Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fuji San Japanese Restaurant

Name: Fuji San Japanese Restaurant
Location: 4105 Vestal Pkwy E., Vestal, NY 13850
Phone: (607) 797-9888
Cuisine: Japanese (Sushi/Hibachi/Traditional)
Price: Depends what you order. Consistent with other Japanese restaurants in the area.

Scattered around the Triple Cities are a few different Japanese restaurants. There's Kampai, located in Vestal, best known for their entertaining tableside hibachi dinners. There's sake-tumi in downtown Binghamton, with an expansive menu of sushi rolls and Asian-fusion entrees in a comfortable-yet-upscale atmosphere. Sakura in Endicott is a somewhat bare-bones operation offering some traditional entrees, but with an emphasis on sushi, while the Tokyo Sushi Buffet on Upper Front St. has a wide selection of all-you-can-eat sushi for a low price. And then there's Fuji San, located across the street from Binghamton University inside Quality Inn. A weird place for a restaurant of this sort to be located, no doubt. It's somewhat shocking that until last weekend, we had never been to Fuji San. After attending a basketball game at BU, we decided to try out the sushi at Fuji San for a postgame snack. We hoped it would deliver more satisfaction than our beloved Bearcats were able to muster that night.

Fuji San is a much larger restaurant on the inside than I expected it would be. There are a couple hibachi tables toward the front, a sushi bar straight ahead, and a larger dining room back and to the left. It's a pretty nice place, casual enough that you can wear jeans, but nice enough that you could go there for a special occasion. Only the carpet is a major tip-off that you're inside a hotel. At any rate, we elected to sit near the sushi bar and placed our order for a gyoza appetizer, a Spider Roll (soft shell crab, cucumber, avocado, spicy mayo) for me, and a Boston Roll (cucumber, avocado, masago) for Megan.

The gyoza appetizer was pretty delicious. For those not in the know, gyoza are Japanese potstickers, usually with some kind of beef or vegetable filling. These were beef gyoza with a little bit of green onion thrown in, served with a soy ginger dipping sauce that was really good. I would definitely get these again.

The sushi was next to arrive. I will say that generally speaking, sushi in this area cannot compare with what you might find in New York City or other large cities. So if you are used to eating sushi in the City, my guess is that you will find the sushi in Binghamton to be of lower quality. That said, I thought this stuff was pretty good. The rolls were well-presented and stayed together very well. I felt the quality of the seafood was good. In fact, I think all of the sushi places in Binghamton offer a very similar experience, quality-wise. What separates some from the others is decor, presentation, and service, and Fuji San is among the best in all three areas. The service was top-notch, very quick and polite from the moment we walked in until the moment we left. All in all, we were left quite impressed with what Fuji San had to offer.

I look forward to trying out Fuji San for hibachi sometime, but I would definitely go back for sushi again too. It's a clean restaurant with a nice, relaxed atmosphere, the service is great, and the food is at least on par with the other Japanese places in the area. If you are a Binghamton University student reading this review, also note that Fuji San delivers to campus, a definite plus on those ridiculously cold days where you don't want to step outside. Overall, I give Fuji San a solid recommendation.

Grade: B+

Fuji San Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Frank's Diner

Name: Frank's Diner
Location: 428 Court St., Binghamton, NY 13904
Phone: (607) 238-1900
Cuisine: American Diner
Price: Around $20 for two

When putting together a Google Map of all of the area restaurants we've reviewed, I noted that one area of town that our blogging exploits have mostly ignored up to this point has been Binghamton's East Side. For whatever reason, we rarely find ourselves over there. Perhaps our distaste for East Side's Cortese Restaurant has led to some subconscious bias. Seeking to remedy the situation, we plan to visit each of the diners on Court St. in the near future. We started with a trip out to Frank's Diner, one of East Side's newer establishments.

Even though Frank's is somewhat new, it takes over the location vacated by the Robin's Nest, one of Binghamton's most popular diners. It's my understanding that Frank, the owner, is a longtime restauranteur in the area, and he appeared to be patrolling the grounds during our visit.

I would classify Frank's as a "family restaurant" variety of diner. It's a reasonably sized place with probably 15-20 tables scattered throughout its dining room. It was evident that the chairs, tables, and floors were newer and cleaner than at most area diners. We went around 12:30 PM on a Saturday, and decided to try both breakfast and lunch. I was in the mood for breakfast food, while Megan ordered from the lunch menu. The breakfast menu was fairly typical, with several egg combos, pancakes, and omelets, but what caught my eye was the offering of several versions of frittata, a quiche-like dish. My mother used to make an egg, bacon, and cheese frittata for special occasions and I always enjoyed it, so I was excited to try out Frank's. I decided to try out the Italian Sausage frittata. Megan was in the mood for a burger and fries, so she went with a Bacon Cheeseburger.

Where to start on the frittata....hmmm... Let's just say, I don't think whoever made the dish I was served had any idea whatsoever what a frittata is. Frittata is a self-contained food like an omelet or quiche. What I was served was a scramble, not a frittata. There were scrambled eggs, sausage, onions, peppers, and home fries, all of which were quite tasty elements. I enjoyed my breakfast quite a lot, but to call it a "frittata" would be completely inaccurate. Not a huge deal since the food was good, but be forewarned.

Megan seemed to enjoy her burger well enough. In her words, it was "passable," yet nothing to get too excited about. On a better note, I tried some of her fries and they were pretty delicious, the crispy, golden-brown variety. Solid.

In the end, my opinion of Frank's is that it's pretty much middle of the road as diners go. Certainly it's one of the cleanest ones in the area, service was fast, and it's the kind of diner where you never have to ask for a coffee refill. The food was satisfying, but I reckon that I was mildly peeved that I didn't really get what I ordered. If we lived in the area, I could see us making Frank's a somewhat regular stop in our dining rotation, but it's not a place we're likely to go out of our way to visit again.

Grade: B-

Charlie's City Bagels

Name: Charlie's City Bagels
Location: 135 Washington Ave., Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 748-8888
Cuisine: Bagels/Coffee/Diner
Price: Inexpensive. $5 or so per person.

A fan of the blog recommended that we make a trip out to Charlie's Bagels on Washington Avenue in Endicott, so on the way to work last week, I decided to pay them a visit. As someone with a fondness for small bagel/coffee shops in general, I have a few small demands of places of this ilk. The bagels should be fresh and have a dense, doughy interior, and the coffee should be strong enough to jolt me awake. As a guy who drinks 4-6 cups of coffee per day, I have grown to be somewhat picky in this regard. In this area, I have found Best Bagels In Town, ironically enough, to be the best bagel option, with Java Joe's and The Bagel Factory riding a close second, with Java Joe's excellent coffee garnering bonus points. But I am always interested in trying new places like this.

Charlie's is around the corner from Union-Endicott High School and has street parking available in front and a large lot around back. From the street it looks like a very small shop, so I was surprised to find out that it's really more of a diner. It's a long, narrow restaurant with about a dozen or so large booths lining both sides of the space with the counter at the very back. Photographs and memorabilia line the walls to give Charlie's a distinctly old-fashioned feel.

I quickly scanned the list of about a dozen bagel flavors before deciding on my default, an Everything bagel, toasted, with regular cream cheese. I also went with a cup of regular coffee. It should be noted that Charlie's also offers some usual diner fare (eggs/bacon/etc.) on their menu: it is not strictly a bagel shop.

I'd have to say the bagel I had was quite good. A slightly sweet, malty, crunchy exterior gave way to a soft interior. It was a little saltier than other "everything" bagels I've had in the area, which I do not consider a bad gave the bagel a more pronounced flavor. Overall, I think I still prefer Best Bagels, but Charlie's is a contender.

The coffee was another story. Weak and watery, and there's no way that it was "regular" coffee either, with a faint taste of hazelnut seeping through. Do keep in mind, though, that I am overly picky about my coffee. But even by usual diner standards, Charlie's comes in below average in the coffee department.

In the end, I'm glad I made the trip out to Endicott to try out Charlie's City Bagels. It's a nice space, service was quick and efficient, and the bagel I had was one of the best I've had in the area. I can't say this is a place I'll make a regular destination, nor is there anything particularly amazing or memorable about it, but if you are looking for a solid bagel shop in the western part of the Tri-Cities area, Charlie's is one of your best bets.

Grade: B-

Charlie's City Bagels on Urbanspoon

Park Bench Delicatessen

Name: Park Bench Delicatessen
Location: 100 Park Ave., Binghamton, NY 13903
Phone: (607) 231-8452
Cuisine: Sandwiches/Subs
Price: Around $5 per person

Always in search of good lunch options, I headed to the Park Bench Delicatessen on Binghamton's South Side without having any idea what to expect. There doesn't seem to be much information on the internet regarding the small shop on Park Avenue. So with an empty stomach and an open mind, off I went to check it out.

Externally, the Park Bench appears rundown and has probably seen better days. I was hoping that the inside would show an improvement. It did not. The store consists of two small booths if you want to eat there, and the rest of the space is taken up by a long deli counter with various hunks of Thumann's brand meat on display. To be frank, the place kind of creeped me out. There was a weird, oily odor (perhaps kerosene) permeating the store, and it looked to be in need of a thorough scrubbing. The deli meats on display looked kind of gross and no regard for presentation was shown. There did not appear to be any kind of menu to order from. And perhaps most problematic, when I walked in the store, there was literally nobody there. I stood at the counter for several minutes before a woman emerged from a back room. She was on the phone, clearly in a heated argument with someone, and motioned to me to wait before going back into the back room again. A couple more minutes later, she re-emerged and I was able to place an order. I elected to try out a roast beef sub with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and Swiss cheese to-go. A few minutes and $5.00 later, I was out the door, sub in hand. Hopefully the sandwich would surpass my dwindling expectations.

The sub was OK, average at best. I liked the sub roll itself, noting that the Park Bench gets their rolls from nearby DiRienzo's Bakery (another place I need to stop by at some point). The roast beef was relatively thickly-sliced and not bad, but I got the sense that the lettuce and tomato were not the freshest and the mayo was a little warm (I ate the sub within 5 minutes of receiving it on a very cold day, so there's little chance that the mayo warmed up in transit). The lettuce was browning a bit and the tomato was mushy. Overall, this sub was OK, I guess. But it left me regretting that I hadn't stopped by nearby Nezuntoz instead.

As you can surmise by my second paragraph, I was extremely unimpressed with the Park Bench Deli. I love little neighborhood places like this ordinarily, but the combination of poor customer service and a sketchy, odd-smelling store did not sit right with me. My sense is that the Park Bench stays in business by serving a small set of loyal, regular customers. I will not be one of them.

Grade: D

Park Bench Delicatessen on Urbanspoon
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