Nothing says light summer fare like sushi. We’ve let O’Fallon’s and battle it out for best cuisine, now it’s time to sample our Japanese offerings. We started this month’s sushi battle at Fujiyama.
Strip mall restaurants get a bad reputation as generic pits of bland anonymity. However, a lot of the best hole in the walls are located right next to a dry cleaner or a Radio Shack. Sometimes, a small family restaurant just wants to save a little on rent while being close enough to existing businesses to bring in customers.
Fujiyama may not look like much from the outside, but inside, this is the kind of Japanese restaurant where you have to ask for a fork. The narrow dining room has eight wooden four top tables seperated from the sushi bar by tall potted plants and paper screens.
As I perused the menu, friendly regulars said hi to the sushi chef's children, who were quietly coloring at a back table. To my surprise, one regular asked if she could fill her QuikTrip cup with water while she waited on her take-out order. The staff told her to go ahead and get ice from the soda fountain while she was at it.
Another customer walked in, grinned at the sushi chef, and immediately blurted out, “I’m addicted to this!" I had to ask what she was getting. She said she tries to make herself get something new, but her to-go orders always include a spicy tuna roll. With that kind of endorsement, how could I resist?
She was right.
I really enjoyed Fujiyama’s iteration of this sushi staple. Instead of wet, spicy mayo with fish mush, their spicy tuna roll was filled with diced tuna mixed with sriratcha and rolled with a nice sprinkle of tempura crunchies. A dot of extra sriratcha decorated the top of each piece. The tightly wrapped rice held the sushi together even when I fumbled a bite.
I originally intended to enjoy an all sushi lunch, but the bento boxes caught my attention. For $12 they came with a bowl of miso soup, a small salad, a vegetable egg roll, beef teriyaki on rice and a California roll. I ordered one to go with my spicy tuna roll. At that price, I expected adorably tiny portions, but the platter came out sized for hearty American appetites.
In Japan, “bento” just means lunchbox. However, when most people say bento they’re referring to the large subculture of people in both Japan and America who turn everyday lunches into edible art. At Japanese restaurants, bento boxes have turned into the answer to picky eaters who don’t like fish. You get a nice hot cooked entree on rice with a soup and salad. In this case, they add on an eggroll and a four piece California sushi roll. Instead of several tiny portions, the end result is an absolutely immense lunch I had no hope of finishing in one setting.
The silken tofu and seaweed spiked miso soup was just the right mix of earthiness without too much salt. The smooth tofu cubes melted in my mouth. To my surprise, the bowl itself was nearly twice the size of the miso soup I’m served in other restaurants.
The California roll was your basic crab, cucumber and avocado rolled in rice.
The waitress caught me staring into my bento box and wondering where I could find the room. She let me know they expect it, and the boxes come with lids for takeout.
The spicy tuna roll was one of my favorite iterations in St. Louis. The sushi was rolled tight and the sushi rice had just the right balance of vinegar and sweetness. I liked Fujiyama’s little touches like the oversized bowl of miso soup, serving the salad dressing on the side, and the attractive take-home bento boxes.
I would've liked more glutinous rice in the bento box. The fluffy individual grains were hard to pick up with chopsticks. A little more spice in the beef teriyaki would've gone over well, too. However, I'll forgive them since teriyaki is the dish Japanese restaurants serve for Americans who don’t like exotic foods. I found myself wishing I’d given in to my first impulse to try a wider variety of sushi. The sushi I sampled at Fujiyama made me want to come back for more.
The service was fast, efficient and exceptionally polite. A family with two small children kept calling the server over to change their order. She patiently headed back to the sushi bar to see if the food was made yet, and if not, politely changed their order every time without showing a hint of annoyance. I was impressed with her patience and grace.
The total for a massive bento box and spicy tuna roll came to $18.62 plus a $4 tip.
Between the excellent spicy tuna roll, exceptionally large bento box, and good, patient service earn Fujiyama a well deserved A-.