Fuki Sushi in Palo Alto has been around quite a long time, maybe as long as Ino Sushi (of SF Japantown) has been around. The only difference is that Fuki Sushi offers a wide range of cooked food and appetizers and has a very nice formal dining area. Ino is strictly sushi, on the other hand (with miso soup and cucumber salads, but no hot food from kitchen).
Throughout the numerous times I've been to Fuki Sushi (for both sushi dining at the bar, and for full course meals at the table), they never have been really strong in sushi at least in my picky sushi eating mind. They did really well with cooked food and some cold stuff like green tea soba dish, and also the seared tombo dinner (albacore tuna) with a very nice tattaki style dipping sauce, and of course my perennial favorte green tea mousse dessert which has always been dearest to my heart. However, nigiri sushi pieces on the other hand, always seemed a little small and pricey, and quality hasn't quite matched up to some of the better traditional nigiri sushi houses in the Peninsula/South Bay, and had been quite inconsistent throughout the years I've been.....until a most recent visit proved me wrong, and so wrong it was. I can still remember a prior visit and meal at the bar, which was less than stellar.
Last week I stopped by for lunch, and for whatever reason decided to give them another chance, and asked for a seat by the sushi bar. Appearance wise, nothing had changed since my last visit. Their specials white board menu had nothing that wasn't already listed on the menu, which basically were three items with prices (marked AQ or Market on the menu). One item caught my eye, which I don't know why it didn't before, and it was madai on the white board, at around $6.
Madai on their menu is listed as Japanese red snapper imported from Japan. I've never had authentic madai, but the little I do know is that it is the dog's bollocks of red snapper (tai), creme de la creme, basically a prized item in the realm of sushi/seafood. The best madai (or maybe all madai) in Japan is caught in the wild, and given the high demand and price, naturally there are many who try to pass off lower grade/quality snapper as the real deal/imitiation madai, and the scary thing is, unsuspecting customers may not know the difference. I had my reservations of them claimning their red snapper variety was madai, but I made no bones about it and ordered one, and also hirame to start.
The madai nigiri was a nice white color with a little redness on the side, and did not look too different from other red snapper sushi's I had before at the top places (e.g. Tomi, Sakae, Sushi Sam's, Kitsho). My reservations about authenticity and how it would taste were temporarily set aside when I ate it. The taste and texture was fantastic. Very soft, and smooth. Perhaps it had some light marinade in it, or was actually naturally sweet. That along with the finely prepared sushi vinegared rice, made for a pleasant experience and amazingly brought a smile to my face and caused my eyes to shut for a brief moment (all of which very rarely happens elsewhere except at Sakae sushi in Burlingame when my eyes close longer when I eat! Like what one CH reviewer said "went temporarily blind with pleasure"). Unfortunately it was not prepared with the skin still on, which so far very few restaurants in the Bay Area have nailed down (Sushi Sam's does their tai well especially with the skin included, and I'm sure others will agree).
Hirame or halibut, is a very common sushi neta, but sometimes getting the soft, tender, succulent, and sweet piece can be a challenge. Fortunately Fuki Sushi's was just as good as Sushi Tomi's surprisingly and it was just as described. They served it plain, without the ponzu, green onion and minced orange ginger that may be common to serve with elsewhere. It still worked and was a great follow up to the madai, as both were light starters.
I asked for aji, but they were in the middle of preparing it in the kitchen, and was not ready yet, so I didn't get it this visit.
Next I had maguro and salmon, common menu items. I noticed the chef picked out a presliced maguro and it was a bit on the lighter side of red (I personally love the meatier portion of the fish that is darker red, or akami). I was worried that it wasn't going to be as good, but was pleasantly surprised at how soft and tasty it was. There are other sushi bars that serve maguro and all cuts of the meat that is not toro can range from being soft, or very chewy/meaty and at times no flavor and depth. Given that blue fin is not always available, the lesser grade tunas that are more accessible to sushi bars like ahi or big eye can vary in taste and texture. I couldn't tell which one of those it was at Fuki, but it didn't quite taste like blue fin. I should have asked.
I only started to appreciate natto maki recently (natto is fermented soybeans and is strictly an acquired taste for those new to this), and decided to see how Fuki's version fares. My 6 piece cut roll looked rather small and thin compared to other cut rolls served elsewhere. Their natto was not stored in a container, but rather processed already in a squeeze tube. As I haven't had natto in a lot of places, this was new to me. The chef squeezed the natto paste (which oddly did look fairly "nutty") and made my roll quickly. Although I asked for green onion, a small amount was sprinkled on top. I would have preferred it to be inside. Despite the $5 ish price tag for 6 little wee rolls, the natto was mild and not pungent like some other sushi bars. I guess I will have to eat this more frequently elsewhere to get a better gauge. Of course nothing is fresher than Howard's version at Kitsho as he makes it in house. (Drool....)
I had a craving for anago (sea eel) and I wanted to order it. The chef was kind enough to tell me that it was on the dry side and asked me if I wanted unagi instead. I'm glad he told me this because that is one of the things I don't like (which is dry anago). As I could not decide what else to get at that point (which was nearing the end of the meal), I settled for uni. Given all the good sushi I had so far, I started to have high expectations for the uni. My heart sank as the chef took out a container that was fairly empty except two or three darker looking globs. He scooped them up and served them. There are rare instances when these last globs/globules of uni in a container (who knows how long they have been there) can still be decent, but sadly this was not one of them. I would have been fine with it if it were at one of my favorite places. Well it wasn't that bad, but it was a bit disappointing considering everything was fantastic, and then a bit of a dip with the uni.
Other than the uni, I felt everything else I had was executed well, and depsite the smaller nigiri pieces compared to some other places, they really were similar sizes to say Sushi Tomi's and fit in my mouth perfectly. Some say too big is a waste (especially if you cannot eat it all in one bite), others say gimme more fish and less rice, or thicker slices.
Maybe it is just me or perhaps this was a one off incident, but it seems that Fuki could be a worthy place to have traditional style nigiri sushi in the area again. Though for those considering this place for that, may want to still make the trip a little further south to Sushi Tomi, where you can probably get better variety in a more low key and intimate setting. Though if it is a more upscale and laid back setting you want as part of your dining experience, then Fuki will fit that bill.
I'd like to hear what others think. Has there really been an overall improvement to their sushi (not referring to fancy rolls), or is it still the stinker for some that doesn't come close to the other good places?
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