by Caroline Carney and Kelly Dumke
Fugakyu, in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner, is a showcase of traditional Japanese cuisine. The two-story, bamboo-accented, Asian-inspired ambiance of Fugakyu warmly greets guests and sets the mood for a culinary adventure. The painted blue-sky ceiling and trickling waterfall sounds complete with a stone coy pond, create a serene calm as the wait staff guides diners to their private tatami rooms or cozy booths. Touted as New England’s largest Japanese Restaurant, Fugakyu easily accommodates the 1,000 customers it serves on a typical weekend. It has two-stories of space complete with a sushi bar, cocktail bar, and private dining rooms. Fugakyu’s award-winning sushi and numerous five-star ratings, suggest that Bostonians have taken a shine to this Japanese restaurant.
The staff guided us from the first floor, up the stairs and through winding passageways to a private tatami room. No shoes are allowed in the tatami rooms, so we settled in barefoot around the long bamboo table. We were given warm, sweetly scented towels to wash our hands in preparation for the dining experience. Chopsticks at the ready, we were braced for a night of exploring Japanese gastronomy.
The journey began as our kimono-clad waitress listed off the specials: toro (fatty tuna belly), chutoro (fatty tuna), wild red snapper from Spain, live uni (sea urchin) from Maine, miru kai (giant clam), blue prawn from Hawaii, and live tatout (a white fish).
It helps to have a plan of attack when planning a visit to Fugakyu; otherwise you might be left frantically flipping haplessly through the exhaustive offerings. Luckily, Fugakyu provides a knowledgeable staff and a picture-book menu to help diners select the perfect menu item.
Fugakyu boasts roughly 30 types of nigiri (piece of fish with rice) that can also be ordered as sashimi (fish only) and about 60 types of sushi rolls. Adding to the complexity they also offer an array of sushi appetizers, traditional appetizers (think miso soup, seaweed salad, and shumai), entrees of katsu and teriyaki seafood, chicken and meat, and staple rice and noodle dishes.
Fugakyu offers brown rice sushi, a response to customer demand and an effort to incorporate more healthy options into the menu. Brown rice sushi was tempting for a table full of nutrition students, but it is difficult to ignore the sticky, slightly sweet perfection of Japanese sushi rice. Interestingly, the menu purports to have “organic” sushi rolls. This is a dubious claim because the USDA does not currently certify fish as organic.
First to the table was the house special: crispy cucumber slices, each topped with a piece of sake (salmon), avocado, and a sprinkling of tempura crumb. The combination of lovely fish and vibrant textures was an auspicious start to our Japanese meal.
Steamed edamame with a nutty, smooth texture were next to arrive. They served as a mild vegetable compliment to the steamed gyoza (Japanese pot sticker). The gyozas were pillowy dumplings of savory meat filling accompanied by a salty soy dipping sauce.
Sadly, the kitchen- or more accurately, the fish tank – was out of the live Maine uni (a brownish colored, silky, smooth delicacy with an intense ocean flavor). As an alternate plan, we ordered the tatout nigiri. But eating this mild flavored white fish was like trying to chew through leather. Not a recommended order, but it did satisfy our sense of adventure.
Beyond seafood, Fugakyu offers meat and vegetarian options. The ostrich salad with wilted greens and tender ostrich meat was a unexpected and flavorful combination.
Fugakyu’s more traditional sushi did not disappoint. The Alaskan roll, salmon, avocado, and bonito flakes, was straightforward, fresh, and satisfying. The salmon was glistening and the bonito flakes (smoked and dried tuna flakes) added smokiness.
The Fugakyu roll, the restaurant’s signature maki, is one of tuna, eel, and fried sweet potato. Slivers of scallion ornamented the outside of the seaweed wrapping. Vegetarian sushi also packed the flavor; the pine-tato roll (tempura sweet potato and grilled pineapple) was crispy, sweet, and savory.
Fugakyu strives to ensure each dining experience is smooth, enjoyable, and memorable. Along the way, it provides a sensory experience of Japan. Something is sure to satisfy every palette, from the daring Japanese connoisseur to the sushi novice. Although sushi can be pricey ($6-12 per roll), consider Fugakyu next time your taste buds crave adventure. Your Japanese adventure is only a green-line stop away.