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Sushi Rendezvous

by B.A. Nilsson on March 22, 2012

Mr. Fuji, Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Albany, 269-3999, mrfujisushi.com. Serving lunch 11-3 Mon-Fri, dinner 3-10:30 Mon-Thu, 3-11 Fri, 11-11 Sat, noon-10 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Japanese

Entrée price range: $9.50 (zaru soba) to $30.50 (filet mignon and lobster hibachi dinner)

Ambiance: intimate and dark

To keep the date clandestine, we agreed to meet at quarter to noon. We’d have the place nearly to ourselves, we reasoned, in order to nab an out-of-the-way seat and to order quickly. By the time the lunch crowd descended, we’d be unremarkably anonymous.

As I write this, alone in a coffeehouse, surrounded by a throng of other customers, I see a couple of couples twined like honeysuckle shoots around one another, the fresh warm spring running hot through their veins. I want to warn them, I want to shout: I’ve been with the same woman for 29 years. Now we amuse ourselves by pretending to meet illicitly for lunch. Hang in there and see what you wind up playing at.

We met at Mr. Fuji, the Stuyvesant Plaza branch of a popular Clifton Park restaurant. I’ve never dined at the northern outpost, but three visits to this one have made it a favorite. It’s small, jammed into one of the storefronts in the plaza’s southern wing. Its dining area begins near the bright front windows and plunges into the back-of-the-room gloom, with a small mezzanine level for parties or overflow dining. Two sushi chefs were at work at the bar, their hands out of sight, their progress marked by the accumulation of well-dressed plates on the counter before them. This is a big-time appetite-whetter, and I urge you to pause and take stock of what’s on offer.

The restaurant opened about two years ago; the Clifton Park location has been running for about seven years. The culinary emphasis is very much on what stateside diners expect from the concept of Japanese.

Although sushi quite rightly is a major draw, the menu offers a wide range of other favorites. Tempura, of course, batter-coated meals of vegetables, chicken, shrimp and more ($12.50 to $17.50). Teriyaki dishes, characterized by sweetened soy sauce, treating a full range of meat, seafood and veggies, starting at $13.50 for the last-named and topping out at $26.50 for two tails of lobster. Noodle soups—there are five—come with a salad and feature mixed vegetables ($11), beef ($13.50), chicken ($13) and even chicken with eggs and clams ($16).

If you don’t mind your hibachi (teppanyaki) dinner without the knife-wielding show, the grilled preparation is available for a range of individual ingredients, such as chicken, salmon, filet mignon and lobster tail ($14.50 to $29.50) and in combinations, priced slightly higher. Note that there are kid’s portions priced from $12.50 to $15.50. The meal includes soup, salad, rice and vegetable.

Many a dinner comes with soup and salad, but other starters include a pickled vegetable assortment ($5), cold octopus and seaweed (idako, $7), beef takaki ($8.50) and selections of sushi ($8.50) and sashimi ($9). (Sashimi includes no rice.)

There’s an à la carte plenty of individual sushi and sashimi items, which will be your best way of getting the likes of roe (flying fish, salmon or smelt), clam, sea urchin and tuna belly, most about $3 per portion. Of course, it’s in roll design that many a restaurant comes into its own, and Mr. Fuji’s specialty offerings include the Big Eye Roll, with beef, garlic and cream cheese ($13), a Scallopfornia Roll, featuring crab meat, avocado and a seared scallop ($12) and the intriguingly monikered Brooklyn Roll ($14), with yellowtail, white tuna, smoked eel and “crunch.”

The sushi-sashimi combo is $24.50 at dinner and gives you five pieces of the former, ten of the latter and a tuna roll. At lunch, “shu-sha,” as the combo is nicknamed, is $13.50, it’s three and three, and there’s a California roll. With miso soup and that terrible but hard-to-resist sweet ginger-topped iceberg salad, it’s a good-sized meal.

The assortment choices are up to the chef, and I didn’t push to influence them. For the sashimi, I was served an attractive trio of tuna, white tuna and salmon; sushi comprised yellowtail, mackerel and sea bass. All of which worked the sly magic that good sushi will do, the easygoing flavors continuing to release new notes the longer I savored them. And the presentation was simple but handsome.

And, with my sushi-eschewing spouse across from me, there was no need to share. She’s big into packaging and availed herself of the $11 bento box lunch (it’s $18 for dinner). After the introductory soup and salad, she was served a black lacquer container with a portion of rice, four California roll pieces that she decided were nonthreatening enough to work through, a couple of very nice fried gyoza dumplings (you can also choose edamame or a spring roll) and a portion of chicken teriyaki (you can also choose beef, shrimp, salmon or tofu). The chicken was the only disappointing part of the meal, cooked to a point of dryness and boasting only a thin teriyaki glaze. And she didn’t even mention anything about it: I had to take a taste to discover the problem, which she deemed not worth reporting.

Service was attentive throughout, even as the place got suddenly busier with the more time-limited lunchtime crowd. This is a very convenient location for a restaurant that gives a welcome alternative to the rest of the Stuyvesant Plaza fare.