Some of the most creative dishes are born out of the most desperate situations. The Japanese okonomiyaki is one of these comforting home-cooked dishes resulting from the need for affordable and filling food made from whatever was on hand during World War II, when rice was in short supply in the predominantly rice-based cuisine.
The ingredients are very much of the “kitchen sink” variety: shredded cabbage and other available vegetables, pork or beef cut into small pieces, noodles, then a batter made of flour and eggs scrambled together like a large pancake. Then it’s topped with the notorious Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise and a sweet and viscous teriyaki-like sauce slathered all over, with more served on the side. Most households could make a version of this on clear-out-the-fridge night.
At Fugetsu, okonomiyaki is the main attraction. Originating from Osaka, Japan, Fugetsu was a small shop run by an older couple with a huge crowd of patrons. Now they have opened the first U.S. location in Santa Clara, taking over what was once another Japanese chain, Shabuway.
The red and black décor is still there, as are the heating plates and grills built into the tables; vents hang above each table. The dishes served at Fugetsu are already cooked by the kitchen staff so the grill just keeps the food warm. Okonomiyaki here is served with a side salad and bowl of miso soup.
The half-and-half combinations are the best way to try different flavors. I ordered the pork okonomiyaki (half size) for a taste of the signature dish. Not an overwhelming portion, there’s no noodle in this version and the sauces were sweet. I tasted mostly the cabbage and batter with the occasional piece of pork. I chose the slightly seared white tuna tataki salad as the other half of the combination for a total of $13.95. The salad was fairly standard, good quality tuna with fresh greens, tomatoes and probably a bottled but tasty sesame vinaigrette. Both elements of my meal were satisfying for the light lunch I wanted.
Everything is made better by adding noodles, and this was especially true with the Negi Tsukimi ($13.95), which is the traditional pork okonomiyaki with noodles topped by chopped green onions and a runny egg. This dish came out buried under a mound of green onions. With the noodles, all the same flavors from the classic okonomiyaki were held together in noodle form and was much more filling. I definitely recommend this for those who want a heavier meal.
One item I can never pass up is yaki onigiri ($4.50), a grilled rice ball with tobiko inside, brushed with soy sauce and garnished with bonito flakes on top. It is a common comfort food in Japan and it’s not too difficult to make—but it’s very easy to distinguish great onigiri from the rest. Fugetsu passes this test with flying colors. The dish comes as one large triangle instead of two smaller ones that other restaurants serve. The rice is cooked and molded perfectly.
Lunch doesn’t offer too many appetizer options and the hiyayakko ($4.50), chilled tofu with ginger and bonito flakes, sounded interesting enough. It turned out to be a disappointing dish of cold boxed tofu cut into cubes and sitting in a small pool of dressing that tasted like the same one used in the salads. While $4.50 is affordable, the dish was not worth ordering when it can be assembled easily at home.
Not all dishes from Japan will be exotic like sushi. Some are familiar and comforting like okonomiyaki. Even for those who have never tried it before, it is easy to get on board with the concept of throwing delicious things on a grill and holding it together with batter. The space is quite small and lunch can get packed, and there were only a few front-of-house employees servicing a packed restaurant—but they did an excellent job. Overall, Fugetsu provides a pleasant new experience with tasty and filling food.
2783 El Camino Real, Santa Clara