My dinner at Fudo’s sushi counter was nearing its end when it occurred to me that something was missing. I’d polished off an order of fried silken tofu and put a dent in a dish of pretty Asian pickles. I had eaten a roll topped with eel, and one flecked with green, wasabi-saturated flying fish roe. My palate was tingly and needed a reset.
I asked the chef what was the freshest fish in his chiller.
“Tuna and salmon,” he said without hesitation. And after a brief pause: “Yellowtail.”
“Two pieces of tuna nigiri and two salmon,” I said, tugging my bottle of cold sake from the ice bucket, straining to see what was left.
The sushi arrived. I turned a rectangle of blue fin rice side up, dragged it through soy sauce and gave it a go. How amazing! How unusual! Tuna that tastes like tuna, and salmon that tastes like salmon. I poured the last of the sake, finished the fish, and left feeling confident I’d found my new go-to spot for solid, wallet-friendly Japanese.
Unlike other, more precious sushi restaurants around town, where the quality of the fish isn’t always commensurate with the staggering price tag, this Chamblee newcomer is a catch. Anchoring a corner of the Parkview on Peachtree development, Fudo’s somewhat casual posture seems purposely conceptualized to attract a clientele of youthful, unpretentious lovers of Americanized Japanese and Korean cuisine.
I count 49 special rolls on the menu: Many filled with cream cheese (a personal pet peeve, but I’ll let it slide). Many more riffing on Hollywood blockbusters (“Hunger Games,” “X-Men,” “Mamma Mia!”). Plus a suite of eight hand rolls styled as “Prison Break” episodes. It’s the kind of silliness that normally lowers my expectations and brings on the eye-rolling. With Fudo, however, I was happily surprised.
Proprietors John Lee and Grace Cho, who also own Ichiban Steak & Sushi in Alpharetta, told me over the phone they have college-age children: As parents, they understand diners with big appetites and small budgets. They have little interest in the trend of hiring big-name chefs with flashy knife shtick. Theirs is a collaborative model: a strong general manager overseeing multiple chefs, some in the kitchen cooking hot food, others behind the sushi bar.
So far, my experiences indicate the sushi and beverage programs are besting the plates coming from the back of the house.
Stopping by one day for lunch, I had a perfectly satisfying two-course meal for just under $25 (glass of Sapporo draft and tip included). Did the tempura assortment take me back to Kyoto, where I once sat on the floor of a private dining room nibbling exquisite batter-fried nibbles? Well, no. The prawns were slightly greasy and not all that flavorful, but the texture of the eggplant was like melting custard. I didn’t mind the sweet potato or the zucchini, either. Next time, I’ll ask for an order of aubergine only.
My katsu-don rice bowl was easy on the eye and mouth: a fried and sliced crispy pork cutlet with buttered corn (a Korean touch) and a pile of exemplary vinegared veggies — thinly sliced radish and carrot, bits and pieces of cauliflower, red bell pepper. Loved the pickles so much I ordered them as a starter on my next visit. I suggest you do the same.
Tori karaage (Japanese-style popcorn fried chicken) was passable, a safe bet for kids, but you can get better chicken nuggets at most fast-food chains. Cauliflower florets, coated with miso chile sauce, didn’t do much for me, either. Shumai — a dim-sum classic of diminutive shrimp-filled dumplings — were a little better, though the dipping sauce was a bit heavy on the mustard.
One time, my guest requested her smoked-maple Old Fashioned be made with Scotch rather than the Woodford Reserve specified on the menu. The cocktail was delivered with dramatic flourish: A cinnamon-stick garnish had been lit with a match, the drink covered with a coaster and rushed to the table, then unveiled with a puff of smoke. An old trick, but the Old Fashioned was delicious. My Toki-yo (Japanese whisky, chartreuse, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth) was so smooth that its potency was masked. (Careful with that one!)
The servers, who by the way are masterful at reading the mood of the table and pacing accordingly, have been well educated on the sake list, as witnessed by the bottles they suggested. For lovers of dry, barely sweet rice wine, the Sesshu Otokoyama and the Kitaya are both excellent, and pair very well with the rolls and nigiri.
As an eel aficionado, I was drawn to the Eel Dancing, a colorful creation of crab salad, avocado and cucumber, topped with the namesake fish and avocado. Very nice. Perfect for the soft-core sushi lovers who eschew raw fish. The Mono — stuffed with a mixture of raw tuna, salmon and white fish, dressed with spicy aioli, and garnished with those wasabi-tinged fish eggs — was likewise delicious. The only caveat: If wasabi is not your thing, you may find it a bit intense.
On another visit, we followed our server’s lead and ordered a Tomahawk Chop Roll: spicy tuna and “crunch” (tempura flakes), wrapped in rice and encased with slivers of tuna and avocado. It was a calming counterpoint to our prickly Devil Roll: spicy yellowtail, cilantro and cucumber; adorned with yellowtail, salmon, avocado, and sriracha-dotted serrano slices, presented in a shallow puddle of jalapeno-ponzu sauce. This one had it all: sweet, salty, spicy, cooling.
We ended the meal with a tray of nigiri, once again remarkably fresh, optically appealing, a study in textural contrast. We were pleased by the octopus (not too chewy), the sweet raw shrimp, the once again pristine tuna and yellowtail. Just as we started to dig in, the server rushed back with a little dish cradling the remains of our crustaceans: two shrimp heads fried to a perfect crisp. Crunching down, getting past the familiar shrimp flavor, this snappy little delicacy packed the earthy funk of sweetbreads or foie.
Bingo! Just when I had Fudo pegged as a place of great value and consistency but not many surprises, I felt a glimmer of excitement. I took another swig of sake and decided to put this place in regular rotation.
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: contemporary Japanese sushi and hot dishes, with some Korean influences
Service: friendly; can be rushing; skilled at helping customers navigate the lengthy list of sushi rolls and cold sake
Best dishes: Pickles. Agedashi tofu. Eggplant tempura. Katsu-don. Sushi rolls: Tomahawk Chop, Devil Roll, Eel Dancing, Mono. Nigiri: Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, eel, sweet shrimp, octopus.
Vegetarian selections: Mixed vegetable spring roll. Edamame. Brussels sprouts. Cauliflower. Pickles. House salad. Seaweed salad. Spring mix salad. Cucumber salad. Vegetable tempura. Several vegetarian sushi-style rolls.
Price range: $$$
Credit cards: all major credit cards
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays; noon-midnight Saturdays; noon-10 p.m. Sundays
Parking: free lot and deck
MARTA station: Chamblee
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: moderate
Patio: yes, and it’s dog-friendly
Address, phone: 5070 Peachtree Blvd., Chamblee. 678-691-7088
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