Fukumoto Offers a Taste of Traditional Japanese Cuisine
With sushi, yakitori and an extensive selection of drinks, owner Kazu Fukumoto takes guests on a personal culinary journey
By Karen O. Spezia
Photos by Holly Cowart
I didn’t know what to expect from Fukumoto. Although it’d been open for years and I’d passed its bustling East Austin corner a million times, it never really registered with me. But at a friend’s urging, I finally checked it out. And what I found was one of the most delightful Japanese restaurants in Austin.
Fukumoto is a labor of love by its chef/owner and namesake, Kazu Fukumoto. A native of Fukuoka, Japan, he began his Austin culinary career at Musashino Sushi Dokoro, starting as a dishwasher, then working his way up to head sushi chef. After more than a decade at Musashino, Kazu traveled back to Japan to hone his culinary skills in Tokyo. Then in 2015, he returned to Austin to open Fukumoto, a Japanese-style izakaya pub serving traditional Japanese cuisine.
Fukumoto is a very personal restaurant that reflects Kazu’s passion and background. As soon as you enter, you feel welcome and comfortable. The staff greets you warmly. The vibe is laid-back and funky, and the dining room is cozy yet urban. His menu exemplifies his personal culinary journey, showcasing an extensive variety of classic Japanese comfort food, sushi, sashimi and yakitori. There’s a lot to choose from, plus an extensive list of daily specials that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Fukumoto offers items you won’t find at your run-of-the-mill sushi restaurant. To kick off our meal, my dining companion lobbied hard for the fried Sawagani crabs, tiny soft-shell crustaceans that are gobbled-up like popcorn. But I overruled her with the agedashi tofu, a simple but sophisticated dish of silky homemade cubes, lightly battered and fried, dusted with minced tuna flakes, nori seaweed and negi scallions, and served with tempura sauce. It didn’t disappoint. My dining companion, who claimed she wasn’t a tofu fan, cleaned her plate.
Next we sampled the karaage, bite-size pieces of fried chicken thighs — and one of Fukumoto’s most popular dishes, boldly described on its menu as the “best damn fried chicken this side of Fukuoka!” For lighter fare, we ordered an assortment of astonishingly fresh sushi. Fukumoto offers all the usual suspects, plus much, much more. It was all delicious, but we were really dazzled by the unctuous O-toro fatty tuna, the melt-in-your-mouth Miyazaki wagyu beef and the subtle but sensational mikan dai, an orange-fed Japanese snapper with a hint of citrus flavor.
Not widely found in Austin, yakitori is one of Fukumoto’s specialties. This Japanese method of grilling features bite-sized morsels skewered over Japanese charcoal. The New Zealand king salmon is the restaurant’s signature skewer, marinated for 48 hours in miso and sake paste, resulting in a moist, smoky, umami mouthful. But it’s the buta bara yakitori that knocked my socks off: miso-glazed pork belly with the perfect balance of succulent meat and creamy fat. We ended our meal with one of Fukumoto’s most popular items, uni pasta, a decadent marriage of spaghetti noodles tossed in a rich, velvety sea urchin sauce. We devoured the entire bowl of this exotic dish.
Drinks are a big part of any izakaya, and Fukumoto’s bar program delivers. The sake list is outrageous with almost 50 options offered by the glass, carafe or bottle. If you’re a sake novice, the experienced servers will steer you in the right direction. There’s also wine, beer, tea and some terrific sake cocktails.
The staff at Fukumoto is gracious and cheerful. Everyone had a smile on their face. Our server, Trevor, was worth the trip alone. A veteran Fukumoto employee, his genuine passion for the restaurant was apparent as he guided us through the menu with enthusiasm, insight and style.
Fukumoto is Chef Kazu’s dream realized after decades of hard work and dedication. Although its delights were a surprise to me, it’s no surprise he’s created a destination that’s abundant with great food and good energy. When I pass his corner again for the millionth time, I’ll definitely stop back in.