736 Maple Rd, Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Fuji Grill
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Japanese Sushi Williamsville
"Fuji consistently offers quality preparations of traditional Japanese items at generally reasonable prices, and has a menu large enough to satisfy any potential customer."
Western New York isn't known for the quality of its sushi or Japanese food - a sad state of affairs that began with the closure of the area's most authentic Japanese restaurants and their replacement by wannabes - but there are a handful of places that are better than the rest. Fuji Grill is among them, substantially Chinese-staffed but mimicking enough of Japan's 1980's and 1990's culinary traditions to offer consistently good meals no matter what your tongue may prefer. Those looking for the high-visual, low-flavor hibachi experience will want to go elsewhere, as will connoisseurs hoping for Izakaya fare, Katsu curry or other, more recent trends in Japanese dining, but Fuji Grill does well with the basics and will sometimes surprise you with the quantity or quality you get for the dollar.
The Story: Located in a strip mall at the corner of Maple and North Forest in Williamsville, Fuji Grill transcends the expectations that "strip mall Japanese restaurant" normally entails - the venue is large, reasonably well-decorated, and generally well-staffed. A sushi bar is in the back, along with plenty of tables in center, and there's some interesting polished driftwood-style furniture in a carryout waiting area up front. Unlike some of the area's other Japanese places, the setting has hints of Chinese ownership, and the wait staff generally isn't Japanese, either; with rare exceptions on bad nights, American, Chinese, and Eastern European servers do a surprisingly strong job of remembering and catering to repeat visitors, sometimes even recalling their favorite dishes.
By the standards of competitors, Fuji Grill's menu is surprisingly robust. There's a full sushi menu, complete with virtually all of the sushi, sashimi, and specialty roll options you'd find scattered around at more limited restaurants such as SeaBar, Sakura, or Wasabi, plus a very large collection of appetizers, salads, soups, and kitchen-prepared heated dishes. Prices are quite reasonable for these non-sushi items, which notably include fried standards such as vegetable tempura ($4), shrimp tempura ($5, also oddly available with chicken), and soft shell crab ($6), each done well enough to satisfy but not to shock. Most items, such as the seaweed salad ($3.50), are prepared exactly as a Japanese food fan would expect - here, bright green, slightly slimy, and mixed with a little sesame oil - while others, such as squid salad ($5), have less of a Japanese vibe thanks to slightly creamy sauces rather than a more minimalist grilled flavor. Soups, such as the thick udon noodle soups ($7.25-$12), and thin soba noodle soups ($7.25-$12), can serve as appetizers or meals.
Highs: We've found most of Fuji Grill's sushi and entrees to be at least good, sometimes very good. Sushi served by the individual piece ranges from $1.75 to $3.25, with most pieces at $2 and rarities such as giant clam at the higher end of the scale. Rolls and hand rolls go for $3 to $8, but sit mostly in the $4 range, with the ever-popular california ($4), spicy tuna ($4.50), and shrimp tempura ($5.50) rolls at generally fair prices; the only disappointment has been the mildness of the "spicy" tuna. More complex sushi rolls, such as a "crazy tuna sushi roll," are found in the menu's special rolls section at the $8 to $13 range.
If you're trying to be more adventurous or replicate an item you've had elsewhere, the sushi chefs can improvise using the many types of fish, vegetables, sauces and spices at their disposal. We've been able to get our California favorite, the Sunrise Roll, made almost perfectly here, though the price - $13 - is a deterrent to ordering it as often as we'd like.
Less adventurous diners can choose from over 25 different dinner entrees, including the famous Japanese fried pork cutlet tonkatsu ($10), standard teriyaki dishes ($10-20), and a superior alternative, beef or chicken negimaki ($13) - slices of beef that are wrapped around scallions and drizzled with a teriyaki-like sauce, then seared or broiled. Fans of eel will enjoy the unagi don, or grilled, soy-glazed eel on a bed of rice ($16), while tuna fans will generally find a lot to love about the tekka don ($16), raw sashimi-grade hunks of bright red tuna arrayed in a rice bowl. Though the tekka don alternates in quantity from visit to visit, a bit of a bummer, the quality of the tuna is generally high, and the flavor sublime.
Lows: Though we are very often satisfied here, we rarely walk out of Fuji Grill feeling like a meal was outstanding. The spicy tuna here, as with far too many Western New York places, comes across as nearly flavorless; it's almost inconceivable that an area known for the aggressive spicing of its food would be so consistently bland on this popular item. Additionally, while the items are good to very good approximations of authentic fare, they rarely exceed your memories of the best versions you've had elsewhere; there are exceptions. Desserts aren't one of them - though you can, for instance, get very small portions of an ice cream-stuffed rice ball favorite of ours, Mochi Ice Cream, it's pretty forgettable at Fuji Grill, and easy to pass on in favor of the same plaza's wonderful Dessert Deli. Finally, as with the aforementioned Sunrise Roll, prices for custom sushi rolls are high.
Service issues are another occasional spot on Fuji Grill's record. There are a couple of servers who do consistently superb jobs of keeping patrons happy, but others who either have issues with the kitchen or the menu, and somehow - chef or server, we're not sure - drop the ball. When on rare occasion we've discussed the issues with the managers, apologies are made and the problems remedied, but it appears that good help is hard to find.
Finally, despite the huge menu, we really would like to see Fuji Grill expand its repertoire with some more recently interesting Japanese Izakaya fare. While it's nice to have six different Teriyaki and five different Tempura items on the menu, plus a handful of Chinese-derived dishes, this restaurant could benefit a lot from firing up a grill for meats, fish and seafood, offering specialty ramen dishes, and the like.
The Verdict: While Fuji Grill isn't perfect and in some cases doesn't deliver ideally realized Japanese meals, it consistently offers quality preparations of traditional Japanese raw and heated items at generally reasonable prices, and has a menu large enough to satisfy any potential customer. There are times, both when you find a particular menu item that you love, or when you have the sushi chefs craft something to your personal taste, that you'll feel more at home here than at any other local competitor; the staff offers accommodations that mightn't be entertained at a more pure-blooded Japanese place. That's a good thing, and the primary reason we find ourselves going back for more.