Fuji stands tall in Hot Springs 

A small Japanese spot with big ambitions.

CAUTION: Sushi-making at work at Fuji.
  • CAUTION: Sushi-making at work at Fuji.
HOT SPRINGS — This resort town may have more good restaurants per capita than any city in this region and they cover nearly every genre. But one style, traditional Japanese with sushi, was missing until two years ago when Fuji Hibachi Steak House and Sushi Bar opened on Grand Avenue (U.S. Highway 70) east of downtown near Malvern Avenue. Fuji does a large menu of Japanese favorites very well, and it offers dozens of bargains. Other sushi bars can hit the pocketbook hard; Fuji offers all-you-can-eat sushi for $19, every day. Hibachi fans are covered with two grills and expert chefs who put on a show that wows kids and adults. Sushi experts slice and dice across the way, moving good-looking presentations of rolls and fish pieces quickly, and a few seats are available in front of the bar. A few tables around the room handle the sit-down customers. It’s not an ostentatious place, nor is it a room overcrowded with tables and chairs on top of each other. A steady stream of customers came in while we visited on a recent Saturday night, but there was never a wait for sit-down or hibachi. For a nice introduction to Japanese cooking, we suggest the Dinner Box ($17.95), which offers miso soup and a small salad for starters, a California roll, two pieces of nigiri (fish pieces and rice), three shrimp-stuffed gyoza (dumplings), shrimp and vegetable tempura, beef negimaki or teriyaki, and a side of rice and dessert (a choice of ice cream). The negamaki, which we chose with the box, is a slice of grilled beef rolled around scallions and doused with teriyaki sauce. The shrimp tempura had an interesting batter that included Japanese bread crumbs as well as flour, while the lightly fried vegetables had a light flour coating. It’s hard to find a unique miso soup (soybean broth) and here it’s no different. But every Japanese restaurant seems to invent its own ginger dressing for its salad; this one was nearly Thousand Island-like, a hint of ginger and a little thicker than what we’ve encountered elsewhere. The sushi rolls — one of our group ordered sushi as a meal with spice tuna and spicy yellowtail rolls — were no surprise, a typical presentation and taste, with the exception of the spider roll (fried soft shell crab), each piece larger than a silver dollar in circumference — we’ve seen rolls this size only once, in Las Vegas. It was worth the $8. Also, the sushi chef didn’t run the California roll through fish roe for the final, outside coating, but instead used sesame seed. The stars in the sushi/sashimi department were the fish pieces; the tuna was surprisingly fresh, bright red-pink and not the dark bloody color we often encounter. The salmon, as well, didn’t seem to have been sitting around the sushi bar very long. Another diner in our group was a traditionalist. He was happy with hibachi and typically wouldn’t dare try much sushi beyond a California roll. But he was quite happy to try to lobster teriyaki, which came with lots of lobster pieces in a rich looking sauce. After polishing that off, his “dessert” was the appetizer order of shrimp tempura, which he happily devoured. Our dessert, on the other hand, was red bean ice cream, suggested by a neighboring couple. They found it had a cherry-like taste. We’re not sure if cherry is the description, but there was definitely a berry flavor to the bean, and it was light and a nice complement to a great dinner experience. One companion bought a few pints to take home. The owner, Stephanie Jiang, and her staff dress in traditional Japanese clothing; the hibachi chefs sound like they’re building a house with all their metal work on the grills, and the sushi chef doesn’t seem to have time to stop for air. Our server was sweet, soft-spoken, helpful, a little bewildered at the late appetizer order, and pleasant, though busy as she handled every table around us. Jiang moved to Hot Springs from New York, where her family has a restaurant called Okinawa. The wine selection — mostly cheap house choices of the usual varietals — was one area that left much to be desired. There are a few Japanese beers, too. Fuji Hibachi Steak House and Sushi ????? 608 E. Grand Ave. Hot Springs 501-321-1688 Quick bite The specialty sushi rolls look and taste wonderful. Everything Japanese, from tempura to noodles (udon dishes) is available, and the prices are reasonable.Hours 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; Noon.-3 p.m. Saturday Sunday; 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 4:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Other information Moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Full bar.

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