Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fugetsu: A Review

After living in Hiroshima for nearly three years, I returned to the states with a quest: to find real Hiroshima okonomiyaki in America. In spite of a few quirks, Fugestu restaurant in Santa Clara serves up the most authentic version of this ultimate Japanese comfort food in the Bay Area—and considering that this is the first location in the chain to make the jump overseas, probably in the entire U.S. as well.

Okonomiyaki is well-known in Japan as the cheap, filling, and nutritious fare that sprung into existence during the aftermath of WWII. During the postwar food shortages tired people could stop at a local street stall for

this simple combination of grilled cabbage, eggs, batter, pork, and (depending on region) noodles. Even the name combines the character “yaki,” meaning grilled, and “konomu,” meaning, “they way you like it.” The dish aims to please.

With their grand opening on November 28, 2016, Fugetsu is a newcomer to the Bay. They made a brief appearance at Mitsuwa Market in 2015, where people waited up to two hours to try authentic Osaka okonomiyaki. (I was there too, but at the time I had no idea the restaurant was coming over for real.) Their shop is located in a series of shopping centers in Santa Clara that combine Indian, Korean, and Japanese cuisine. Situated between an ice cream shop and a Korean restaurant, Fugetsu blends right in with the Bay Area’s eclectic approach to Asian cuisine.

The interior feels like most Bay Area Japanese restaurants. There’s even the ever-present newspaper rack with BaySpo and other local Japanese language newspapers. With dark wood décor, black chairs, and red-topped tables stocked with fresh napkins, chopsticks, and all the condiments you need, the restaurant crams in a good amount of seating without feeling overcrowded. The one downside is that the grills installed on each table are for warming only—the real grill is hidden behind a glass screen to cut down on smoke.

The friend I went with was disappointed that we wouldn’t see okonomiyaki being cooked in front of us, but as a former Hiroshima resident, I don’t really expect okonomiyaki to be cooked in front of me unless I’m actually sitting at the grill.

I appreciated the bilingual menus because they had all the information in both Japanese and English. Usually menus favor one language over the other, but Fugetsu seems to cater to both Americans and the Japanese (or Japanese-American) community in the Bay Area.

My friend ordered the yakisoba, while I tried the modanyaki (“modern” plus “yaki”) which was how the menu labeled what I know as Hiroshimayaki. We also received a free appetizer (edamame) for checking in on Yelp. Although the menu said we might have to wait 20 minutes for our entrée due to the precise grilling process for okonomiyaki, we didn’t feel like the wait was too long.

Both selections felt just saucy and salty enough. The soba noodles were thick and chewy. When I cut through the okonomiyaki with my chopsticks, I felt like I was finally getting that perfect ratio of cabbage, noodles, egg, and sauce that I had missed so much. My only nitpicks were that the noodles felt a little thick for soba—almost like they were a hybrid of soba and udon—and that the pork was also cut slightly thicker than it is in Japan. But actually having noodles in the dish and seeing the ingredients in layers instead of all mixed together made all the difference. And of course all the tables were stocked with sweet okonomiyaki sauce.

There are five different kinds of yakisoba on the menu and even more choices for okonomiyaki, in addition to the appetizers and drinks. I was impressed by the number of options. Fugetsu is a full okonomiyaki restaurant and no one-trick pony. I will definitely be going back soon to try their Fugetsu special okonomiyaki (with squid and shrimp) and their spicy kimchi yakisoba.

Prices for okonomiyaki start at $12.00 for Osaka style and $15.00 for modanyaki—the usual American markup for all products Japanese. However, the portions do tend to be large.

Given the lack of okonomiyaki restaurants in even the diverse Bay Area, I hope Fugetsu thrives and starts a new trend in exported Japanese cuisine. However, my friend and I were seated right away on a Friday night with no reservation. The shop was certainly busy with most of the tables occupied and more customers coming in, but it wasn’t exactly overflowing.

If you like Japanese cooking and want to try something new, I definitely recommend stopping by and giving Fugetsu your support. I give them 5/5 stars in my very biased rating system.

Learn more about Fugetsu at their website or on their Facebook page!

Here's a video I made. :)

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