Chef Seisuke “Sei” Fukuoka brings his superb and authentic Japanese cuisine to Gay Street

Emerging from his behind-the-bar kitchen area with a playful grin, Chef Seisuke Fukuoka, who goes by Sei, presents a chef’s special, Okonomiyaki (Japanese for “grilled as you like it”), as if he is sharing a special surprise. It’s his version of a Japanese pancake, made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, shrimp, tempura, green onions, and topped with savory seasonings. In his new location, Sei’s mission is to bring authentic Japanese dishes to Tennessee. 

Anaba (Japanese for “little-known good place”) cultivates the atmosphere of a traditional Izakaya, an informal after-work pub akin to tapas bars and American taverns. The new location occupies the previous home of Knox Mason, which moved to larger quarters in the Embassy Suites Hotel up the street. The distinctive long, narrow dining room has a brushed stainless-steel bar on the right with the kitchen/sushi work area in full view. Steel-topped tables and orange-cushioned banquettes line the left wall. The simple-yet-cheerful décor—including a mural of anime characters like Astro Boy and Speed Racer—is perfect for the space.

The Anaba crew shares their chef’s joyful approach to their work, moving easily from front to back, introducing the menu, and knowing that many of the dishes are heartier and feature more ingredients than the simple sushi and teriyaki dishes many American patrons are used to. 

While the Inuit are said to have 1,000 words for snow, there seem to be a comparable number of words in Japanese to describe “delicious.” Anaba’s menu offers everything from sappari (light) to suppai (tangy), to kotteri (rich). The menu is divided into sections for panko-fried meats and seafood, udon noodle bowls, ramen noodles, rice bowls, and hibachi. There’s a great kids’ menu as well. Many dishes can be ordered as either an entrée or appetizer portion. We recommend the appetizer portions of some dishes to sample more of the varied menu.

A third-generation expert in the art of Japanese cuisine, Sei grew up working with his father, Toshio, in his sushi restaurant in the Osaka Fish Market, so plan on sampling Anaba’s excellent sushi options. Pair these with the Milos Tuna, which is ahi tuna steak with marinated tomatoes and mango.

If you like ramen, try the Tonkotsu Ramen Bowl, a pork broth soup with stir-fried pork, onions, green beans, and mushrooms. The Miso Ramen is a light-yet-savory, plant-based option. Curries are popular in Japan, and Anaba offers a wide variety of chicken, beef, shrimp, and tofu curries served with fresh vegetables. Our table loved the Katsu Curry, panko-fried seafood with a mouth-watering curry sauce. If Tekka Maki is one of your go-to sushi orders, you may like the Tekka Bowl, which has sashimi tuna marinated in a sweet soy sauce and topped with scallions and seaweed.

Folks who arrive ready for a hearty meal will definitely want to order Zosui (“big bowl of soup”) with rice and cream broth topped with a tilapia filet. The Hibachi Beef Steak is tender and served with mushrooms and either white or fried rice. The Kimchee makes a crisp accompaniment to these full-flavored entrées.

In Japan, the dining experience is visual presentation as much as taste. The Japanese believe that you “eat with your eyes first.” In keeping with this philosophy, Anaba follows a traditional, minimalist art form, paying close attention to the arrangement of both the food and garnishes.

As the Japanese say, “Kuchi atari ga ii,” or “This goes down easily!”

  • Downtown  131 S Gay Street
  • West Knox  9405 S Northshore Drive
  • Maryville  1837 W Broadway Avenue
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