Typically, my rule of thumb for any new restaurant is to wait at least one month minimally before taking it for a test drive. This is more particular to chain restaurants, but by the third month, a more privately run restaurant should have figured out the kinks, and have listened to what the general public thinks. I also believe that patrons can be rather unforgiving on that first impression, so regardless, the entire restaurant staff and management need to be on their toes, ready for whatever may come their way.
This last week I have heard so much mixed reviews, whether rave or poor, I really wanted to check it out the new Fuji Japanese Seafood & Steakhouse establishment. To be clearly honest, I was terribly excited for an addition to the ethnic foods here in Grand Forks. I do enjoy my pizzas, burgers, and the occasional pasta, but unfortunately I was a tad bit spoiled trying new cuisines in bigger cities. So I was ready for this.
Our small group of friends and my little one had made reservations for 7:30 pm. We arrived at 7:20, the waiting area was full, as was the bar. The hostesses were clearly overwhelmed with the big crowd. The appearance of the restaurant is great. The only critiques of the space is the waiting area could have been slightly bigger, or more chairs, along with a coat check. With food and liquid getting flung around, no one wants to get their jackets dirty. I did notice a lot of coats dragging on the floors that were hung over the customers chairs.
As we waited 45 minutes passed the reservation with no place to sit, we “people watched.” Having a four year old standing for that long got to be a little frustrating, fortunately she was quite entertained watching the flames up in the air and the Saki shots.
Once the tables before us left, the space cleaned up, we sat around the iron grill anticipating a fun show. We were given menus and the waitress walked away for quite some time. After standing for 45 minutes, we were parched (and hungry). Eventually the waitress returned taking our drink order and walked off again, but within the spare time from being seated to taking the drink order, we were also ready to order our food. We waited about 20 minutes before some of the beverages came out. Now, I’ve worked in the food industry, and anyone that has worked in the business knows that you make the most money off of liquor and appetizers. It was 30 minutes before my glass of wine finally was served. And that was that. No more drinks came out for the rest of the evening. Our waitress was nearby without looking at our direction. The waitress’s intense gaze could only be assumed that she was having problems with the computer software for the food. Again, if you’ve been out in the food business, some of these restaurant software programs are ridiculously complex.
Many ordered from the teppanyaki menu, however our little pint sized guest anxiously ordered the Shrimp Tempura Sushi Roll. A few other of our guests ordered sushi as a side as well. In the down time of waiting for our food, we continued to watch the fellow patrons at different grills and the entertainment happening in front of them.
Our Chef, Simon, came out with a cart full of our goodies for the night. He instantly came out with entertaining us, recognizing a few of the returned customers that we were with. As he began, our mushroom soup came out. Yum, I was famished, as was the little one with us. So we quickly began sipping on the soup, which wasn’t filled with much flavor. It was a clear chicken broth with scallions and sliced mushrooms. This is in comparison to the over salted soups we are all accustomed to though. However, I wonder if the intense crowd of people may have caused the flavorless warm soup.
The Chef was very quick; the rice came out on to our plates, so I tossed some into the soup which was a smart choice. Although Fuji has a strict no share policy, my little one was terribly hungry, and her sushi did not come out, although at this point it was 30 minutes past her order being placed. So I put a little bit of rice on her plate… It made me wonder if it is why the chef bypassed me when he refilled the plates with the extra rice. We at this point tried looking out for our waitress again, who was MIA. Most drinks needed refilling, we were wondering where the Sushi was, the other couples in our group did receive theirs and the sushi should have been the first item out.
We continued on to watch Chef Simon entertain us with the food, including the Volcano Onion. As the properly cooked Medium steak made its way onto my plate, I slipped a few more bites to my little one. I was very impressed that the steak came out as I ordered it, as steaks often don’t. It didn’t offer much flavor but the steak itself was so good, that it didn’t necessarily need anything. Just from my experiences at places like Ichiban (Winnipeg) and the International Stir Fry (closed in Bismarck), I was use to the Chef’s adding more to the meat. I noticed the guests I was with were not eating their food as quickly as I was. So I started to slow down a bit.
Still waiting for the sushi, we asked the waitress, who said she’d go get it… and didn’t return. The rest of our food was served, my shrimp was slightly over cooked, and the vegetables were most definitely over cooked. (It was still delicious however a slight crisp to vegetables is always a good thing) Suddenly two plates came before each person; one was a type of mayonnaise dressing as well as a sesame ginger dipping sauce. Then the repeated customers started enjoying their food. Then it dawned on me why the meat may have been a little blander than I had anticipated. Chef Simon had bid his farewell saying he’d go check on our little one’s sushi. Who became resistant to eating our food because she waited all day for the Sushi.
Again, the sushi still had not made its way out. So at this point, my husband actually walked back to the kitchen and asked for the sushi. He returned a few minutes later with the sushi. Its presentation was spot on. I noticed the roll itself was smaller than what we’re accustomed to with Little Bangkok. My daughter ate a few pieces but by then was too tired. (It was close to 9:30) I did have a taste and thought by far the sushi at Little Bangkok had one up on Fuji. Yet the other friends said that the sushi they had was terrific.
We were finished, waited for our tickets, which also took a while. In conversations with three other people, I do believe that the Software program is what may be stalling the wait staff. Each person noted how long it had taken to get their tickets in these prior conversations. This may be why it took so long for us to be seated originally. So hopefully with more experience, the staff can get one group out more efficiently and seat their customers quicker.
The group consistently would ask what I was going to write. In fact they thought I was outraged, which I was not terribly upset. This just reaffirmed my rule. WAIT a MINIMUM of ONE MONTH (up to three months) for the newer establishments. With that said, our waitress did not refill drinks, check on us, nor did not make a young child on a late night her priority when everyone else has been fed… well that’s not okay. As we left, my husband discussed this with the Manager, John Cho, who was very apologetic. (And before the night began I did talk quickly about it was amazing what a full house he had in such a large restaurant— he didn’t expect it either) So I most certainly think these things are forgiving… but is each patron as forgiving and understanding? Not necessarily.
I also wonder if the one concentrated area of Demers can handle Fuji, Drunken Noodle and Little Bangkok, only time will tell. The entertainment was fun, though other repeated customers said that it was the same act each time, so this will be another thing to work on for the knife tossing Chefs. (What an amazing thing to watch—and a dangerous job to have!)
I do plan to go back, just maybe not so soon. I’m very enthusiastic and optimistic for this restaurant. They definitely need to be aware of vices to be brought to their attention, so that they can work on them. John most certainly needs supervising staff to oversee the different sections and monitor wait staff. We want return customers, but customer service and food quality needs to be improved if the teppanyaki menu starts at $20 per person and on up. That can get quite expensive for repeat customers. To the defense of the waitress, I was told she was very attentive on a patron’s last visit but they noted how it was maybe 1/3 full.
Good luck to Fuji Japanese Seafood and Steakhouse! Give it a try, but if you have high expectations, perhaps wait another month, or you may possibly be waiting to be seated, waiting to receive drinks, waiting for food, and waiting to pay!