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Betsy Block

Restaurant review: Fugakyu

Let me make this clear right off the bat: the word "Fugakyu" supposedly means "house of exquisite elegance" in Japanese. No matter what it means, though, I love how it sounds and it's become one of my favorite meaningless expressions. But for Boston's sushi lovers, it could even become a mantra.

Brookline's one-year-old Japanese/sushi house may not have the most poetic (or onomatopoetic) name in English. But once I'm in the restaurant, any derogatory thoughts I may have dissipate like so many clouds. It's a veritable city-state in here, with a bar, sushi bar, downstairs dining area with excellent booths, an upstairs dining room -- oh, and a private dining room, too. It's all blond wood and bamboo, very peaceful except for the giant videos playing on the upper walls. Bizarre, but oddly, they fit in.

Notice the fish tanks at the back of the place, behind the sushi bar? They're hardly beautiful, but that's because they're really killing fields. There aren't many places outside of Chinatown in this city where you're going to find your fish swimming so close to the time that it lands on your plate. (In fact, one of the owners also owns East Ocean City.) They're serious about their seafood here.

So after being amused by the name and amazed by the design, I settle into my seat and proceed to make yet another judgment error: I decide to try a little of everything. Well, you can't try everything here on one or even two visits. So learn from my mistake.

Just as they've blended natural earth tones and high-tech videos in the decor, so they've tried to find a balance between what they call nouveau Japanese with more classical dishes and sushi. I wanted to taste both, so on the first visit I made a lame attempt to "cover" the menu: sushi, fried tempura sushi, dumplings, shrimp beef rolls and a seafood hot pot called yosenabe.

I don't want to belabor the point, so listen up: Don't go for the nouveau stuff like the shrimp beef rolls or the shrimp tempura maki. The yosenabe, which is huge (it's a virtual subterranean ecosystem in a bowl), is amazing more for its size and scope than for its flavor. (It contains: a whole lobster, scallops, shrimp, striped bass, chicken, tofu, cellophane noodles, onions, cabbage, enoki mushrooms, shittakes, carrots, daikon and I'm certain I've left something out.) "It looks big," says the waiter, "but you can eat it all." Cute, but wrong. I take most of it home.

On the way out the door, I see two acquaintances at a nearby table who have a boatload of sushi on their table -- you know, a tray in the shape of a boat -- so I go over to investigate. One of them, a doctor, says when she used to get off work at 11pm, she and her doctor friends would come here for sushi (they're open until 2am). Dining on raw fish as midnight draws nigh - this is as cosmopolitan as Boston gets. "Get the sushi the next time," she advises.

So I do.

The next time I, too, try a boatload of sushi, but it's on a regular tray. No problem. Every single piece is so fresh and perfect, I don't care what they serve it on. Even my snobby New York sushi-loving friend (he prefers to be called "discriminating") is impressed by the quality. Now that's something.

Sushi-making is, of course, an art. The good sushi chef takes a piece of raw fish and elevates it, turning it into an edible tableau with a series of crucial decisions and deft turns with a knife. The use of just a few other elements - rice, wasabi, perhaps some nori or vegetable (for maki) - changes the presentation, taste and texture in brilliant and delicious ways.

We try two of the four different kinds of tuna offered: the fatty tuna (chu-toro) and the maguro, the yellow tail both in sushi and maki, sea eel (anago), pickled mackerel (saba), squid (ika), octopus (tako) and the salmon roe (ikura), which we order with a quail egg. Every bite is wonderful. It's smooth, delicate, clean-tasting. Fugakyu has some of the best sushi in Boston.

Name notwithstanding, Fugakyu proves the adage, "Build it and they will come." The place is packed even on a Monday night. After having gorged myself on all the sushi I could handle, I can see why.