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 new, 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

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Research led Kellee Maize to discover she is the daughter of the former teen singing sensation. Now she and McNichol are teaming up to develop a television series to help other parents and children find each other.
Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

One day, 18 roller coasters, four queasy stomachs, two cheeseburgers, one fried dough … whew.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

The historic Downtown building reopens after a two-year, $100 million renovation.

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
James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino of Cure and Morcilla organized the event, which featured celebrated chefs from DC, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

The restaurant and bar in Oakland welcomes college students and locals alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

The Pittsburgh Penguins may be more poised to establish a dynasty in 2016 than they were in 2009.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Vintage signs can add a pop of personality to your decor.

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.
Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Reviews of "The Conjuring 2," "Warcraft," "Maggie's Plan," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

Honoring tradition at weddings is important for many couples, whether that means including heirlooms and unique customs or hosting a full-blown second ceremony.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

House15143 is Sewickley debuts “House Calls,” a mobile Airstream designed to bring the shopping experience to you (or an event near you).

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

The camp is a collaboration between two area universities and is open to students entering grades 9-12.

Comments