A grand old building that’s full of welcome surprises
Fujiyama, a new Japanese/Korean joint on Central, inhabits the building that used to house the legendary New Chinatown. The space feels slightly haunted—you can sense its history in the echoing, cavernous foyer that connects to large dining rooms through arched doorways.
The management’s plans include a sports bar, but only one of three dining rooms are currently in use. A stone garden occupies one corner of the main dining room, a galaxy of lamps hangs from the trusses, and cut flowers adorn each table. The sushi bar is sunken, creating the illusion that the sushi chefs are little people.
Oftentimes the only mystery in ordering a seaweed salad is just how much of the usual, packaged neon-green mix you’ll get. At Fujiyama, the seaweed salad is constructed from scratch. Bright green, dark green and red-brown seaweeds are mixed with fresh and pickled cucumbers, sesame seeds, and toasted sesame oil.
A two-piece order of “baby hamachi” sushi was noteworthy in several respects. The pieces of fish were so large they eclipsed the rice ball underneath, overhanging at least an inch at either end. Flavor-wise, it was creamy, vibrant yet subtle and mildly citrusy—easily some of the best bites of sushi I've had. An order of mussels, baked with shredded crab and melted mayo, disappeared practically before the plate hit the table. A scallop roll was spicy and creamy.
Despite the treasures before us, a scent wafting from a neighboring table kept distracting me. A man was eating a plate of bulgogi, and the aroma made me envious.
On my next visit I was determined to eat that aromatic Korean dish of sliced, spiced beef. But when I noticed the galbi—Korean barbecued short ribs—I had to ask the waitress which was better.
“For you,” she said appraisingly, “I would think short ribs.”
Despite the treasures before us, a scent wafting from a neighboring table kept distracting me.
I believed her.
She returned with an “on the house” amuse-buche of baked California roll that was so good, I assumed there was real crab inside.
She smiled. “I can tell you it’s very high quality.”
It turns out, she explained, that not all imitation crab is created equal.
A bowl of veggie udon soup was pleasantly musky. Orders of squid and sashimi salads—both variations on the seaweed salad’s base of pickled and raw cucumber and sesame seeds—were spot-on. The sashimi salad contained a generous amount of several kinds of fish. The squid salad had a darker, more gingery sauce.
A green chile roll (all rolls are indefinitely half-price—whatever that means) was like nothing I’d ever had, with tempura shrimp, tuna and some of that very high-quality imitation crab inside, and fried green chile on top. Several sauces were drizzled over the whole business, creating a flavor that was vaguely banana-like.
My short ribs came with a table-crowding array of rice, pot-stickers and tempura. It wasn’t the lightest tempura batter, but the pot stickers were tasty, with pork, scallion and ginger flavors.
The ribs were thin-sliced through the bone, seared on the outside and rare in the middle, and drizzled with sesame seeds. They sat on a bed of onions and scallions, which sizzled and caramelized between the meat and the hot metal plate below. It was a good combination. Due to the meal’s size, I could only eat about half of the ribs. I still don’t know if the ribs were better than the bulgogi. But I look forward to finding out.
• Any salad
• Baby hamachi nigiri
• Galbi beef ribs
• Spicy scallop roll
• Green chile roll
5001 Central NE
Hours: Open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Saturdays until 9:30 p.m.)
Price range: Appetizers $5 to $8, entrées $9 to $19. All entrées are available for reduced price at lunch.
Vibe: Haunted, in a good way
Booze: Beer, wine, sake