I judge a sushi joint based on three qualities: Freshness is paramount, followed by presentation and pacing (which count as one). Third is the seriousness of the complimentary hot tea.
A serious sushi place will ensure that the meal is presented in a beautiful and fresh manner, down to the first cup of tea. So my first sip at Fujiyama was promising. A mug of green tea with a very earthy flavor proved to contain roasted rice in the brew. The flavor was intoxicating, particularly since I was so hungry.
With Thai food, I judge the kitchen by the quality of its soup, but there are not many variations on miso soup. Fujiyama's bowl of soup--it does not come with all lunch entrees--was totally adequate and came quickly after our first cup of tea.
Next, we had a seaweed salad ($5.95) soaked in ponzu sauce, a medley of sea grasses ranging from dark to nearly translucent crunchy green morsels speckled with sesame seeds. The vinegary, lemony-sweet sauce--a little research revealed it should contain an esoteric Asian fruit called the "yuzu"--dared me to take a sip from the serving bowl. Which I did.
Unfortunately, the Spicy Dragon Roll ($12.95) I ordered overlapped a bit with the Spicy Hand Roll Combo ($13.95) my sushi/life partner ordered. A quick interrogation of the three chefs at the attractive sushi bar confirmed that Fujiyama serves its spicy fish rolls with a chopped fish preparation, rather than a whole piece of meat. The result is a gourmet and tasty mush of tuna, salmon and whitefish, one nearly indistinguishable from the next.
The hand rolls are a very good value, arriving as five large seaweed cones of chopped fish. But the chopping robs some of the presentation value. I have always been taught that the individual elements of a roll of sushi are as important as the whole. The difference in flavor between the tuna, salmon, yellow tail and white fish barely registers. Chopping also averages out the freshness factor. It is difficult to tell if you are biting into a still-quivering slab of fish or, dare I say it, something from a can.
The Dragon Roll--topped with broiled eel, avocado and tobiko, and drizzled with contrasting sweet plum-colored and sesame-colored sauces--was decoratively presented, though, again, the spicy fish mixture was a bit soft on the palate.
To satisfy my need for a serious piece of fish, I ordered, a la carte, a piece of sushi. Maguro tuna ($4.95) is a kind of benchmark sushi fish for me. It definitely measured up. The meat was firm and artfully cut. Its bite was soft and melty, though it could have been a touch cooler to contrast with the warm bed of rice beneath. It also may have been a bit too soft--while you want your sushi to melt in your mouth, the extra body is another indication of freshness.
For my second piece of sushi, I fired up the wasabi and found that bite I'd been waiting for the entire meal. The give of the fish on the teeth, a gentle explosion of rice on the tongue, a wave of heat that spread through the cheeks, around the skull and down the back of the neck, then back up to smack the tongue again as the salt of the soy finally registers. Slow chews. A bite of pickled ginger (the pale kind, not the pink kind). Sip of green tea, now cool enough to disperse the wasabi bite.
No room for ice cream nor need for an after-lunch coffee shot. Next time I hit Fujiyama with the sushi partner, we're getting a private rice paper room and our own bottle of sake.
--Nathaniel Hoffman lugs his tackle box to the sushi bar.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Fujiyama Japanese Restaurant here.