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Artistic Combinations, Filling Portions

At Sushi Fujiyoshi, the chef indulges his creative side while keeping prices low.

July 12, 2001|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sushi Fujiyoshi, which opened in Japanese Village Plaza in March, offers more than sushi. It specializes in dinners more interesting than the serviceable, ho-hum food common in Little Tokyo.

For a couple of months, it featured a chef's special dinner that incorporated course after course of artistic food for the astonishingly low price of $15. Not surprisingly, this didn't last. However, four other combinations remain.

Matsu ("pine"), at $10.30 the most expensive combo, is almost overwhelming. You could make a decent meal just of the side dishes: a bowl of chicken and vegetables in sweet broth; fine strands of daikon cooked with soy sauce, dashi , sake and sugar; a delicate steamed custard ( chawan mushi ) containing, say, chicken and bamboo shoots or fish cake and shiitake mushrooms. And miso soup, of course, comes with all meals.

The main dish of this plate is rice topped with salmon roe and fine shreds of egg ( ikura don ). Another course is a fried square of tofu sitting in a little dish of dashi broth. The scene-stealer is scallop dynamite, a scallop wrapped with a strip of salmon, topped with mayonnaise and broiled.

The take ("bamboo") meal includes a sizable plate of sushi--squid, tuna and tamago (omelet)--plus three tiny sushi rolls, one filled with cucumber, another with tuna and the third with pickled daikon. Shrimp, squash and eggplant tempura are also part of this combination.

The highlight of the ume ("plum") combo is una-don , a freshwater eel bowl. The least expensive, most poetically named combination, kaede ("autumn leaves"), offers fried tofu again and a rice bowl topped with tuna sashimi, both the dark red lean and lighter-colored fatty cuts. Fruit and big mugs of tea accompany each combination.

In addition to these meals, there are teriyaki and tempura combinations and donburi (rice bowls). The beef teriyaki I had lay in a lighter, less sweet sauce than we're used to (I'm told the kitchen can also make the sweet American style), topped with finely grated apple, onion and carrot, which flavor the sauce.

Chirashi-don includes so much rice and sashimi I can't eat it all. The seafood was tuna, red snapper, yellowtail, octopus and clam, accompanied by wedges of omelet, transparent noodles, shredded seaweed and pickled ginger.

These combinations are available for lunch or dinner, but lunch has its own specials, including a chicken bowl with soup, rice, salad and pickles for $5.50. For a little more, you can have salmon. Assortments of nigiri sushi are also on the lunch menu. Salmon salad turns out to be a fusion dish: slices of raw fish on an odd mixture of Western vegetables--lettuce, broccoli, tomato, red cabbage and shredded red radish. I'd rather have the delicious, very rich appetizer of monkfish liver seasoned with miso.

There's a sign in the window advertising $1 sushi--make that $2, because it comes two pieces to an order. Owner-chef Yoshio Yokoyama is certainly not limited to bargain food, and I doubt that the elegant kimono-clad woman sitting at the sushi counter one day was eating bottom-line sushi.

When he's making what he feels like, Yokoyama might hand out a steamed small pompano floating in a sauce of dashi , sake and sweet rice wine, then tuna in a bland bowl of slithery mountain yam that picked up flavor from soy sauce and wasabi. And then a crunchy slice of giant clam, clam muscle (topped with a "flower" of roe) and pale orange, faintly sweet chunks of monkfish liver wrapped with rice in crisp, warm seaweed.

Then boiled crab and saba (Spanish mackerel) seasoned with vinegar and ginger, both wrapped in seaweed, oysters on the half shell in citrus sauce with green onions and peppery shredded daikon. Even the honeydew that might end such a feast is likely to be as sweet and buttery-tender as you've ever tasted.

Yokoyama speaks no English. You'll recognize him as the older man at the sushi counter who smiles a lot. A sushi list will help in ordering, and others on the staff can assist.

* Sushi Fujiyoshi, 333 E. 2nd St., downtown L.A. (in Japanese Village Plaza). (213) 626-1793. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Visa and MasterCard. Beer and wine. Street parking. Lunch and dinner entrees, $5.50 to $12. * What to get: matsu, take, chirashi-don, monkfish liver miso, beef teriyaki, scallop dynamite.

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