* What: The porcupine roll.
* Includes: One roll, cut in eight slices, garnished with pickled ginger and wasabi (Japanese horseradish).
* Price: $7 ($3 on Wednesday and Thursday).
* Where: Raw Sushi Bar and Nightclub, 409 Market St.
* Hours: 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
* Phone: 756-1919.
Thanks to its frequent use of raw seafood as an ingredient, sushi is a food with a rather steep learning curve.
Knowing this, Raw Sushi Bar and Nightclub owner Jim Striker and former chef Tomoyuki "J.R." Hironaki developed a less-shocking menu item to help ease newcomers into the world of sushi.
The result? The porcupine roll, a sweetened-up variation on the California roll, which is already considered among the tamest by most sushi lovers, Striker said.
"I felt like I wasn't pulling from the established restaurants like Hiroshi's or Sushi Nabe, so we were going to have to develop a clientele that might never have had sushi," he said. "[The porcupine] is a dessert-type roll, even though it's not a dessert. It's easy for people to eat."
To make the porcupine, Hironaki's half-brother, chef Joe Meadows, 22, coats a sheet of nari (seaweed) with sticky rice, atop which he lays strips of imitation crab meat. Flipping the nari, he then applies cream cheese and pieces of avocado to what will form the inside of the completed roll.
Unlike the California roll, which is wrapped around the crab meat, the porcupine is reversed, with the nari facing outward.
Once Meadows rolls up the porcupine, he cuts it into eight even pieces and drizzles it with sweet eel and white sauces topped with tempura crumbles. The entire process takes about three minutes - fast by the standard of most sushi bars, where wait time is a common complaint.
"Some rolls I can get out even quicker," Meadows said. "That one takes more time because of the crab meat on the outside. If I don't have anything on the outside, I can flip it out pretty quick."
Despite sharing a name with an animal few would willingly approach, the porcupine roll is Raw's best-selling by far. Striker said he sells 50 to 60 on a typical Friday night.
Striker learned to cook at the feet of an Italian grandmother and Korean mother, who owns all the Empress of China restaurants in the Atlanta area.
Although he had no experience with making sushi before opening Raw, Striker said he was hoping to take advantage of the growing local interest in sushi when he opened his doors in 2008.
Striker said he knew he was facing an uphill battle, though, since nightclub patrons don't normally expect a menu more elaborate than typical bar fare.
"I had hoped it would have gone over better, but people in the nightclub are always like, 'Wow, I can still get sushi at 2 a.m.?' " Striker said.
Striker said offering up dishes like the porcupine roll that draw in new customers - or late-night sushi novices - is key to reaching his goal of achieving a 50/50 split between food sales and alcohol sales.
"It kind of gets them started on the idea of sushi," he said. "Over time, people will then go, 'Oh, well, what else do you suggest?'
"You start opening up their palate."
Editor's Note: Chef's Spotlight is a new monthly food feature in the Life section. To suggest a dish for a future report, e-mail Casey Phillips at cphillips@times freepress.com