Fresh fish, stale service

Fuji Ya on Lyndale and Lake stumbles in its service, but soars in its sushi.

Let’s face the obvious. Minnesota is something like a gazillion miles from the nearest source of fresh seafood. Nearly every former coast-dweller that I’ve spoken with complains that fish in the Midwest are as salty as your Uncle Jim after trimming his lawn on a July afternoon, and the few fish the nicer restaurants manage to salvage can sell for more than old Jim’s prized John Deere lawn mower.

Fuji-Ya Sushi

Food: Authentic Japanese
Where: 600 W. Lake Street, Minneapolis
Price: $10-$20

I heard no such complaints about Fuji Ya, an authentic Japanese establishment with two distinct restaurants: one on Lake and Lyndale in Uptown, the other on Seventh and Wabasha in St. Paul.

Fuji Ya’s delectability came up in several conversations during the last few months, recommended for birthday parties and first dates. But what distinguishes Fuji Ya from other pseudo-chic sushi joints in the Twin Cities?

It’s Wednesday at 6 p.m. and the entry to the Fuji Ya in Uptown is pleasantly crowded with younger men and women donning their favorite business-casual outfits. The first room, painted a warm scarlet, is a flare of light pine surfaces, steel and hackneyed Zen-like Japanese art displayed on screens decorated with calligraphic Kanji.

I took along a friend who spent a few months in Portland as a reliable sushi measurement stick. We take two seats at the end of the half-moon shaped sushi bar. On the other side of the bar, the chefs prepare sushi rolls with the speed of jujitsu fighters.

The restaurant’s main highlight is its happy hour sushi specials. After eyeing the smaller, laminated happy hour menu for a few minutes, we filled out a paper order form and handed it to Diego, who immediately prepared our salmon Nigiri, caterpillar rolls (filled with eel, cucumber and avocado) and spicy tuna rolls.

The wait service, though speedy, left something to be desired. Often, we lifted our water glasses to find them empty. We needed to ask a few times for a bill before our server returned with it.

What the eatery lacked in effective communication, it recovered in taste. For a meager ten dollars, the sushi was an exceptional break from the salty fish I had been choking down at Wasabi for the last few months.

The ingredients were superbly fresh – the bean sprouts and carrots crisped happily in my mouth, and the avocado was brisk and not overdone.

All in all, Fuji Ya delivers what it promises: a lively atmosphere, considerably fresh sushi and a bill that won’t leave you unable to afford your next box of Franzia.