If Sacramento’s sushi scene is known for anything, it’s probably for its plenitude of sauce. Thanks to the popularity of the Mikuni empire, over-the-top, power-loaded rolls served up in a buzzy, bright setting have long been the order of the day. Of course, some key detractors have bucked the trend, but it still feels rather refreshing to find a small under-the-radar spot with a very different vibe. Fujita Sushi, a tiny and unassuming but high-quality joint on Fulton Avenue, has just that.
In its setting, the stripped-down and simple Fujita is the polar opposite of the Mikunis of the region: it holds just a few tables, offers minimal décor, and is tucked into an easy-to-overlook strip mall. That said, “polar” implies coldness, and the air conditioning was regrettably broken in the tiny, sweltering restaurant on my visits. A portable AC unit struggled valiantly but couldn’t keep the space even a little bit cool. Luckily, a lot of the food is chilly and the cold beer is cheap.
The menu offerings, on the other hand, occupy a middle ground between tradition and invention, with plenty of saucy and untraditional rolls and inventive fusion-esque appetizers balanced by straightforward classics. Many of the latter were my favorites. Fujita’s California roll, for instance, is a good, clean-tasting rendition of this oft-abused variety. Eel, avocado and cucumber let the earthy eel and balancing hint of sweet BBQ sauce shine.
Some of the quiet hits of the menu were the rice plates. The teriyaki salmon and chicken, usually dull and one-note with sweetness, both had excellent smoky flavor, lush textures and a restrained hand with the sauce. They came with savory miso soup and a fresh, bright side salad with frilly lettuce and unusually good cherry tomatoes. It’s a pity there aren’t more ways on the menu to get a solid helping of vegetables, as the salad was so good.
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Fujita’s menu is heavy on the small plates and appetizers, a good way for a larger party to share several dishes. Its small plates of bao were a surprise.
The sweet buns, split and fried to a doughnut-like texture, were inexpensive (at just $3-$5) and came with several fillings, some very good, one a puzzling disappointment. The one that sounded best, crawfish in citrus, was chunks of bland and overly sweet meat with no other flavor, dull and uninteresting with a wet texture and hard bun.
A pork belly bao was much better, boasting a toothsome thick slice of pig, striped with silky fat and chewy meat and with the contrast of peanut sauce. My favorite was the messy but delicious soft-shell crab bao, with crunchy coleslaw and crisp-fried crab legs poking everywhere. Chicken bao with juicy dark-meat fried chicken and spicy mayo was also good.
Karaage, fried chicken, was also available as an appetizer with spicy mayo for dipping, and was very good, with a friable, almost powdery breading contrasting with the meat. The kitchen has a good hand with the fryer, with every fried thing I tried coming out crisp and greaseless. Tempura was light and well prepared as well, especially the sweet shrimp.
Among other appetizers, ceviche was light and fresh, possibly my favorite dish we tried, and pretty to boot, with celadon cubes of cucumber tumbled with fish in shades from pearly to garnet. Yuzu gave it the citrusy tartness that should have enlivened the crawfish bao.
By contrast, “Japanese nachos” fell flat. It sounded great on the menu, with wonton chips, guacamole and tuna in a light spicy sauce, but the wonton chips, though crispy, were shredded to a super-fine texture – useless for picking up chunks of fish – and the promised avocado was MIA. BBQ tuna was a shade overcooked, but had a nicely spicy and savory shallot and jalapeno soy sauce. The menu also includes other fusion takes on raw fish such as hamachi and salmon carpaccio.
The rolls are really the main event here, though there’s a very good poke bowl with mixed fish and spirals of daikon, plus a selection of nigiri (none of it particularly out of the ordinary on my visits). I loved a relatively simple Lemon Drop, with well-flavored spicy tuna and salmon topped by ultrathin lemon slices, and the Snow White, with soft-shell crab and snow crab plus miso aioli and more. By the way, this is a good place to take fans of the flavors of sushi rolls who might not be quite ready for raw fish or be unable to enjoy it for whatever reason; there are several all-cooked options among the rolls.
The clever Japanese Bagel came with “everything bagel” seasoning, which is having a moment, complementing cream cheese and lox with fresh salmon to boot. Salmon skin roll was crunchy with a depth of salty flavor like fishy bacon (that’s a good thing). A special Porsha roll, with masago, tempura shrimp, crab, torched salmon, ponzu and more, was oversauced for my taste, but relatively balanced in its flavors.
The presentation on all the rolls was lovely – and simple, fresh nigiri were also strong. Unfortunately, all of the work being done in the kitchen was slow, and service was slower, through no fault of the very pleasant and competent servers.
The restaurant may be small, but it’s popular - tables were full on our visits – and it seemed desperately to need more staff to make things run more efficiently. Waits for food were long, so we spent more than two hours at the restaurant for a simple-seeming weeknight supper. That’s a basic hospitality failing that Fujita needs to fix, good food or no. I wanted to like this little restaurant that could as much as I liked a lot of its food, but service and setting matter, too. With some improvements, Fujita could really shine.
About 10 years ago, there was a period when it seemed like every other place that opened in Sacramento was a sushi joint. Thankfully, the flow of fish has slowed down, but apparently Sacramentans are like seals, always ready for fresh fish. If you’re looking for a good catch, Fujita is a sweet little spot with promise. Just don’t be in a hurry - and consider going when the weather has cooled off.
1976 Fulton Ave., 916-333-3907
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Beverage options: Beer (mostly Japanese) and sake
Vegetarian friendly: Reasonably so, with some vegetarian rolls and a veggie tempura plate.
Gluten-free options: Yes.
Noise levels: Moderate, though it can get louder when the petite dining room is full.
Ambiance: Spare and bare-bones, with simple gray walls and modest fish mural as the only adornment in the strip-mall space with a tiny work station in the back. Air conditioning was broken on all of our visits, unfortunately.
Fujita Sushi is an under-the-radar gem serving good fish, fun and inventive rolls, and unusually strong rice places, but its great work in the kitchen is undermined by understaffing and slow service. Come when you’re not in a hurry, and maybe when it’s not too hot out.
The main event here are unusual rolls, which skirt the edge of Sacramento’s favored over-the-top, sauce-drenched sushi style but are a touch more restrained. Basics like California and spider rolls are excellent. Appetizers like the ceviche and most of the bao were hits, as were the rice plates - an often-overlooked basic.
In a word, slow. On one of our visits, there appeared to be just one person in the kitchen and a single server struggling to serve every table in the small but full dining room. Servers were personable but overwhelmed.
Fujita offers solid value, with rolls reasonably priced from $5 for simple basics up to about $13 for elaborate plates. The cute and unusual bao are a deal, and with a large Asahi going for $5, beer drinkers will get their refreshment inexpensively.