A boulevard of broken restaurant dreams unfurls while driving down this stretch of south Sacramento.
In this case it’s Freeport Boulevard, between Florin Road and Sutterville Road, where a once-thriving A&W was torched by an arsonist in 2006 and remains a fenced-off lot; where the Zombie Hut used to offer Hawaiian food and cocktails were served “Fantasy Island”-style in hollowed-out pineapples; where the memory of a plane crashing into Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour in 1972 still makes Sacramentans shudder; where generations feasted on chicken and rib platters at the now-defunct El Chico’s.
And we also say farewell to Futami Japanese Restaurant, which closed in mid-2013 and will emerge as a Chinese hot pot restaurant with new owners.
Futami wasn’t necessarily one of the more high-profile restaurant or bar closures in 2013. It lacked, say, the drama and intrigue surrounding the shutdown of Blackbird Kitchen + Bar. Futami didn’t have the name recognition of The Broiler or stir up the local preservationists like The Townhouse’s final days.
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Yet Futami, even in its twilight, was still a restaurant that housed memories for many Sacramentans.
It specialized in family-style Japanese foods for more than three decades, before teriyaki to-go eateries were a part of just about every strip mall, and well before Japanese food in Sacramento came to encompass multiple menu pages of sauce-drenched sushi rolls. Futami mostly stuck to the basics: lightly battered tempura, teriyaki, bento boxes, no-frills sashimi.
In better days, you’d walk in and hear lilting koto music over the sound system, smell the beef teriyaki sizzling in the kitchen and hope for a spot in the tatami room for a traditional bit of sit-down dining.
But over the past few years, it was obvious that Futami’s business was fraying. The koto music was long gone, replaced by a near-silent dining experience. The lights were dim and the room felt overly stuffy on warm days. Often, I would be the only diner in the restaurant.
Futami remained old-school while tastes changed and customers craved splashy sushi rolls to go with their apple saketini cocktail. Other casual Japanese restaurants opened farther north on Freeport, but Futami could never quite compete.
Still, I kept coming back. Certain restaurants just have that kind of pull, especially when they become extensions of our own living rooms. It’s the same reason why so many locals keep fond memories for such long-closed restaurants as Coral Reef and Stroh’s Neptune Table, or enduring eateries that met their end in 2013, including Capital Tea Garden, Michelangelo’s and Market Club.
I’d take my son to Futami, sit with him in the tatami room over bento boxes, tell him how much I loved coming here as a kid with his grandparents and Uncle Pat. I’d tell him how the pork teriyaki arrived from the kitchen sizzling on a cast-iron pan with steam reaching the ceiling. I’d tell him about family birthday dinners at Futami, how Uncle Pat would always make the waitresses laugh, and how we’d always leave with a box of Marukawa gum or Botan Rice Candy purchased at the counter.
A few years ago, my son decided he wanted to have his ninth birthday party in Futami’s tatami room. About a dozen of us dined, family and friends, and feasted with our shoes left at the front of the room per Japanese custom.
Now, with Futami shuttered, we’re having a teachable moment that most things in life don’t last forever, especially restaurants.
But we still have plenty of options for Japanese food on Freeport Boulevard, including some of the best ramen in town at Akebono, the sweet baked goodness that is Mahoroba Japanese Bakery, plus the casual but consistent Sushi Cafe.
At some point, we’ll even have to pop into the hot pot restaurant. This new spot may end up holding the same kind of memories for others that Futami did for my family.
Either way, we’ll always remember the good times, and the happy stomachs, when we pass by this aging strip mall.