Fresh and flavorful Japanese in Quincy

Email|Print| Text size + By Bella English
September 23, 2004

Fuji is not one of those sleek, hip (read: overpriced) Japanese restaurants where people are as interested in the scene as they are the food. This small corner restaurant is all about what's on the plate: the food's freshness, preparation, and presentation. Fuji has been around a few years, but is now under new ownership, with a new menu and a new look.

The two owners are both Chinese, but love Japanese food. With a large Asian population in Quincy, there are plenty of Japanese and Chinese customers who frequent the spot. On a recent evening, the clientele includes a wide range of ethnicities and ages, including a toddler whose parents shovel baby food into her mouth between bites of their own sushi. It is a well-lit place, and seats about 30. Our only complaint about the ambience is the commercial radio station playing too loudly. The kitchen is small and open, and the clanking of pots and pans and sizzling of food is just part of the package.

But once the food arrived, we managed to block everything else out. We love the kani shumai, small crabmeat dumplings ($4.25) that arrive hot and crisp and melt in your mouth. The dab of wasabi adds a nice kick to the taste buds without paralyzing them. The yakitori -- thin slices of moist chicken surrounded by roasted red peppers ($3.75) -- also has a bite, thanks to a gingery teriyaki sauce, which is really more a glaze. Tempura is often overly battered and greasy, but here it's greaseless and ethereally light. We order the veggie tempura ($3.75) and are rewarded with a platter of assorted vegetables including thinly sliced taro and sweet potato, carrots, zucchini, green beans, and broccoli. (This is broccoli even your kids might like.) The seaweed salad ($4) has a nice crunch, and includes a smattering of sesame seeds and red pepper flakes, though it was served a tad too cold for our taste.

An appetizer special on a recent night is the rising sun ($5.50), a delicious dish that offers a diverse combination of both taste and texture. It looks like sushi, but the salmon bite inside is deep-fried in a crisp tempura crust, and surrounded in a rice and seaweed nest by tobiko, or roe. There's a dab of spicy mayo on top. This is a dish to ooh and ahh over.

Sushi is the real barometer of a Japanese restaurant, and at Fuji it's fresh and colorful and beautifully presented. The sushi regular ($12) is a generous serving of eight pieces of nigeri sushi and six pieces of tuna roll; the tuna is cushiony-tender and full of flavor. All entrees come with a small green salad and a bowl of miso soup, the latter full of body, unlike the usual watery offering, and studded with cubes of tofu. Sushi can also be ordered a la carte, and it's fun to sit and watch the chefs lovingly prepare their works of art. The Christmas roll ($11.50) is another blackboard special that turns out to be a winner. Several pieces of sushi are lined up, caterpillar-style; the dish is so named because of the deep red of the tuna and the green dabs of avocado. At each end, there's a small shrimp tempura. It's a palate-pleasing -- and cleansing, if you like wasabi -- plate. We also like the naruto ($5), a slightly different take on sushi, which offers crab stick, avocado, and tobiko all rolled in thinly sliced cucumbers.

The only disappointing dish is the chicken teriyaki ($11.50), surprising because a similar appetizer is quite good. But here, the chicken is too dry. We love the noodles and the bright-green crunchy broccoli that accompanied it, though. And it also comes with a salad and miso soup. The salmon teriyaki ($11.50) is a better bet.

The yaki udon ($8.75) is a wonderful cold-weather dish, its flat, wide noodles served piping hot with bits of either chicken or beef (your choice), carrots, and cabbage. It's a hearty, tasty meal, and the generous portion means there's often enough left over to heat up the next day.

For dessert, there are five kinds of ice cream, all made on the premises, $2.50 for a bowl. The ginger ice cream is wonderful and spicy, with bits of ginger to linger over. A caterer friend who specializes in desserts adores the coconut ice cream, which she says isn't too sweet. Mango is a hit, too. The other flavors are green tea and red bean.

Ching-Ho Cheng, a partner in the restaurant, comes from Hong Kong, where sushi restaurants are a dime a dozen. "There, you have to come up with new ideas to attract customers," he says. "That's what we're trying to do here." This winter, he says, look for Japanese-style do-it-yourself table-top cooking, sort of like the French fondue pot. We'll be back.

FUJI 1546

Cuisine: Asian

Address: 1546 Hancock St., Quincy

Phone: 617-617-1546

Hours: Daily 11 a.m.-1 a.m.

Prices: $2.50-$22

Comments: Reservations.

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