Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fuji Restaurant And Sushi Bar In Ellicott City

Seafood udon w/tempura shrimp
Even I can be surprised by what can be hidden in a shopping center.

For years, I have ragged on reviews that employ the line about "I can't believe it's in a strip center."  Yet I was still wide-eyed to find a pretty, wood-paneled dining room at Fuji in Ellicott City.  Jean had written that the food was delicious, but I expected something super-casual like Mango Grove or Hanamura.

But Fuji is a little gem.  Very friendly, but dressed up with white tablecloths and artistic bowls and plates.

We followed Jean's advice and ordered a seafood udon noodles and three sushi rolls.  And we got a bonus!  Small salads, which were fine.  Then miso soup, which was excellent.  Strong miso flavor without any saltiness or fishiness.  There is just something fun about getting a morsel extra.

If anything, the udon was better.  It's a large bowl of soup with noodles.  The flavors are rich and almost sweet.  The bowl was full of tempura shrimp, squid, octopus and mushrooms.  Jean had touted Fuji as run by a Japanese couple and the udon as based on a scratch dashi broth.  It lived up to her recommendation.  Perfect comfort food.  Warm for the winter, but light enough to eat all year long.

The salmon skin roll continued the series of exceptional food.  Our friend Jena introduced us to salmon skin, and the rolls differ more across restaurants than almost any other sushi.  Bad ones are chewy.  At Fuji, they crunch with the fresh taste of salmon coming through.   Definitely a star and a great contrast with other fish.

We liked our other rolls as well.  Mrs. HowChow is really a devote of the Sushi Sono / Sushi King style of roll -- often with multiple fish in a single roll and generally with fish on the outside.  She doesn't crave the flavor of seaweed, and the texture on the outside of a traditional roll gets more chewy, less fish-and-rice flavor than she wants.  Fuji does the sushi right, but next time I am going to try the sashimi or sushi pieces to emphasize the fish.

In the end, it's an affordable restaurant as well.   Lots of entrees under $15 and rolls starting at $6.  I joked with Mrs. HowChow that it's a perfect second date restaurant -- quiet and classy enough to be romantic, but nothing that will break the bank.

Next time, I may try to bring a group to the Japanese-style table at the front of the restaurant.  I also should have ordered tea.  A restaurant that does miso soup so beautifully probably serves excellent tea.  If you go, consider crossing Rte 40 for dessert at Bon Appetit Bakery.

Fuji Restaurant
Pine Orchard Shopping Center
10226 Baltimore National Pike (Rte 40)
Ellicott City, MD 21042

NEAR: Fuji is on Rte 40 west of Rte 29 and west of Bethany Lane.  It is on the north side in a small shopping center.

Fuji Japanese on Urbanspoon


1000yregg said...

Do you know if the owners/chef are actually Japanese? A true Japanese restaurant run by Japanese is rare in the Baltimore area.

HowChow said...

Jean said they're Japanese. I didn't push the issue, but others may know.

Anonymous said...

they are real japanese people, I know them well

Anonymous said...

Yes. It is one of the few Japanese restaurants run by Japanese. My coworker from Japan, who lives in North Baltimore, loves to go to this particular place for that reason.

Unknown said...

I don't understand why Japanese restaurants have to have Japanese people working at them. I was at a great sushi place in Columbia, South Carolina and the sushi chef was a Tokyo trained white guy. He said going to sushi school was like Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers he also said Japanese customers sometimes walked out when they saw it was his turn behind the counter. This has to be racist/elitist right?

Asian restaurants and cuisine are like the last bastion of acceptable racism. I find it weird that Harris Teeter has diverse workers behind all the counters in the Meat/Deli/Prepared Food section but the little sushi bar always has to be staffed by an Asian person. I've never had a non-Asian waiter or waitress at an Asian restaurant, yet have had plenty of Asian waiters at non-Asian restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Personally it does not matter to me if the owners were Japanese or not. We were there just last week and the food is great. The servers were all caucasians. No asians in sight (except for moi). All friendly but a bit distracted probably because they were having some problems with the credit card machine. For all I know the food is prepared by Hispanics. Does not matter as long as they are trained well, which they appear to be. Having said that, I do understand that for some, the whole restaurant experience is enhanced by the setting (Asian decor) and knowing the food is prepared by Japanese people. It may have nothing to do at all about being racist.

HowChow said...

@Josh -- Anon actually beat me to the comment!

I agree with you on the fundamentals. I have have "authentic" food, "delicious" food, and food cooked by people from the country where the cuisine was invented. These three do not depend on each other. Sushi Sono and Sushi King are great. I understand that they're not run by people born in Japan. I understand that Japanese sushi lovers would be shocked by some of their dishes. I don't care.

That said, I do recognize that "authentic" food can be special. Sometimes special because the flavors are different if they're made by someone who is aiming at the "home country" palate and not for American expectations. I avoid this argument normally because I have seen it dissolve into racism or just stupid elitism too often.

And the funny part is that our waiter at Fuji was a white guy. Super nice, but he wasn't Japanese. In fact, he had never even tasted the udon that we ordered. It didn't affect my meal at all. (We actually loved him for turning off the NPR talkshow that was playing in the dining room.)

Mary said...

It's not racism; it's about wanting authentic food -- the real deal. If it's a white guy trained in Japan, I would hope he developed the same skills as any Japanese chef training next to him. If he did, more power to him and what he makes. But, more often than not, and especially in the suburbs, you find "ethnic" restaurants with chefs who really have no idea how to make good, authentic food. And, if they do, they sure aren't preparing it that way for the clientele. In this area, MANY Japanese restaurants are guilty of this. Sometimes I enjoy Americanized sushi or the Chinese/Taiwan interpretation of Japanese cuisine. Most of the time though, I'm going out, I want authentic Japanese. And, most of the time, this means dining at a restaurant with a chef and/or owners that is Japanese.

Anonymous said...

If non-Japanese chefs knew how to make sushi properly, with vinegar and sugar mixed into the rice, then I would not care where they came from. But usually they either don't know, or the owner is focused on the bottom line, and puts out ice-cold slabs of rice with nothing mixed in to it because they figure it doesn't matter to most Americans. But it does matter to Japanese!

J said...

I’m so excited to see that Mr. and Mrs. HowChow liked Fuji!

Re: the ethnicity/authenticity debate, of course it’s perfectly fine for a non-Japanese chef to make Japanese food if they were trained under the appropriate people and pay mind to a cuisine’s tradition. Ironically, the wife of the couple at Fuji is ethnically Korean, but she grew up in Japan and Japanese is her main language, so of course, her food Is Japanese. (I’m ethnically Korean but am American. I make nice hamburgers. It’s all good.) I know a restaurant in NYC called Fatty Crab where the chef is American but he trained in Malaysia; the food is terrific.

I think fusion places also, when done well, are great in their own right. The famous Nobu is actually Japanese-Peruvian in its influences. Korean tacos are all the rage in LA. On the flip side you have can have something pathetically watered down like that awful Thai salad at Panera Bread.

To say that it is “racist” though to want a chef to come from their own culinary tradition is patently ridiculous though. Is it “racist” for me to want a Thai chef to make Thai food, or an Ethiopian chef to make Ethiopian food, or even a Southerner to make Southern food, cause that’s, um, where it COMES from?

Sushi shops run by Chinese or Koreans can be excellent in their own right, of course; but I have a problem with them passing themselves off as the real deal. Many Westerners can’t tell the difference between Asian cultures as it is (which these shops are taking advantage of.) So I think it’s nice when people can experience a cuisine in its original state. I miss the ramen shops and onigiri rice balls and other authentic treats I used to enjoy in NYC.

In the end, good food is good food!

Anonymous said...

OMG. Love Fatty Crab. The Pork Belly and Watermelon appetizer rocks. And the dude there makes a mean sambal.

J, for ramen, some friends and I will actually do a daytrip to Mitsuwa in Fort Lee, NJ, because nothing in this area measures up to those ramen places in the NY metro area. Drat. Now you've even got me thinking about Ippudo in Manhattan. Oh to have a good ramen eatery nearby.

Brian said...


J said...

Anon, Mitsuwa is awesome. And yes, their ramen is great. In this area, the closest thing (albeit average) to real ramen I've found has been Temari Japanese Cafe in Rockville and Satsuma in Bethesda. And yes that watermelon and pork belly salad at Fatty Crab is the best ever.

Fuji makes really nice green tea that comes in a pretty pot, and it's complimentary I think, if you ask for it!

Kim said...

Thank you for putting up a post about Fuji. It's a gem and it's our favorite place for sushi. I'm not going to get into the authentic discussion, but every restaurant has a "sense of place." Fuji's just happens to be the place we like best. And we love to see the independent little guys do well, so we give them our business if they deserve it. Fuji most richly deserves it. I hope every table is filled next time we are there.

Anonymous said...

is this related to fujij sushi on bel air?

Anonymous said...

HowChow, I read this blog fairly regularly, and have tried many of your recommendations, i.e. Kloby's, Facci, R&R tacos, etc...but this by far was a complete miss. Maybe it was just this time...but Fuji was TERRIBLE. First of all, the service was horrendous. As soon as we walked in, we didn't even get greeted, instead a few minutes later, some person came with NO greeting, and led us to a table. Then we literally had to wait 10 minutes to get a menu, then another 20 to order. We were actually considering leaving at that point but we wanted sushi, and it was already late. We also found out that the table next to us was furious about the service too as it took them almost two hours to get their food. So finally our food came, and the wait was not too bad...I guess additonal help had come. We ordered the seafood udon and it was decent...but nothing spectacular. We also ordered five rolls, and these were terrible. They were extremely pooorly cut, it truly looked like a five year old had cut them. Maybe it was just this time, but I just don't see how this received such great reviews when the service was this bad, and the food was at best average.

HowChow said...

@Anon -- Oh, I'm so sorry. I really liked the udon and the salmon skin rolls. The other rolls weren't striking, but they weren't hacked around. I can imagine that you got the backup chef or a bad night. So sorry to have lead you wrong.

I should say that even our service was amateur and slow, but that isn't a huge issue for me. I am a sucker for friendly service. Somehow it became a plus that our waiter turned off the NPR talk radio, and we didn't get frustrated that they had been blaring a discussion about dementia and aging over our dinner.

wondergirl said...

Thanks HowChow for another great recommendation! Enjoyed dinner at Fuji and it was excellent. We did wait a bit to get seated, but once we did the service was very friendly and attentive. My husband enjoyed the maki and sashimi, but I'm on a restrictive diet and I can't have rice at the moment. The server was very helpful in suggesting menu options that would work for me, and offered to prepare my fish with sauce on the side without being asked. I did try a few pieces of fish from the sashimi and it was of excellent quality - comparable to Sushi Sono. The flounder teriyaki that I chose was amazing - definitely sushi grade fish and cooked perfectly, the miso soup was delicious, green tea delicate and toasty. I didn't try a maki roll but noticed that the portions of fish in the roll were huge - mostly fish with just a small amount of rice wrapped inside of seaweed. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and will definitely return. Perhaps the previous poster experienced an "off" night?