More than what meets the eyes

Fuji Cafe and Bar is unassuming… and great

Matt Cortina

It’s hard to be unassuming so close to the Pearl Street Mall, but that’s just what Fuji Cafe and Bar is. The shop is clean and welllighted, but that’s about all you can say about the physical space of the restaurant. It’s small, with seating for maybe 20 people, and the menu is plastered on and above the counter, where you also place your order at the register. It’s a setup that puts the food on center stage, and fortunately, the food is excellent.

It’s a chilly weekday night, and so we start with momo soup. The dumplings are filled with ground pork. The broth is seasoned artfully with light curry spices and just enough salt to bring out the flavor of the steamed vegetables. The vegetables in the soup include broccoli, chard, carrots and onions.

The dumplings retain perfect structural integrity in the soup; they are thick-shelled but chewy. The pork on the inside is lightly seasoned and packed with bright, citrusy green herbs. The dumplings don’t have any browning, but the richness of the broth imparts smokiness to each bite of the massive momos.

Next is a plate of onigiri. Onigiri are rice pyramids. Some places will sculpt them into fun shapes or animals, but at Fuji Cafe, they are large prisms of sticky rice and fillings, with a rectangular sheet of dried seaweed wrapped under its base and up the sides. We get two ume and two beef shigure onigiri.

Ume is pickled Japanese plum. In onigiri, it is shaved like sheets of pickled ginger and rolled into the rice. It is fantastic — this roll is one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. All at once, the ume is sour, salty and sweet. The seaweed adds the smallest bit of crisp and the subtle flavor of ocean and bitter green. It is moist but perfectly packed. It is satisfying but light. It has enough flavor on its own, but is yet embellished by hot pepper sauce or soy sauce. The other onigiri is excellent as well. The beef is cubed and juicy with the character of soy marinade. The roll packs an herbal punch of ginger, and each bite brings out varying emanations of citrus.

Next is a bowl of hiya-yakko. It is a cube of chilled tofu, covered in pickled ginger and katsuobushi, or bonito flakes. The katsuobushi makes the dish, with its robust smoky flavor and subtle fish foundation. With soy sauce, a bite with tofu, ginger and the flakes is wholly satisfying, playing on all flavor centers of the tongue and balancing both texture and temperature.

Last is a plate of chawman. It’s a dish of thick, long noodles with flowery spices and vegetables. It’s a plate of carb-indulgence, where the steamed vegetables and spices all carry a subdued flavor. I add Japanese pepper and hot sauce to my share of the dish and finish it quickly.

Fuji Cafe fuses together cuisine from multiple parts of Asia — notably Japan, Tibet, Nepal and China. That they’re able to do it so well and with such little pomp is remarkable. Dishes are all under $10, and food comes out fast and simple. If you’re so inclined, Fuji Cafe also serves a variety of Asian tea, chai and matcha.

Why the unassuming places in Boulder always make the best food remains a mystery. But if Fuji Cafe keeps doing what they’re doing, they won’t be inconspicuous for long.