Sushi is like satin at tranquil Fuji

April 22, 1999|By KATHRYN HIGHAM | KATHRYN HIGHAM,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There's nothing quite like impeccable sushi, and we found it at Fuji in Ellicott City. Long cuts of deep-red tuna belly and coral-pink salmon were draped over nuggets of seasoned sushi rice like dancers in a deep bow. The fish was so fresh it tasted like satin on the tongue.

Sushi is just part of the authentic Japanese experience at Fuji, opened in 1992 by Asatoshi Takamine, sushi chef and owner. Step inside this tiny suburban storefront through a curtain of decorative banners and you'll find a traditional raised seating area, where you can eat cross-legged on the floor. There are fewer than a dozen tables, plus a few seats at the sushi bar, in a setting of tranquil minimalism.

As an alternative to Kirin, Asahi or Sapporo beer, you might start your meal at Fuji with a cold sake. It's served, just as it is in Japan, in a sealed glass jar that is printed inside with a photo of a Japanese point of interest.

A friend sipped his sake from a tiny, wooden cup as we watched dried flakes of bonito (smoked fish) dance on top of a warm spinach appetizer. The heat of the tender spinach leaves caused the fish shavings to curl and move. Dressed in a sweet, dark sauce with sesame seeds, the dish was stunning, both to the eye and palate.

Most dinners are served with a bowl of miso soup and a small salad of iceberg lettuce, radish slices and carrot slivers in a fresh, golden dressing. There are combination dinners that add appetizers, such as a California roll. Our California roll with masago was topped with so much bright orange fish roe, it could have been named an Oriole roll. Where other restaurants can be stingy with the masago, Fuji is lavish. Bursting with flavor, the fish roe added a new dimension of texture to both the California roll and a Fuji roll filled with raw scallop.

We ordered both rolls a la carte, but we did try the combination shrimp tempura appetizer and chicken teriyaki dinner -- a deal at $13.95. The tempura was phenomenal, with three jumbo butterflied shrimp forming a tepee over crisp-fried vegetables. Everything was delightfully greaseless and light, encased in the barest crunch of batter. Minced daikon radish was served on the side, to give a bit of zip to the dipping sauce.

The chicken teriyaki arrived on a hot iron skillet, with crisp-steamed broccoli and asparagus and a bowl of rice. A chicken breast and boneless thigh were sliced and arranged next to each other, the meat tender and moist under its thick glaze.

We took the lid off a black lacquer box to dig into layers of tender white broiled eel, hot rice and dark sauce seasoned with an exotic powdered spice. The dish was delicious. For the uninitiated, eel is a luscious, rich fish that tastes a lot better than it looks swimming snakelike in the ocean.

From a selection of noodle dishes, we sampled the ebi yaki soba, stir-fried noodles with shrimp. Thin soba noodles were sizzled in a pan with carrot slivers and shredded scallion until they were almost dry, giving them an interesting, almost crispy texture. We liked the dish's fresh, nutty flavor of sesame seeds, and its wisp of tartness.

In fact, there was little we didn't like about our experience at Fuji. There were some lapses in service and there were no interesting desserts. Here, you'll find the same, commercially prepared green tea and red bean ice creams that are served in many Asian restaurants.

But what we missed most at the end of our meal was a hot towel. We thought it odd that we didn't get one to start, either.

Fuji Japanese Restaurant

10226 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City

410-750-2455

Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch; Tuesday through Sunday for dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: AAppetizers, $1.99-$7.95; entrees, $8.95-$26.95

Food: * * *1/2

Service: * *1/2

Atmosphere: * * *

Ratings system: Outstanding: * * * *; Good * * * *; Fair or uneven * *; Poor *

Pub Date: 04/22/99

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