Oasis Of Japanese Cuisine Fuji The Place To Go For Sushi

Posted: September 24, 1997

The last thing most people might think about when driving along the bleak section of Route 130 that runs through Cinnaminson is sushi and Japanese food. A new set of tires, fast food - those things might come to mind. But a delicious spicy tuna roll? Not a chance.

Which is why Matt Ito's restaurant Fuji is such an oasis. A fixture along the highway for the past 18 years, Fuji shuts out the grim outside world with strains of Japanese music and artistic homage to Ito's homeland, in the form of tapestries and delicate paintings. Although the restaurant's interior is on the tired side - the decor is worn, and the whole place seems frayed around the edges - the cuisine is another story.

A friend and I stopped by for a late lunch recently, and were seated quickly - probably because it was 1:45 p.m. and the restaurant stops letting customers in at 2. Our waitress was welcoming enough, although at her request we gave her our order for both appetizers and main course at once. Our main dishes arrived before our sushi - which we took in stride considering the hour.

Although the restaurant offers reasonably priced lunch specials which include soup or salad, we decided to go the a la carte route to sample more dishes.

We started our meal with a full-bodied bowl of miso (bean curd) soup ($2.25) rich with scallions and a tasty hurusame salad ($2.25) of sliced cucumbers and clear noodles seasoned with a sesame-vinegar dressing.

We ordered a selection of maki mono, or sushi rolled with rice in a crispy seaweed wrap. California roll ($4.75), tempura roll ($6.50) and spicy tuna roll ($4.75) gave us a range of flavors, and we also tried a piece of unagi ($5), barbecued freshwater eel on a rectangle of rice.

All the sushi was excellent - the California roll boasted the nutty flavor of ripe avacado, crab ``fingers'' and crisp sesame seeds. The tempura roll was built around a shrimp fried in crispy tempura batter, to which avocado and a tangy soy sauce was added. Spicy tuna was the only raw item in the order - red meat tuna was seasoned with a peppery hot sauce, and rolled into a rice and seaweed combo. Although the eel was tender and delicious, it seemed a bit excessive to charge $5 for just one piece.

I ordered the shrimp tempura ($5.75) and my friend opted for the nabeyaki udon ($6.95), a typical pot of noodles with shrimp and bean curd - noodles are the Japanese version of fast food. My tempura was a generous (if slightly greasy) portion of four shrimp, deep fried along with a selection of fresh veggies.

My friend's hot pot was gigantic - a flavorful stew of shrimp, chopped fish cake and bean curd, along with mushrooms and snow peas. But the star of the show was the noodles - what looked like a half-pound of round noodles the size of pencils, that soaked up the chicken-based broth and were quite filling. We hadn't noticed that for 50 cents more we could have tried soba noodles - a popular pasta in Japan made from buckwheat flour.

Fuji serves a range of traditional Japanese dishes for dinner, including sukiyaki ($18); teriyaki ($18) and a fresh fish of the day $24); a selection of sushi and sashimi (fish in the raw sans veggies, etc.) can be ordered for $16.50-$24.

Although we could have lollygagged, we gave the waitress a break by leaving around 3. But we both agreed that a second visit was in order - when we had more time to linger and explore Fuji's tasty cuisine.

DETAILS Fuji, 404 Rt. 130, Cinnaminson, 609-829-5211

Hours of operation: Tuesday-Friday, 11:30-2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Sunday, 5-9 p.m. Closed Monday.

Price range: Lunch: appetizers, $2.50-$4.50. Entrees: $5.50-$22; Dinner: appetizers, $2.50-$6.95. Entrees, $12.50-$24. BYOB.

Credit cards: All major.

Nonsmoking section: Whole restaurant.

Facilities for disabled: No.

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