Look out, Pizza Corner. It's starting to feel like Grafton is now just a rebellious cheese-topped corner in what's shaping up to be the Sticky Rice District.
The latest sushi house to open in that tiny strip of downtown is Fujiyama, located in the cavernous location that once housed the more literal-minded La Cave and La Cueva. I'm not sure if the name is a jab at dunderheaded Westerners who insist on using that misnomer for Mount Fuji or if it's named after the Japanese rollercoaster. My guess is the latter---my meal had some skyscraping highs paired with some serious lows.
We're greeted by a friendly host and quickly seated. The server is friendly and engaging and makes up for the atmosphere, which is less cozy than I'd hoped, mostly due to the stark lighting that stamps out the naturally dusky appeal of the space.
The perfect mix of crispy and creamy, we couldn't ask for a better start to the meal than the avocado tempura ($5.95). The delicate, fresh taste of the avocado is showcased beautifully in this dish. Sadly, the beef yakitori ($6.50) isn't half as exciting. The three small skewers of beef and green pepper are coated in a lightly sticky teriyaki sauce. The tiny cubes of beef are a little overcooked and the peppers fail to add much pizzazz.
I order the unagi nigiri ($6) and Hawaii roll ($12.95) and my companion orders the sweet potato roll ($4.95), kappa maki ($4) and inari nigiri ($4). We're later told that there is no inari available. It's a disappointment, but our server is apologetic and we make do without it.
The sweet potato rolls are excellent. They are stuffed with big, fresh pieces of sweet potato and avocado, with a nice pile of wasabi and pickled ginger on the side. The rolls are a little too big for an easy mouthful, but the taste makes up for the difficulty handling them. The kappa maki, on the other hand, is a huge disappointment. With a staggeringly boring presentation and skimpy cucumber slices, it's basically mall sushi. Some care and artistry in plating the rolls might have at least stirred some excitement from us---instead this dish is the edible equivalent of a shrug. (This would be the first big drop on the Fujiyama rollercoaster.)
With generous, tender slices of beautifully cooked eel coated in kabayaki sauce, the unagi nigiri is simply executed and very tasty.
The Hawaii roll, on the other hand, is anything but simple. Made up of shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, thinly sliced mango and a sprinkle of crunchy almond, the portion is enormous and the rolls are large, fresh and are stuffed with perfectly cooked shrimp and yummy tuna. But there's just too much going on. The syrupy mango is too cloying and the crumble of nuts only accentuates the slimy nature of the fruit. I like it better when I eat the mango on its own.
For dessert we go for the tempura cheesecake ($5) and a green tea mochi ice cream ($1.50). Wrapped in a little doughy wrapper made from pulverized sticky rice, the mochi is absolutely delicious. It's the perfect sweet little treat at the end of the meal.
The tempura cheesecake is brutal. It is the definition of a "love it or hate it" dish. The cheesecake can't really stand up to the frying and it tastes more like something you'd get at the Texas State Fair than at a Japanese restaurant. We ate almost all of it. (It wouldn't be much of a rollercoaster if you didn't feel a little bit sick by the end, right?)
There are a lot of exciting and adventurous dishes at Fujiyama, and while it seems like risk doesn't always equal reward, it was worth the trip.