Put yourself in the capable hands of a consummate sushi chef.
Fuji at Kendall
300 Third St., Cambridge | 617-252-0088 | fujiatkendall.com
Through sheer luck I discovered the restaurant within the restaurant at Fuji at Kendall. After an initial visit, I left hungry, despite sharing several appetizers and the deluxe sashimi platter for two ($45) with a friend. I expected more of the unfulfilling same upon my return.
Having skimmed the pan-Asian menu as thick as a master’s thesis—including pricey generic staples like fried rice ($16), assorted teriyaki entrees ($18-$22) and lo-mein ($16) in addition to mayonnaisy rolls and the requisite nigiri—I thought I had the place pegged as a serviceable, upscalish eatery hoping to net Kendall’s tech set with lots of safe choices. Then on the second visit, the chef sent over an amuse bouche of salmon sashimi with red crab, fried taro and yellow tobiko resting on a balsamic reduction cut with curry oil. It was a revelation. Like a speakeasy hidden behind an unmarked door, to gain entry you first have to know it exists. The password is simple, and you can say it from any seat in the glass-fronted dining rooms, although camping at the stone-finished bar will bring you closer to your goal. When your waiter takes your order, just say, “I’ll have whatever Jimmy makes me.”
Jimmy Liang is the restaurant’s gregarious 34-year-old chef/co-owner, a sushi wunderkind whose story of being trained at 14 by a famous Japanese sensei he refuses to name could’ve come straight from a Food Network adaptation of The Karate Kid (The Hamachi Kid?). Tall, unverifiable tales aside, what’s indisputable are his skills. Having launched his first restaurant, Fuji1546 in Quincy, at the age of 18, Liang now has six in his portfolio. At his Kendall outpost, opened in December, you’ll find him occasionally hovering behind executive chef Ming Cao, a cousin he trained to execute the sushi menu. Cao’s off-the-cuff creations are a visual treat—slices of fatty tuna curled to the shape of upside-down teacups atop a balsamic reduction undulating with blue flames ($14) or four pieces of fried eel seasoned with soy sauce and wasabi, each dressed with a different citrus ($14). They’re beautifully presented and delicious in their own right, but it’s Liang’s deft touch with fish and seasonings that brings dishes to the heights of flavorful experimentation encountered at O Ya or Oishii.
Prices for Liang’s improvisations are a steal compared to the regular menu, but they’re subject to his whim (hence the importance of sitting at the bar and chatting up the chef). After asking which kinds of sushi I especially like (eel, uni and hamachi) and whether I wanted a small, medium or large amount (medium), he returned with a rectangular platter. On one side sat four pieces of eel, perfectly fried to a light crunch, each resting on slick drizzles of XO-truffle reduction. On the other side, four petals of sashimi gave testimony to a chef at play: two slices of hamachi dotted with green tobiko and dressed with lime shared space with a pair of salmon sashimi dotted with red salmon roe and cuts of mango. This spectacular dish was $10, so I did what any sane person would do. I ordered another, and this time I asked him to supersize it. For $25, he came back with a salad and a sandwich: a huge poki salad of ahi tuna interlaced with red crab accompanied by squares of buttery torched bread with jam, uni and halved blueberries. The toasted bread, sweet fruit and briny sea urchin made for a savory mouthful of revolving flavors.
While Liang’s creations deserve at least four stars, the reality is that the rest of the menu doesn’t. With prices presumably reformulated for the location, entrees are exorbitant ($7 more for some of the same items served at Quincy’s Fuji). The beverage program was similarly steep, especially for the lackluster offerings ($4.50-$9 for Japanese beers). And the waitstaff could be better informed about the sushi they serve. On one visit, my waitress couldn’t identify most of the items on the deluxe sashimi platter, despite it being the usual suspects of salmon, tuna, etc. In spite of all this, there’s great ambition and potential at Fuji at Kendall. Just be sure to ask for Jimmy by name.
• Fried eel
• Hamachi with lime
• Uni sandwich
Hours: Mon.-Sun. 11 am-1 am
Reservations: For parties of four or more
Credit Cards: Yes
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Parking: Street and valet