Remember the first time you got your nerve up to try sushi? If you live in or around Little Rock and it's been a while since that first experience, chances are you had that first little bite at Mt. Fuji. The venerable Little Rock Japanese establishment has been serving up sushi, tempura, and sukiyaki since the mid-80s. It may not have the dazzling chefs with their flying spatulas and egg tricks at a superheated grill, but it does have one of the best (and most discreet) sushi bars in town -- and a conscientious wait staff to boot.
In the past decade, competition has moved in with the major chains and a few minor local operations vying for attention. Even the grocery stores have their own take-home sushi rice creations. That hasn't brought down the quality you'll find at Mt. Fuji. In fact, it seems to have sparked a stronger push towards excellence.
Fuji's sushi is predictable only to the point of you know what you'll get when you order a Spider roll, a Razorback roll, or any of the many specialties on the menu. The fish is fresh, the rice is sticky, and the dishes are clean.
On a recent visit, we dropped by for lunch. My traveling companion went for the Sushi Special ($9.95), a real lunch in a box, a pretty box at that. The special changes every day in its specifics -- but it always includes four pieces of fresh sushi, a special roll, your choice of another roll (California, Spicy Tuna, Spicy Crab, Grilled Salmon/Cream Cheese, Crunchy Shrimp, or Asparagus) and accoutrements. This time around, it came with seaweed, a fish puff, a nice selection of sushi (tuna, conger eel, salmon, whitefish), four big pieces of a special roll that was similar to a California roll but with a mince of tuna and spice on top, and the ordered Spicy Crab roll.
I went for the Shrimp Tempura lunch box ($7.95) -- and was surprised at all that came with it. In addition to the three perfectly battered and fried shrimp, the tempura-clad veggies (sweet potato, potato, zucchini), the delicious and salty tempura dip and rice, it also came with four pieces of Crab roll and a spring roll. Both meals were accompanied by a really good miso soup with lots of tofu and a house salad with a housemade peanut-ginger sauce for dressing. I didn't care much for the sauce, but my traveling companion adores it.
We also recently ventured out for the Monday night special -- Monday nights being a wonderful night for sushi. The specials are widely varied, and you can get a pretty decent sushi-filled meal for not a whole lot (certainly less than the chains!) -- with $1 sushi pieces, two rolls for $10.45 deals, and the appetizer special where you get half off your second appetizer
order. This can be dangerous, if you really like appetizers and sushi like we do -- but it's a bargain, too. We shared four rolls between us -- a New Orleans roll, a King Crab roll, a Crunchy Shrimp roll, and a Volcano roll. While all four were tasty, the Volcano roll without a doubt is our favorite.
The spicy shrimp, crab stick, avocado, rice, and seaweed are deftly formed, sliced, constructed into a pyramid and coated with a very spicy and robust Japanese mayo (which, if you don't care for that much, you can have on the side).
We also went for the Shrimp Tempura ($6) and Vegetable Tempura ($5)(yes, I am a tempura fan!) to go along with our sushi. Our ample portions came with that strange puffy rice styrofoam-like creation that melts in your mouth or in your tempura sauce.
We also tried some dessert -- delicious and refreshing green tea ice cream.
One thing that does stand out about Mt. Fuji, in addition to the comfortable and cozy surroundings, is the remarkably green green tea. It's a tea of deep viridity that's absolutely perfect on a cold day for rolling up the world's trouble and throwing them against a distant wall. It's well balanced -- not bitter, not overpowering, just what you expect when you think of green tea flavor. While these cold winds blow this time of year, treat yourself to a cuppa. Oh, and the refills are free and ever forthcoming.
You'll find Mt. Fuji in the Breckenridge Shopping Center off Rodney Parham at I-430. Do be aware that there is a lift for wheelchairs out front -- so don't let the stairs fool you. There's also a delightful little shop downstairs that almost everything you'd ever need to make and enjoy sushi in your own home -- along with gifts and staple items. And if you really like sushi, Mt. Fuji offers plenty of sushi-making classes with patient instructors.
For more information, call Mt. Fuji at (501) 227-6498 or check out the restaurant's website.
I like going to Mt. Fuji on Monday nights, with the $1 sushi specials, the $10.95 for two maki rolls, and the buy one appetizer, get one half price deal. We can really do some damage.
One interesting thing we tried on our last visit -- Agedofu, which is fried tofu topped with bonito flakes. We did expect it to be tasty. We didn't expect it to move. Splendid.