Review: Fukuda

Fukuda offers a sophisticated Japanese dining experience with fresh seafood flown in from the world’s biggest market.




Photos by Laura Petrilla
 

Our city is home to many restaurants — but then there are those gems that provide memorable experiences. Count Fukuda among those spots. In addition to its focus on sushi, Fukuda (which means “blessed rice patty” in Japanese) offers a multitude of hot and cold Japanese-inspired dishes.

Featuring the impressive creations of executive chef/co-owner Matt Kemp (including his take on and presentation of fish flown in from around the world), this place is a haven for foodies and dining adventurers.

A popular starter is the common Japanese street food called robatayaki: a skewer stacked with grilled morsels of marinated meats, like chicken and duck, or veggies, like scallions and shiitake mushroom heads (one skewer costs between $3 and $6). To prepare fare, chefs use a Japanese ceramic grill with a mixture of hardwood charcoal and imported Japanese binchotan coals to give the food a traditional flavor. Another simple but delectable appetizer is the hot, salty (and slightly charred) grilled edamame ($5.50).

The superb ramen soup ($10.50) is served at lunch and dinner. Varieties are offered on certain days — but I recommend the satisfying pork-belly ramen with a meaty broth, pork-belly chunks, plenty of tender noodles and a poached egg. 

If you’re interested in sushi alone, consider sitting at the small sushi bar to watch Kemp (or sushi chef Caitlin Nagelson) prepare your order. The sushi is excellent; each slice of raw fish I tried was perfect, with clean flavors. 

Kemp orders fresh, whole fish from around the world, including some from Japan’s Tsukiji Market (the biggest seafood market in the world), and uses fresh (and rare) American-grown wasabi; he creates the daily menu (posted online) to reflect what he’s received, and even blends the soy sauce in-house. Offerings include kampachi (Hawaiian yellowtail at $7 for two pieces of nigiri; $11 for three pieces of sashimi), sake (Scottish salmon, $6; $10), maguro (“big-eye” tuna, $7; $10) and asa isaki (grouper, $13; $19). I like the ikura rolls (Skuna Bay roe, $8), which boast a refreshing consistency.

Among hot dishes, there were two standouts: the simmered pork belly ($10.50), braised for three to five hours, and the roasted fish head ($26), simply salted and slow-roasted (it can take about 35 minutes) and served with roasted garlic and ginger soy sauce. The kind of fish head changes based on availability, but I enjoyed the very tender, perfectly cooked kampachi. 

Want to put yourself in the chef’s hands? Then choose the chef’s choice sushi sampler ($24, small; $38, large) or “The Fukuda” ($39), a prix-fixe meal including a variety of small plates, plus a treat.

Chef Kemp’s subtle touch extends to his daily dessert: The housemade chocolate shiitake ice cream is a single quenelle, served with a chocolate-covered shiitake slice and a small dose of lavender powder, creating a very sophisticated presentation and flavor mixture that complements the food. The sake sorbet with apple-miso cream and green-tea caramel crisp is marvelous and delicate.

Fukuda’s set up in a tiny space decorated with pieces by local artist Ron Copeland. Although the original plan was to sell the artwork on display, patrons have become attached to the idiosyncratic finishes. Keep an eye out for a fresh look; interior renovations are currently under way.

Though many rave about Fukuda, there are a few complaints, namely regarding the price-portion pairing. I, too, was surprised by how many items I needed to order to feel full. Whether costs have turned off some diners remains to be seen — but dish pricing reflects the high costs of the specialty items offered (particularly the fish, which many would consider worth it).

Kemp is part of the growing movement of young, edgy chefs who are making a dent on our city’s culinary scene; he and his business partner, Hoon Kim, serve Fukuda fare outside of their space (see them at AVA Lounge on Sundays), added a bento brunch back in March and even offer a monthly sushi-rolling course. It’s clear that Kemp and Kim are deeply connected to the latest local food developments; keep an eye on them, as great things are likely in store.

Matt Kemp, Executive Chef/Co-owner | Fukuda

Did Fukuda start as a pop-up restaurant?  
It was always our intention to open an actual restaurant, but it took time to get everything ready.  So my partner, Hoon [Kim], and I decided to begin by doing a special Tapped! [pop up beer garden] event, as well as Food Truck Fridays at Bar Marco. Then we started serving sushi on the sidewalk in front of our restaurant in Bloomfield. That created quite a buzz.

How did you become so interested in Japanese cuisine?  
It started because I was a vegetarian, and one of my friends convinced me to try sushi. It was the only “meat” I’d eat because I believe it is healthy and fresh. At that time, I was working at a restaurant downtown, where sushi is on the menu because it is popular — but they weren’t necessarily striving for authenticity. So I took it upon myself to learn how to do it right. Then I worked at Tamari, where I continued to learn. At Fukuda, the sushi, sashimi, maki and nigiri sushi are all as true and authentic as possible. The other food is more Japanese-based, laced with my own creativity. 

So are you a self-taught chef?  
No, I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu here in Pittsburgh, but there I learned mostly French-based cuisine. My work experience and self-teaching has helped me to learn about other cuisines and preparation techniques. When I started college, I was studying pharmacy; I always liked mixing things and working in a lab, hands on, just like cooking. When I cooked with my college friends, there was an air of happiness. I learned a lot from my chef friends, too.  Eventually, I left college to go to culinary school — and then everything clicked.

What advice do you have for home cooks looking to expand their culinary repertoire into Japanese cuisine?  
Watching a sushi chef, teppanyaki chef or even Japanese street-food vendors express their level of skill with fluid movements, unparalleled efficiency, and their elegant and cheerful style makes people fall in love with the cuisine.

What specialty products do you use?  
I like koshihikari Japanese short-grain rice from California. When grilling, I use a combination of hardwood charcoal and Japanese binchotan, which costs $50 per pound but gives the food an authentic flavor. I also love my Aritsugu knives. Japanese knives have more fragile edges, so they are a little harder to care for — but they give you a sharper, more accurate result. I gave my grandmother, who is an amazing cook, a very sharp, small Japanese knife and she can’t believe how much easier it is to cut things. 

Which ingredients would you advise the average cook to always keep on hand?  
Invaluable ingredients for Japanese cuisine would be: soy, sake, mirin, kombu, katsuobushi, short-grain rice, soybeans and sesame. These are the basis for countless Japanese classics.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in October

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in October

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh

From glass and aluminum to ketchup and candy, Pittsburgh has made its mark, thanks in large part to the instantly recognizable brands that remain etched not merely on its buildings — but on its DNA. We look at 10 of those brands and explore how they helped to establish and define the Steel City.
Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Wheels Up? What's Next for PIT

Under a new CEO, Pittsburgh International Airport heads into its 25th year while attempting to woo flyers and flights and leave its empty, post-hub days behind.
Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Pittsburgh's Connection to an Out-of-This-World View of Space

Three men at NASA serve pivotal roles in maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been taking high-resolution photos of deep space for more than 25 years. And they're all from Pittsburgh.
Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

Dish Review: Bar Marco's Turnaround

The Strip District eatery overcomes tumult and once again is one of Pittsburgh’s finest restaurants.
Talk of The Tahn: Weird Things We Do that Make Pittsburgh Wonderful

Talk of The Tahn: Weird Things We Do that Make Pittsburgh Wonderful

The things that are best about us? They’re not things. They’re ways.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


New Contract for PSO is a No Go

New Contract for PSO is a No Go

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians vote to go on strike.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
e2 to Close in Highland Park

e2 to Close in Highland Park

Chef/owner Kate Romane will move on to a new project.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
6 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

6 Best Restaurants for College Students in Pittsburgh

Easy access from universities, wallet-friendly prices and really good food make these our favorite choices for the university set.

Comments


Halloween Hotlist: 10 Events That Prove Scaring is Caring

Halloween Hotlist: 10 Events That Prove Scaring is Caring

Pittsburgh is a wicked destination for spooky shenanigans. Here’s a sampling of what’s to come.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates’ Ship Sunk But Salvageable

Pirates’ Ship Sunk But Salvageable

Of all that conspired to derail the Pirates after three consecutive trips to the playoffs, the unanticipated implosions of Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano proved, in retrospect, to be more of a deal-breaker than anything else.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Green Chic: The Boxcar Planter Set

Green Chic: The Boxcar Planter Set

The geometric set is available through the hip Ace Hotel shop.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Surprise: Deepwater Horizon is Quite Good

Surprise: Deepwater Horizon is Quite Good

Reviews of "Deepwater Horizon" and "Queen of Katwe," along with local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Laid-Back Love: Kelly McHolme and Bob Stasa

A Laid-Back Love: Kelly McHolme and Bob Stasa

This Pittsburgh couple wanted their guests to be just as content as they were at their wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Make Your Design Work for You: Mecox Opens In Pittsburgh

Make Your Design Work for You: Mecox Opens In Pittsburgh

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Mecox will be opening its eighth location, but its first in Pittsburgh, in Shadyside.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education

Thiel College to Break Ground on New Science Facility

The project will cost $4.5 million and will connect two previously existing structures.

Comments