At the new Fujiyama, just a few doors up Tejon Street from its prior location, a large, open space welcomes customers. Beyond a small bar, high and low tables frame two large teppanyaki counters (Benihana-style cook tops, also called hibachis), with an active sushi counter brining up the rear. The walls, accented with one striking bamboo forest panel, mix dark colors with a soft green.
Also a little green: the young staff. At lunch, our eager server greeted us almost out of breath, chatted us up and then ran off for our drinks. Returning flushed, she gushed about how hot and sweaty she was.
Green tea, anyone?
Despite that, and a little spill, I found her nervousness kind of endearing.
One of my guests opted for the chicken teriyaki bento box ($7.50), which brought juicy chunks of chicken, a couple California roll pieces and several perfectly crisp vegetable tempura bits. The other went for the Nabeyaki udon noodle bowl ($8.50) with thick, slick noodles swimming in a complex broth along with shiitake mushrooms, vegetables and a large tempura shrimp. We only had one grievance: Why turn crisp tempura flaccid in a soup?
My teppan-style teriyaki steak with vegetables ($6.99), cooked within view and delivered by the hibachi chef, brought tender bites of beef and delightfully crunchy veggies, joined by a traditional mustard and ginger sauce. The mustard sauce was nice, but the ginger spectacular I could have used a straw to finish it off.
Midway through the meal, the unimaginable happened: The Gazette's food critic and his editor plopped down one table away. After a wink, a nod and a few pleasantries, their team jokingly wondered why two big, decorative ceramic fish above the sushi bar were smiling. I remarked that the fish clearly didn't know what was happening underneath. Cute, in spite of ourselves. We would part without a West Side Story-esque rumble.
The next night, after we bellied up to the bar, our sushi chef, Tony, quickly gauged my and my husband's tastes and captivated us with fast banter. He addressed the fish expertly and paused between cuts to ask, "Can I add some flavor?" Absolutely!
Our super white tuna and yellowtail (both $4.99) arrived under mystery sauces. A sweet top-note and sour bottom-note blended perfectly with the salty soy, yet allowed the fish's subtlety to come through. The sesame tuna roll ($8.99) with radish sprouts simply shone. Fresh sushi generally tastes the same everywhere, but this surprised.
Next came an order of sashimi, fish without the rice-bloat. Tony offered fresh pieces of salmon, wrapped around a crab mixture typical of a California roll and topped with spicy dressed radish. It bursted with flavor and crunch.
Then the monster appeared: the Dragon roll ($19.99). A roll this pricey should either rival the size of my forearm or come with a free pedicure. Fortunately, it was two-bite-big scary enough to intimidate newbies, and complex enough for sushi pros.
Tony had rolled the crab mixture with avocado and large shrimp tempura in rice and seaweed and topped it with one whole broiled eel, near-crisp salmon skin and sweet, bursting salmon roe. It was fun, deliciously artistic, and actually worth the price.
The same could be said for the new Fujiyama as a whole.