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Sushi (Tee) Time
Chef A.J. Katamura with some of his handiwork

Golf-loving sushi chef tees off with his own restaurant

It’s been over a month since Eiichi “A.J.” Katamura hit a golf ball. Typically the good-humored sushi chef plays golf every week, but since earlier this year, when he started making plans to open his own restaurant, his free time has been scarce.

Last Wednesday was opening day for MIWA Japanese Restaurant Sushi Bar and Grill, just off Pooler Parkway and Benton Boulevard near the Pooler Home Depot. Eiichi couldn’t be happier. The same goes for customers who’ve befriended the 44-year-old over the past 25 years as he’s sliced and rolled the traditional Japanese cuisine of uncooked or marinated seafood delicacies at restaurants in Savannah.

“We’ve been following Eiichi for years and years so coming here is a natural progression,” said Carey Ferrara, enjoying a late Saturday lunch sitting at MIWA’s sushi counter with her husband Brendan and their baby son Grayson.

At a nearby table were Sammy Sugiura, now-retired former owner of Musashi’s, and his wife Kay. They’re “customers and friends, helping us a lot in setting up this restaurant,” said Mieko Katamura, Eiichi’s wife.

Sammy and Eiichi go way back. On December 1, 1982, the Savannah Morning News ran a photo of 19-year-old Eiichi on his first day working for Sammy preparing sushi at Musashi’s, and a feature story announcing this “new” cuisine to Savannah’s restaurant patrons.

Born in Tokyo, Eiichi arrived in the U.S. in September 1981, and the next year landed in Savannah. In 1989 he left for New York (where he met Mieko) and then Cincinnati (where their daughter, Miwa, was born.) Returning to Savannah in 1996, Eiichi became sushi chef at Hirano’s Japanese Restaurant on Habersham, where he remained until just before MIWA opened.

Daughter Miwa is thrilled to have the restaurant named after her. “She took my business card with her name on it and handed it out to all her friends,” said Eiichi. “A couple days ago her teacher came in to eat with her here.”

For years a six-day-a-week fixture at Hirano’s, Eiichi cut back his hours at the midtown establishment in February to search for the right location for MIWA. He found it in April, in a two-year-old retail center with access to plenty of hungry customers at nearby banks, shops, hotels and new neighborhoods. There’s even a golf store next door.

“It’s a new area, growing fast, a potentially good place,” said Eiichi.

Hirano himself, as well as Sagiura, encouraged Eiichi to start his own business. “Hirano first asked me why not open my own restaurant in 2000,” said Eiichi. “Before it’s too late, before I get too old. He opened Hirano’s when he was 43 or 44.”

Anchoring MIWA’s menu are popular Japanese entrees (Teriyaki Chicken, Yakiniku Steak, Grilled Shrimp) in lunch and dinner portions, and an extensive appetizer selection. Sushi lovers can choose from among several combination platters, or order the traditional way, checking off items a la carte from a page-long list of rolls or two-piece items. Japanese beer, wine, sake, and green tea quench thirsty soy-sauce-and-wasabi tongues, as do those southern must-have beverages — Coke and iced tea.

One of Eiichi’s most often ordered creations, the G5 Roll, combines tuna, salmon, white fish, crab and masago roe in a rice roll with avocado and spicy sauce. “I got a new golf club named the G5. I got the name from there,” said Eiichi, “but now G5 means ‘a good five kinds of fish.’”

Eiichi tastes a slice of every fish every morning to ensure freshness. “I try using local as much as possible, from Russo’s Seafood. I go into their walk-in and pick up the fish and look. They help me.

“A lot of regulars have come in the last couple of days. I’m so glad to see them,” said Eiichi. “One customer lives in Richmond Hill, but the son lives here in Pooler. He checked every day to see if we were open. When he saw we were open he called his mom. That day they came. She didn’t know my number, how else would they know?”

MIWA Japanese Restaurant Sushi Bar and Grill, Mon.-Sat., lunch and dinner.

Towne Plaza #5

125 Foxfield Way (near Pooler Parkway and Benton Blvd)

(912) 748-8228

Cash and credit cards accepted.