Roll Models

Raw Talent Abounds At Sushi Ten And Fujiyama.

ONCE A RARITY around these parts, sushi has lately become more common than cactus.

I'm certainly not complaining. For those passionate about this quintessential edible art, nothing's lovelier than a slice of buttery fish gracing molded pearls of white rice.

Imagine sushi addicts' euphoria, then, at the recent opening of two Japanese eateries, Sushi Ten and Fujiyama.

Sushi Ten, translated literally as "sushi heaven," is no misnomer. Located on East Speedway near Swan Road, this small restaurant is already packing in the crowds. Finding a seat at the sushi bar is difficult regardless of the time of day, and securing a table in the narrow, spartan dining room on weekend nights is even more challenging.

The delicious Texas-sized portions here explain the restaurant's popularity. Salmon nigiri, a petite filet draped over a mound of shari rice, is twice the average size. The unagi -- typically a slender slice of cooked eel neatly packaged around a bit of rice and drizzled with a sweetened soy sauce -- is at least five inches long, resembling a complete meal rather than a tasty morsel. Since prices mirror those at most local sushi joints, Sushi Ten offers more yahoo for your yen. The larger portions keep your order, and bill, to a minimum.

However, quantity is no substitute for quality. The tuna, yellowtail and salmon are exquisite: tender, firm and consummately fresh. Specialty rolls, such as the ever-popular California roll and the spicy tuna roll, equally impress. Red chile-sauced tuna engorges the dreamy tuna roll, while geysers of the chopped mix erupt from the top of each round in a stunning display of abundance.

The California roll, combining flaked crab, avocado, carrot and roe, is likewise gargantuan and delicious. The only dish that failed to please was the Dynamite, a baked casserole of assorted diced fish served in a mayonnaise-like sauce. Oily and heavy, the dish stands in stark contrast to the bright and lean sushi fare.

For non-sushi lovers, Sushi Ten boasts a voluminous menu of other options, such as teriyaki, donburi, noodle dishes and tempura. The tempura, batter-fried pieces of vegetables and shrimp, is light and surprisingly non-greasy. Dipped in the accompanying mellow soy sauce, it makes a delicate appetizer.

Not content to restrict our eel consumption to sushi, we sampled the unagi donburi, steamed rice topped with two large filets of charbroiled eel sprinkled with a sweet soy sauce. Presented in an elegant lacquered box, it's an uncomplicated, mouthwatering meal.

Service is efficient, if somewhat frenzied. For diners looking to end their meal on a sweet note, packaged desserts are available.

FUJIYAMA IS CREATING its own tsunami sensation in a small shopping center near Campbell and Glenn. Warm wood tones, rounded partitions and dark-pastel walls give the restaurant a hip, sleek feel. Cool jazz and recessed lighting create a soft and inviting atmosphere.

Sushi, only part of the appeal at Fujiyama, becomes a viable appetizer in light of the menu's wide range of traditional and modern dishes. (Other delicious starters include beef or chicken yakitori, tofu skewers, gyoza, and beef and potato croquets). Although the sushi is fresh and tasty, it falls short of sensational when compared to Sushi Ten's bounty. However, everything else we sampled was superb.

An already remarkable wasabi chicken dish -- grilled breast tenderized in a soy marinade, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and topped with a zesty miso-wasabi sauce -- becomes extraordinary with the accompanying honeydew melon, red apples and rice.

The salmon teriyaki, a thick fish filet darkened with a salty-sweet soy marinade and grilled until just flaky, is another standout.

The beef, chicken, vegetable and shrimp dishes rounding out the menu display a panache characteristic of nouvelle cuisine. Discovering them on a routine sushi reconnaissance was a pleasant surprise.

Fujiyama also serves several varieties of the latest gourmet craze, chilled sake, a Japanese wine typically imbibed warm. These specialty sakes range from $20 for a large glass to $5.50 for a small serving. The restaurant plans to offer an even wider range of sake selections in the near future.

The dessert menu reaches beyond the simplicity of a sectioned orange to continue the restaurant's tendency toward the unusual. Tempura ice cream is similar to Mexican fried ice cream, but green tea mousse is bound to raise eyebrows. A hint of almond imbues the mousse's light sweetness, but overall it fails to excite. We'll try the coconut ice cream on our next visit.

Despite their minor shortcomings, Sushi Ten and Fujiyama are welcome additions to Tucson's dining scene. Even with the abundance of Japanese restaurants, there's always room for a few more when the sushi -- as well as the rest of the menu -- is this good.

Sushi Ten. 4500 E. Speedway Blvd., Suite #1. 324-0010. Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Closed Monday. Beer, wine and sake. V, MC, AMEX, CH. Menu items: $2.50 - $24.95 Fujiyama. 2962 N. Campbell Ave. 323-2223. Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Beer, wine and sake. V, MC, AMEX, CH. Menu items: $2.25-$15.00.
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