.

Actor Željko Ivanek Hosts 35th Anniversary NAMI Event: The Emmy Award-winner makes his first extended stay in Baltimore since leaving Homicide: Life on the Street.

Baltimore Japan Art Festival Returns to Station North With Illustrator Yusuke Nakamura: The two-day fest will also feature a film series and a family-friendly lineup of outdoor events.

Ben Jealous Fared Well in Debate, But Will It Make a Difference?: Democratic challenger scores some points, but Gov. Larry Hogan holds a big leads in polls.

Get an Inside Look at City Architecture with Doors Open Baltimore: The fifth annual event shows off 60 unique buildings and neighborhoods.