(Grand Rapids, MI) — Originally, we’d planned to hit a breakfast spot in town and then go grocery shopping. Juliet awoke with a splitting headache, however, so we had to postpone until she felt better. Around lunchtime, the meds kicked in and we decided to hit the old Famous Dave’s location on Beltline, now a Thai/Chinese/Japanese steakhouse called Fuji Yama. Reviews on Google were generally good so we were looking forward to a leisurely lunch...
It is genuinely strange to walk into Fuji Yama and think, “Oh yeah, the bar used to be right over there” when it was Famous Dave’s. In fact, the layout hasn’t changed much, though the decor now reflects a more Asian style. There is no one at the host stand, so we wait for someone to notice us. A few minutes go by before a waiter pops from around the corner. We request a table outside because it is so nice and sunny, it would be crazy to eat indoors. He hurries out to prep a table, then escorts us out. As we pass by the main dining room, I notice they’ve replaced some booths with a sushi counter, and near the back are the teppanyaki griddle stations. It looks like a fun place to bring a group, but is pretty dead on a Saturday afternoon.
Wow, is it nice outside! The sun is shining, birds are chirping, and people go by on bikes. Both of us start with a tall, cold Sapporo beer to whet the appetite. The lunch menu is quite inexpensive and you get a lot of food. It only takes a few glances to know what I want: Massaman!
With lunch, you get your choice of soup or salad. I’m not a huge fan of Asian soups so I get the salad. It is a little side salad of iceberg, shredded carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion. Pretty standard, right? But the kicker is the orange vinaigrette dressing, which freshens up the whole dish.
Our main platters come out, the curry steeping in metal bowls. I chose the fried rice because it has peas in it, and since Juliet hates peas, we hardly ever eat them at home. This is a treat for me! I also choose an eggroll, which is tightly fried with the usual cabbage slaw inside. It’s super hot, but not bad for an eggroll. I dump rice into the Massaman curry stew then give it a good stir. The first bite is good, but not out-of-this-world good. I take it slow the rest of the way, and the longer I wait, the better everything tastes. Because I know we’ll be having a big dinner that night, I chose tofu for my curry. It is hot and spongy, but does a good job of absorbing the spicy coconut broth. All the veggies—red peppers, green peppers, onions, green potatoes, mushrooms—are very fresh and tasty. You can tell everything is made fresh to order. No room for dessert, unfortunately, and no room left for another refill of brewski.
I do miss Famous Dave’s (this location seemed to serve better food than the other) but Fuji Yama is a decent replacement. I can’t say they serve the best Massaman I’ve had, but it’s a solid fallback choice. The food is prepared with skill and love. As long as the sun keeps shining, we’ll probably be back to enjoy their deck and their cold beer.
I have been battling a killer stress headache since 5 am and, despite two doses of aspirin and four shots of espresso, am still feeling its lingering effects. I'm not really to try some place new to review. I decide to suck it up, lose the grumpies and get on with my day. The sun is shining brightly and when we arrive we opt for a table on the breezy deck.
Fuji Yama's luncheon menu features entrees paired with choice of salad or soup and eggroll or crab rangoons. I know it's a conventional choice, but I always go for the miso soup. I only had it for the first time three years ago and have been hooked ever since. It's absolutely lovely in its simplicity: mild broth seasoned with miso, a few diced bits of tofu, a smattering of spinach leaves, and a couple of mushroom slices. You'd be hard pressed to find something so nourishing and fulfilling. (PS...it's super easy to make at home.) One of my favorite treats when travelling is having miso soup for breakfast. Nearly every hotel with an international clientele serves it for breakfast and I have slurped bowls of miso soup instead of oatmeal in Manhattan, LA, Rome, and Paris. (The soup is also a fabulous cure for a hangover. Not that I ever over imbibed in any of those cities!) Fuji Yama's miso soup lives up to those I've had before.
Another predictable choice is the crab rangoons. Even though they're virtually the same in every Asian restaurant, I can't help myself and I order them over the eggroll every time. These are typical rangoons—crunchy wonton wrappers stuffed with onion-y cream cheese and a few tidbits of crab meat. Most likely fake crab meat. Regardless, I love crab rangoons, including these.
My big bowl of red Thai curry is packed with crisp fresh veggies—red and green pepper strips, yellow onions, and green beans. They don't skimp on the meat either. The large planks of steak are tender and flavorful. And as I'm wondering which I like better—a bite of crunchy veg or a big helping of juicy beef—I realize the best part is a spoonful of steamed brown rice soaked in the spicy, sweet coconut milk. There's something about Thai curry paste, rice, and coconut milk that's deeply soul satisfying. Even though it's in the upper 70's outside, I find myself gulping bite after bite of the rice and broth. I copy Jeremy and wash it all down with a Sapporo. I'm not a beer aficianado like him, but the beer is smooth and mild, playing well with the soup, rangoons, and curry.
The food and service at Fuji Yama is solid; nothing out of this world, but really quite good. Best of all, my headache has vanished. I'm pretty sure it's the miso soup.