Indeed, every time I get into my car and drive to a part of town I haven’t recently visited, I seem to discover another sushi bar or two.
Not all sushi restaurants are created equal, however — nor are sushi chefs. In this country, “chefs” start cutting up raw fish for sushi and sashimi after a single sushi-making course at the local community college.
In Japan, by contrast, it’s not unusual for an apprentice sushi chef to study with a sushi master for three, four or even five years before he (rare is the female sushi chef) is allowed to make sushi for customers.
Such was the case with Joe Takeda, who hails from Osaka and is owner and sushi chef at Mt. Fuji Sushi Bar & Japanese Cuisine in Sandy. Joe says he made sushi rice, unloaded delivery trucks and schlepped heavy boxes of fish for years before he earned the right to make sushi. It shows. When you visit Mt. Fuji’s sushi bar, you’ll be treated to the pleasure of watching a master sushi chef in action.
Aside from being a very talented chef, Joe is also one of the kindest, most generous and friendliest people I’ve ever met.
When I asked him about payment for his $10 sushi-making classes, which are held on Sunday evenings, he said, “If you don’t like class, no pay!” Indeed, he tends to give a lot of stuff away and seems to be reluctant to charge customers for everything they ordered. I’ve tried to tell him that he could easily charge $30-$45 for his sushimaking class, but he’s content just to try to cover his food costs. By the way, sushi classes at Mt. Fuji are BYOB, making them an even better bargain.
Crispy, pan-fried, pork-filled gyoza (6 for $4.25) is a delicious way to begin a meal at Mt. Fuji. Ditto for the tongue-in-cheek-named scallop appetizer, “Mommy, Daddy and Me”—three scallop pieces in a lovely ginger-cream sauce ($7). The seaweed salad ($3.75), squid salad ($6.50) and agedashi tofu ($4.50) are also excellent.
When eating at the Mt. Fuji sushi bar, with Joe in command, your best bet is to dine omakase style, meaning you simply entrust yourself to the sushi chef. It’s a great way to discover new favorites and to break old habits (you’ve gotta get away from the California rolls). Joe is happy to steer customers towards special, fresh ingredients he’s just acquired, such as the delicious maki roll he made (I think he called it a “snow” roll) which was topped with almost translucent snow-white slices of escolar, lightly charred with a butane torch and decorated with thin wedges of kiwi.
Another delectable special roll that Joe cooked up was a maki roll with the exterior wrapped in alternating slices of albacore, maguro tuna and avocado, sprinkled with white sesame seeds and garnished with julienned mango. It was incredible. Of course, Mt. Fuji also dishes up popular rolls like the caterpillar, playboy, Philadelphia, spider, rainbow and so on.
One of my favorites off the regular maki roll menu is the gokudo roll: saba (mackerel), scallion and ginger ($5.25). It’s simple, but sensational. Vegetarians will appreciate selections such as umekyu, which is a cucumber roll with plum paste ($3.75) and the vegetable roll ($5.75) which features lettuce, cucumber, oshinko (pickled daikon radish) and kanpyou (roasted squash).
In case you believe that one can’t live on sushi alone, at Mt. Fuji you’ll find a fairly predictable array of cooked dishes such as tempura, teriyaki, udon and such. The difference—and you can taste it—is that whereas many local sushi chefs rely on their suppliers for bottled sauces, Joe at Mt. Fuji makes his own. So, his teriyaki sauce is made from scratch, and is much less cloying and sweet than most. The same goes for his superior tempura sauce, and even the miso, in which Atlantic salmon is marinated and then grilled ($12.95). He also makes a deliciously zippy spicy mayo for rolls such as the volcano roll. Joe calls it “fry sauce for sushi.”
Joe takes his sushi-making seriously. However, he’s also a fun-loving guy and one of the best karaoke singers I’ve ever heard. In addition to live music on Friday and Saturday nights, karaoke is likely to break out just about any time, especially after the Sunday sushi classes. During a recent beginners’ sushi-making class — which Joe held specifically for City Weekly Club Fed members — we learned how to make sushi rice and how to construct California rolls, hand rolls and nigiri. The class was a blast, we learned a lot and even got to eat the rolls we made—all for the ridiculously low price of $10 per person.
After the Sunday sushi class, Joe continued to steal the show with his gorgeous karaoke singing voice; me, not so much. Following a formidable version of “We Built This City” by my wife and fellow Club Fed member Erica, I was coerced into my own virgin karaoke voyage and teamed up with Club Fed-er Kasey to tackle “Macarena.” (Note to self: Don’t let other people choose your karaoke tunes for you.)
Thanks to Joe and his uber-friendly staff, Mt. Fuji Sushi Bar & Japanese Cuisine is the sort of place that fuels fun and friendships. Combined with excellent food, isn’t that what dining out is supposed to be all about?
MT. FUJI SUSHI BAR & JAPANESE CUISINE
8650 S. 1300 East, Sandy
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