As the country recovered from World War II, Fujio Iwasaki was hard at work getting his eatery off the ground. Fearing a distinctly Japanese-style restaurant would not be well-received in uncertain times, Fujio added some Chinese items to the menu, and in the basement of the Colonial Hotel in 1946, Pagoda was born.
Today, the restaurant still delivers the classic Asian cuisine and sushi originally fashioned by Fujio, under the fresh guidance of head chef Jared Ekstrom and sushi chef Steve Nichol, who spent time in Japan as a tour guide and translator. The chefs lay out a smorgasbord of entrees such as miso sea bass and sushi such as the Baja Sunset, a Chef Steve original with spicy shrimp, cucumbers, and avocado crowned with fresh salmon and jalapeños.
Since moving to its current location, the eatery’s architecture has left as lasting an impression as the cuisine. A vertical sign stretches skyward, emblazoned with the word “Pagoda,” drawing the eye to a triangular rooftop that emulates the restaurant’s namesake structure.
Lacquered tables lit by sunlight from expansive windows gleam in Rice's modern dining room. Spicy aromas waft in from the kitchen, foretelling the arrival of entrees that blend the culinary traditions of Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States. Some of these flavors meld within the dishes themselves: combining grilled steak, asparagus, and eel sauce, the Cowboy sushi roll melts away boundaries between East and West, much like a blast furnace full of old compasses. But chefs also cook traditional Asian recipes, such as a Thai curry with coconut milk or Japanese udon noodles with tempura shrimp. And they're accommodating of other diets, too. Several vegetarian dishes incorporate soy chicken substitute, whose tender texture pleased the writer of a 2009 In This Week review.
Although Kobe Cho Sushi earned a feature on Man v. Food with its incendiary Hell Fire roll filled with tuna and jalapeño, the chefs can also dial down the heat and showcase the delicate flavors of fresh fish and produce. The menu stems from the mind of owner and head chef Mike Fukumitsu, whose 13 years of sushi-making wisdom has been honed during numerous training stints in Japan. As an example of his dedication to high-quality ingredients, he seeks out Wagyu kobe beef for some of his premium sashimi and sushi creations.
A few tables line the pastel-orange walls, but a large number of seats also surround the sushi bar, allowing guests to watch as the chefs slice, layer, and roll orders with the confidence of an encyclopedia salesman at a trivia competition.
Japanese, Korean, and French culinary traditions collide in Yuki Arashi's kitchen, forming Asian-inspired tapas strewn with local and organic ingredients. The hot and cold small plates are perfect for sharing or alternately pressing to a sprained ankle, and they range from classic gyoza to modern arrangements of truffled albacore with microgreens and garlic crisps. At the sushi bar, chefs slice catches flown in fresh from Japan and the West Coast for sashimi and nigiri, as well as for rolling into specialty maki rolls such as the inside-out Millipede with tempura shrimp, spicy tuna tartare, avocado, and tobiko.
In the sleek dining room, bulbous vases of flowers sit above high-backed banquettes, their colorful blooms echoing the honey- and plum-hued flecks in the large variegated stone wall. Seats at the sushi bar invite patrons to gaze at the chefs' artful hard work, and an intimate tatami room enables guests to forgo chairs and dine in the traditional Japanese style.:m]]
A venerable textbook of sushi history, the engaging Chef Joe brings more than 20 years of Japanese culinary experience to the Mt. Fuji cutting boards. Each sushi-making class begins with the arts-and-crafts basics of fish-related construction using nori, rice, and rubber cement to build delicious rolls ready-made for consumption. Chef Joe will also clue you in on the best places to buy ingredients for three sushi mainstays: the classic california roll, spicy-tuna hand rolls, and salmon nigiri. The BYOB policy lets you alternate your detailed maki handiwork with sips of your favorite wine or beer (Mt. Fuji supplies the glasses, along with additional alcohol, which may be purchased on-site). Once you've finished exercising your chopsticks, show off your ability to shatter glass with a well-chosen Mariah Carey ballad at the restaurant-sponsored karaoke party after class.