Raw Power

When the service catches up to the food, Fuji Sushi will be on the road to delivering a good meal

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Fuji Sushi

84 Clarkson-Wilson Centre (Chesterfield)

Individual sushi $1.70-$4
Gyoza $4.75
Ika (squid) salad $3.95
Dragon roll $9.50
Beef teriyaki combination $15.50
Medium sashimi assortment $17

636-530-1392. Hours: 5 p.m.- 10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

Just as we walked through the door of Fuji, a new Japanese restaurant on Clarkson Road in West County, another party was leaving, and they were sent off with a "Thank you very much" delivered in an unusual three-part female vocal harmony that could have been plucked from the higher strings of a koto. Much like the traditional "Irasshai!" welcome shout, this was an excellent sign because enthusiasm is often an integral part of the sushi experience.

Another key element, though, is precision, and on this count, our visits to Fuji fell woefully short, with a real divergence between what was promised on the menu and what actually arrived on the table but no apparent comprehension that anything was out of sorts.

But first, the positive stuff. The atmosphere at Fuji is just as inviting as that initial impression suggested, a clearly Japanese room dominated by a sunny yellow, sparsely decorated with four large kanji characters and about half-a-dozen pieces of art, with a sushi bar to the rear. The great majority of those items we tried ranged from satisfactory to quite good. And for those who enjoy a bit of whimsy with their sushi, Fuji offers a couple of versions of the rice-caterpillar-bodied, salmon-egg-eyed, radish-sprout-tentacled rolls that I've otherwise only encountered locally at I Love Mr. Sushi.

We split our initial meal between our chosen selection of sushi and a house selection built around beef teriyaki and served in a rectangular open box sectioned into smaller compartments. To start off, though, we shared an appetizer of fried oysters, five to the serving, with drops of lip-searing nectar dripping out initially and plump inside, with a full taste of the shellfish.

In addition to the aforementioned roll artistry (which we ordered in the form of the eel, crab and avocado Dragon Roll), the included sushi was notable for a minimalist touch on the rice cake. Rather than extending it almost the full length of the fish slice on top, the sushi chef at Fuji restricted it to slightly more than bite size, making for easier consumption and giving more emphasis to the flavor of the various fish -- among which we sampled tuna, mackerel and flounder.

Special treatment was also given to the ama-ebi ("sweet" -- which means raw -- shrimp), which came on a separate lacquered plate, complete with fried heads (an acquirable taste -- just close your eyes and crunch); and to the uni (sea-urchin roe, a dense, creamy burnt-orange paste with a taste somewhat like a concentrated oyster), which included a sliver of cucumber on top.

Other quite satisfactory items we tried included an appetizer of gyoza -- small, thin-skinned stuffed dumplings -- and a shrimp-tempura entrée, with nicely delicate batter covering six large shrimp accompanied by broccoli, sweet potato, zucchini, squash and mushrooms.

The combination plate, though, was the first instance of Fuji's not delivering what was ordered. The menu indicated that a tekkamaki (tuna roll) and a yakitori (skewered chicken) would be included; they weren't. I probably would have written this off as an isolated incident, had it not been for our second visit, which included several errors in our service and was magnified by our observation of the table next to us, whose occupants had to repeatedly point out that all of the items listed on the menu had not been included in their order. We ordered squid salad and had octopus initially delivered; after it was replaced and we'd finished it, yet another octopus salad showed up. (By the way, the squid was fabulous: layers and layers of the gently rubbery mollusk, its relatively neutral flavor enhanced by a smokiness, then further augmented with a part-tangy, part-sweet, part-nutty dressing, seaweed and tiny bits of red chile.)

One of our main courses that second day was the sashimi "medium size" combination, and here again, several fish were listed, but the plate as delivered included only tuna, flounder and salmon, quite disproportionately heavy on the salmon: eight slices, compared with four of the flounder and three of the tuna. Good fish, attractive presentation -- atop angel-hair threads of daikon radish, with razor slices of cuke on the side and wasabi shaped like a tiny kaiser roll -- but below established expectations.

One other nagging service breakdown occurred with beverages for one of our meals. We ordered hot tea and a beer; the beer came, but the tea didn't until a second request was made. None of the three servers who brought items to our table ever checked to see whether refills were in order, and toward the end of the meal, despite Fuji's relatively small size, we weren't visited at all for more than 10 minutes. By that point, we'd decided to pass on the selections of green-tea ice cream and red-bean ice cream.

As we left, that charming Eastern-toned harmony of "Thank you very much" rang out again, but it seemed hollow, given the lack of basic service that we received during the body of our meal. There are good things to recommend about Fuji, but the overall experience won't be one of them until the management instills a lot more precision into the staff.

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