Take the Plunge and Trust the Chefs at Fujiyama

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Eating at a new restaurant without expectations is a difficult task. The baggage of past experiences — that perfect steak, Mom’s mac and cheese, the first bite of Thai food — colors every diner’s expectations. I came to Fujiyama hoping to find Japanese tavern fare that lived up to my favorites in Asia, but I wasn’t expecting the sushi to compare to the immense offerings around DFW. Fujiyama turned my biases upside down for the better.

Fujiyama styles itself as a yakitori bar, and my first experience with yakitori was as a teenager, wandering the basement of a Singapore mall. A tiny food stall served up nine different kinds of skewers, all with two-bite, tender chunks of flavorful grilled meat coated generously with salty-sweet tare sauce and gingerly laid across a bed of white rice. The stall was a shopping-spree lunch staple, a fast but flavorful meal.

Unfortunately, the grill at Fujiyama didn’t deliver. The assorted chicken skewers were a letdown — the chicken gizzards ($3.50) were tiny and overcooked, and while the chunky green onions on the negitori skewers ($3.75) came perfectly charred, the bites of chicken required a healthy dose of salt for flavor to come through. The $3 shiitake kushiyaki (yakitori specifically refers to chicken; non-chicken skewers are called kushiyaki) had a fantastic smoky flavor underneath the tare sauce, but they were a bit rubbery. None of my Singapore food-court cravings were satisfied.

Lemongrass-topped sea bass sashimi and the Dallas Star roll (both $12.50) were thoughtfully and carefully prepared, but for the price and quality this place seemed indistinguishable from Sushi Robata down the street, or from several upper-tier sushi restaurants closer to home. I almost wrote off Fujiyama as a nice experience, but one I didn’t need to revisit. That would have been a tragic mistake.

In Japanese, “omakase” means “I’ll leave it to you.” At Fujiyama, trusting the chef and ordering omakase is a wise move. Beginning at $50 per person, a multi-course meal providing a sampling of the best Fujiyama has to offer graces the table. The $50 option on this particular night included six courses: miso soup, salad, sashimi, grilled cod, nigiri and a hot rice dish. The meal had high points and higher points, and it was filling and satisfying.

The decor is minimalist, with single pendant lights over each table and wood accent pieces adorning the walls. A three-sided sushi bar with black granite countertops fills the center of the room. The blue neon accent lighting bathing the bar detracts from the food’s presentation, but the opportunity to watch sushi being prepared while chatting with chef Ilwon Suhr throughout the meal makes the bar an ideal place to be.

The salty miso soup cut the chill out of a cold night, and a spinach and arugula salad with crisp, peppery leaves hailed the advent of fresh spring vegetables. Quick on the soup’s heels came sashimi, four types of fish in different styles. The fatty tuna and toro salmon possessed the melt-in-your-mouth quality signature to a great cut of fatty fish. The sea bass sashimi had a powerful and pleasant lemongrass flavor, but the thin-cut bass was a little tougher. Fresh wasabi adds zip to the milder ahi tuna.

Following the sashimi was a piece of flaky, perfectly grilled cod. It was unusually rich for cod and didn’t have a trace of unpleasant fishiness. A pile of grated, ponzu-dressed horseradish accompanied the cod, contrasting the mild char flavor.

As the next course was prepared, my dining companion and I relaxed and appreciated each other’s company. Throughout our meals, the service was consistently excellent. Fujiyama wasn’t busy, so the server was available, but he never hovered, and his timing for clearing plates was not intrusive.

Chef Ilwon’s years of training in Japan truly revealed themselves in the next course. When the nigiri was set on the table, I found myself salivating. Eight different pieces of seafood were lined up, a mix of fatty fish, lighter fish and specialties like clam conch. Distinctly unlike cheap plates, where the fish barely covers a giant rectangle of packed starch, Fujiyama optimizes the fish-to-rice ratio. The rice is more of an accent, a complement to the large cut of fish completely ensconcing it. The toro salmon in particular was heaven on chopsticks; it’s rich enough to be dessert.

It would seem impossible for a dish to successfully follow the nigiri, but then something called “volcano on the shell” ($7.95) arrived. This concoction was a bed of steaming rice topped with crawfish, crab meat and a scallop, decorated with eel sauce and truffle oil and beautifully presented on a half shell. (This is available on the “special rolls” menu, despite not being a roll in any way.) The warm dish was a comforting, filling way to round out an excellent dinner.

The beauty of omakase lies in its demand for trust, relying on someone who knows what the best offerings of the day are, someone who understands what dishes come together to make an astounding meal. Even if six courses are too much, going with what chef Ilwon and his team suggest is a sound strategy at Fujiyama. Their daily specials don’t disappoint, and they know the quality of their fish.

Fujiyama lacks the flash of Uchi, the intimacy of Yutaka or the reputation of Tei Tei Robata. But the sashimi and nigiri are some of the best in the area, and getting them doesn’t require an hour’s wait for a table. Bring a little trust to the table, leave the baggage behind, and Fujiyama’s talented chef won’t disappoint.

Fujiyama, 19217 Midway Road, 972-662-2885, fujiyamadallas.com

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