Fujiyama Restaurant, Olympia WA

Sorry for the lack of yummy posts the last week or so, faithful readers. It seems that–after losing our 15-year-old Saturn a couple of months ago to a head-on collision (where it gave its life to save mine), and then blowing a rear tire on my little red scooter two days before–your devoted blogger’s last working vehicle decided to perform a rather tricky maneuver out on I-5 the evening of July 8th, one known as a Flaming Cranial-anal Impaction. In layman’s terms, it got so hot inside the engine block that it stuck its head gasket up its rear axle … and died a flaming death :(

So we’ve been busy car shopping (and stressing) the last two weekends, which has cut deeply into my foodie time! We’ve eaten in all that time, but it’s been mostly quick and boring stuff. However–thankfully–we finally found an adequate replacement ride today (thanks Olympia Toyota!) …  so we’re at least half-back on the road again. We’ll worry about replacing the other in a few weeks again.

While we were down in Olympia, WA for the day, finalizing paperwork on our new vehicle, we asked a couple of the people in the showroom about good places to eat, and–with several of them agreeing on the recommendation–we chose Fujiyama!

As I’ve mentioned before (when I bought the rolled steel griddle from Sur Le Table a couple of weeks ago), we love teppanyaki, so a Japanese “steak house” sounded good to us pretty much instantly :)

We walked in the door about 4pm, opted for the “$34.99 for 2″ special of the evening, and both chose Steak to go with our Shrimp Appetizer, soup, salad, and chicken-fried rice. With two of us, we could have chosen another meat to mix-and-match between us–shrimp or chicken were the other two choices–but we were just both feeling very beefy for the evening.

They started us out with an absolutely AWESOME (and I do mean AWESOME!) onion-flavored chicken soup.  It was one of those typical clear Asian broth-type soups, a richly-flavored, mostly-clear chicken and onion base … with just a pinch of paper thin mushrooms, sliced green onions, and french-fried onions (SEE? … I told you that French-fried onions were a pantry staple I couldn’t live without!!!) floating on top.

What made this soup so awesome? Simple. The flavor of the broth was perfect. I could taste chicken, browned onions, and white pepper in it, all wrapped into one clear drop. When you took a little bit of the tiny additions to the broth in your spoon–the mushrooms, green onions, and french-fried onions (and those additions were indeed tiny, but perfect)–they gave you a little hint of texture and flavor to offset the strong broth … but it was really the broth that made the soup. To me, it tasted like (I know it wasn’t … it just tasted like) it was made from heavily-peppered fried chicken. Needless to say, that flavor called loudly to my Southern roots. It was absolutely delicious. I could have bathed in it :)

The second course was the obligatory iceberg lettuce salad, dressed with a house ginger dressing. I say obligatory, because I’ve been handed pretty much the exact same salad at every single teppanyaki restaurant I’ve ever frequented … and I’ve eaten teppanyaki in at least eight different states in my life. It usually doesn’t change much from establishment to establishment, but the offering at Fujiyama was a bit above average. The lettuce was very cold and crisp, which is a big plus for ginger-dressed salad. I actually got a slice of tomato, too: something I’ve never seen before at a teppanyaki establishment, but I enjoyed it. The only thing I could really ding them on was they didn’t drain their lettuce enough for my tastes. The lettuce was still damp, and there was easily half to three-quarters of a teaspoon of water sloshing around the bottom of my salad bowl. That may not seem like much, but–trust me–it makes a difference. Ginger dressings tend to be less creamy and clingy than, say, a ranch dressing. Instead of something mayonnaise or fat-laden, something that coats everything it touches, classic Japanese ginger dressings are basically finely-ground particles of ginger and other spices, suspended in a watery liquid. They drench, but they just don’t cling well … especially the finely-ground spices. They tend to just roll off your salad instead. On top of that, most Japanese teppanyaki places just give you a tiny amount of the dressing overall, too … so adding that much water to the mix just makes your dressing slide right off your lettuce even faster … or drip on your chest on the way to your mouth. I did both with Fujuyama’s salad, but I enjoyed the flavor … regardless :)

After a fairly long wait (never go eat teppanyaki when you’re in a hurry … it’s never a quick meal), our chef finally arrived … bearing the classic Japanese name of Ray. He set up fairly rapidly and then went into his standard routine: part teppanyaki chef, part juggler, part stand-up comedian. He did the Japanese egg roll trick and created the flaming onion tower. He made the classic Japanese French Fries comment about the zucchini, and tried to toss food bits into people’s mouths … with varying degrees of accuracy. He even turned one of the shrimp in our shrimp and asparagus appetizer–one with a tail–into a “real boy” for our amusement, and then presented to me for my birthday. And I know I’ve seen those guys do the fake sauce bottle, with the string that flies out like sauce gag on kids dozens of times … but it never fails to make me chuckle. I’m still a big kid at heart myself!

Ray had us munching shrimp and asparagus fairly rapidly, which definitely didn’t break my heart. Both were perfectly done. It was very late in the afternoon by that point, and all I’d eaten all day was peanuts with my coffee that morning, so–even after the soup and salad–my mouth was watering by the time he put the first piece of grilled food on my plate.

Once he got us started eating, our chef moved smoothly and efficiently from there. He was also definitely skilled on the teppanyaki griddle, as you can tell from the way he was slinging our chicken-fried rice around:

I watched him carefully as he cooked, since I have my own rolled steel griddle to try out here very soon! I looked for cooking tips all along the way :)

After he heaped a steaming pile of rice on my plate, it was very hard to pay very close attention to Ray cooking from there. I was too busy trying to shove chicken-fried rice into my mouth, drowned in what Fujiyama calls “Yum Yum Sauce.” If you don’t know that that is … the rest of the world calls it Shrimp Sauce.

Shrimp Sauce (for those of you who have never had it) is–in my opinion–one of the five most fabulous foods on the planet. However, if you’re one of those people who’s constitutionally unable to eat or promote foods that are 100% flavor and 100% wasted calories (lots of them), then I’d suggest you skip past the next bit of text … right up to the next picture … so you don’t have to hear me describe its smooth, calorie-laden goodness :)

Mayonnaise-based, pale pink (which is why they call it “shrimp sauce”: the color … not because it contains any real shrimp), shrimp sauce is just creamy and wonderful on teppanyaki shrimp, steak and chicken … as well as on the fried rice, veggies, and your appetizer … I don’t care which one you order. It would even taste wonderful on the bumper of your car in the parking lot!

I’m not sure how Fujiyama makes theirs exactly, but my favorite recipe for it goes something like this:

WARNING: This makes a lot so you may want to try to half it or share it with a friend.

Shrimp Sauce

2 cups mayonnaise
6 1/2 fl. oz. water
1 1/2 tbsp. ketchup
2 tbsp. sugar
1 dash of hot sauce
3 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 pinch of salt

In a blender or food processor, combine mayo, water, ketchup, sugar, and hot pepper sauce. Season with garlic powder, paprika, white pepper, black pepper and salt. Blend until smooth.

In my opinion it is best served chilled, after it’s been able to rest for at least two hours.

Pour the yum-yum/shrimp sauce over your chicken-fried rice at Fujiyama, and it becomes so rich and wonderfully clumped and sticky that even the most novice chopsticks handler could probably manage to eat it without daring to reach for their fork … which Fujiyama gave everyone automatically, too.

I’ve been chopstick-proficient for close to forty years now, but I really like Asian restaurants who give everyone both types of utensils up-front, just as part of their standard seating protocol. There are a scant few occasions when I’d rather eat Asian food with a fork–mostly when my arthritic hands are hurting–so I appreciate that little attention to detail. Besides, it makes good business sense all the way around, especially in a mall-orbit restaurant like Fujiyama where the clientele is very mixed. Giving everyone both automatically means the waitstaff won’t have to go back for another utensil for any patron, or make any patron have to ask for a fork. And, sure, asking for a fork is easy  … but some Pan-Asian restaurant staff in some Pan-Asian restaurants make you feel a little scoffed at for requesting one, especially at some of the more ethnocentric places that cater more to people from their own culture than outsiders. It’s happened to all of us at least once … so many people who aren’t exactly familiar with the culture/cuisine/eating style don’t like to have to ask for a fork. For many of them–if you make them ask for a fork–they just won’t come back a second time. I’m not saying it’s right … I’m just saying it is … and restaurants need to take that fact into consideration.

As I sat there languishing my taste buds in the awe-inspiring combo of chicken-fried rice and yum-yum/shrimp sauce, our teppanyaki chef Ray began preparing our steaks and veggies, New York strip with a combination of mushrooms, carrots, onions and zucchini.

Commercial teppanyaki griddles are usually either one burner or two, which indicates how many heat sources you’ll find under that great rolled steel surface you see above. Ray verified that his was a one-burner, gas-fired teppanyak griddle, and he obviously knew how to use it to his advantage. As I described in my post about the rolled steel griddle I bought for myself recently, teppanyaki griddles are definitely NOT non-stick … plus, with the heat centered under one spot like that–but not under the entire griddle–the cooking surface is a mass of steel at widely-varying temperatures, all at the same time.

A skilled teppanyaki chef uses those hotter and colder spots to his/her advantage. Note the arrangement of food on Ray’s griddle in the pictures above and below. You’ll see that the steaks are sitting almost directly on the heat. How can you tell? Note the dark circle beneath the steaks. That circle shows you where the gas burner is located, which creates the hottest spot on the entire griddle. In the image below, our chef has already served the medium-rare steaks to their diners, and he’s using the direct heat of the griddle to finish our medium steaks, cutting them and then searing all the edges on the chunks against the direct, high heat … while the veggies and the steaks for the other party sit around them, using the offset, cooler heat to allow the remaining food to warm up and soften a bit before getting their own turn on the direct heat.

We were seated at the station with two other parties, but apparently no one at our table wanted anything other than steak that day, so there wasn’t a lot of variety going on the grill. We got to watch him prepare steaks medium-rare, medium, and medium-well.

By the time our teppanyaki chef had taken his final bow, I had way more food on my plate than I could ever eat … and everything was absolutely wonderful …….

…. except my steak. Unfortunately, my steak was only average … which–I must say–was very disappointing, especially given the fact that the meat is the center of the meal. Plus, every blasted thing I had that came before it was just so amazingly good … that it made the average steak just that much more … well … average.

I’m not sure if our chef was afraid to season the meat too much or something. That was a huge part of it. Maybe they’ve had complaints from the no salt for me crowd or Ray’s salt shaker was mostly clogged up and he just didn’t realize it … but it was … bland. That’s the only way to really describe it. I saw him wave the shaker of seasoning around over the top of the meat on the griddle, but it obviously didn’t allow much salt to drift down to our food at all. There was a small amount of browned caramelization on the meat itself, too … seared bits of beef that did help the overall flavor of the dish some … but, honesty, it was just kinda mushy and there in my mouth. In other words, it was edible … without being something that I necessarily enjoyed eating.

Bottom line … you have to use some salt on your meat on that sort of cooking surface: kosher salt, plain old granulated salt, soy sauce, SOMETHING! Without salt, you just don’t get that salty-crisp-caramelized surface to your meat. And, without that surfacing, your teppanyaki meat (steak in particular) is just bland :(

So–all in all–I enjoyed my meal at Fujiyama … but if I lived in the neighborhood and planned to frequent the restaurant with any regularity, I’d be sure to tell the teppanyaki chef to SEASON MY MEAT much more heavily. If the steak had been more flavorful, I could have easily given Fujiyama an A-. The rest of the supporting cast for the meal was that good…….

….but–I’m sorry–I’ve got to look at the meal as a whole … value-wise and taste-wise. Because of that, the best rating I can give a $40+ meal for two where the meat/main dish/most expensive part of the meal is that bland … is a C+ … which is a shame. I really wanted to rate Fujiyama higher.

About Lane

Just a canner ... on this food journey called life :)
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