Fukuda brings Japanese food to Bloomfield’s Little Italy
Combining freshness and traditional preparation methods, Fukuda, in Bloomfield’s Little Italy neighborhood, aims to open Burghers’ minds to new and exciting dishes.
The authenticity comes out in the most unexpected of places, including the slight bow and Japanese greeting given by the wait staff. Patrons can tell at first glance that chef T.J. Barney has years of experience — 18, to be exact. His nimble hands maneuver the delicate slicing of daikon radishes, perform the quick gestures required to roll the perfect maki, and assemble artistically colorful plates.
Sit at the sushi bar — there’s room for 10 — and you are bound to hear stories of his multiple treks to Japan and his journey to discovering his love of his trade. The Utah-native trained as an apprentice in restaurants in Japan.
While rap jams play softly from the speakers, creating a wonderful dining experience in contrast to the cuisine, you can ask T.J. all the sushi-etiquette questions that have ever piqued your curiosity. He’ll indulge, sometimes giving you way more information than you bargained for.
Head to Fukuda on a Tuesday or Sunday to get next-to-undivided attention, as the restaurant runs with only one chef and a limited menu. This option is not recommended for a first-time visit, or if you’re partial to specific menu items.
Or reserve a spot on a weekend to catch a glimpse of my favorite vibe. The place, bursts with personality, thanks to the artwork of local artist Ron Copeland is abuzz with diners cozied up, trying to figure out how to work their chopsticks.
Fukuda is BYOB, so I always take a bottle of something to enjoy with my meal. White wine, champagne or light beer pairs well and will complement without overpowering.
If you get a seat at the bar, you’ll be treated to an omakase-style meal. Omakase means “I’ll leave it to you.” In this case, it’s the chef’s choice. If you’d prefer to be in control of your meal, request a table.
Starting at $50 for five courses, an omakase meal includes hand-selected items served at a leisurely pace throughout the night. Because the menu changes almost daily and is at the mercy of available ingredients, you’re sure to get something new each time you visit.
Omakase courses can include anything from steamed mussels to sashimi. Exquisitely plated, course after course will arrive. The chef will undoubtedly sneak something in that you’ve never had before. Raw octopus, geoduck clams, and Ikura sushi with roe have been served with graciously sized pieces of sushi using the belly of various fish.
The 36-seat Fukuda, including eight sidewalk seats, hangs the proverbial hat on freshness, shipping in from Japan regularly. Roe and a variety of fish to the tune of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, fluke, seabream and greater amberjack are clearly visible from the glass case, alongside quail eggs and tamagoyaki. This provides exceptional fare and occasional frustration as goods can get delayed, most recently, the kelp needed to prepare the Osaka-style sushi, battera, one of my favorite dishes to watch T.J. create. While disappointing, there’s still plenty to choose from — and gives you an excuse to go back.
Those looking for something a little less experimental — read: safe — yet, still incredibly tasty, you can choose a specialty roll. I suggest the Alaskan, adorned with thin slices of lemon, or pieces of nigiri (raw fish over a ball of rice), or perhaps the Goldeneye Snapper.
And polish off dessert before you depart. Green Tea Tiramisu and Black Sesame Creme Brulee are just two of the sweet treats that have graced the menu.
I commend Fukuda for staying open past 10 p.m. Pittsburgh isn’t late-night-food friendly, so it’s a great nod to the evolving food scene in the city, allowing diners to indulge their cravings after hours.
Fukuda may not be a place to take your friends who belong to the picky eater’s club, but if you’re looking for a place to charm the pants off of your more adventurous comrades, it’ll certainly do the trick.
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