When George Mason University student Cora Martin entered the Fortune House with fellow student Bill Telotte, the sushi chef and owner Tong Chang, known as Mr. Tong, welcomed them from his spot behind the sushi bar. Even on a limited student budget, Martin, a Burke resident, splurges now and then.
"The sushi is the freshest I've had," Martin said, noting her favorite that's not even on the menu.
"They have a special, a yami yami roll. It's eel, avocado and fish roe covered with Japanese mayo[naise]. It's definitely not for everybody," she said.
All the food at the Fortune House is not typical; the name's not reflective of fortune cookies either.
"They hope to bring fortune here," said friend and weekend wait staff member Lisa Zhang.
On a Saturday night, the tables were full around 7:30 p.m. Martin was entertaining friends from Ireland, Jenny O'Brien and Shane Marken. Marken was feeling pretty bold with the knowledge that he'd be trying raw fish before the night was over. With chopsticks in hand, he gobbled down the house salad, which has a peanut-based dressing.
"I don't normally eat salad, and I'm eating this. It's definitely uncommon," he said.
The restaurant opened in October 2001 and has a few regular customers already.
<bt>Co-owner and Chang's wife, Lon Chang, knows that sushi is an acquired taste.
"First time they try it, not a lot of people like it," she said.
Zhang has seen this too.
"You slowly get used to it, and then you love it," she said.
Sushi comes in two varieties, raw and cooked. The raw, sashimi, comes in the salmon, tuna, flounder and eel varieties. Cooked sushi is crab, avocado wrapped in seaweed and covered with sticky rice and called a California Roll.
But these fish dishes are just one part of the cuisine. They serve tempura, which is shrimp and vegetables fried in a light batter, teriyaki chicken and beef, wonton-like rolls, appetizers, soups and a full selection of saki and Japanese beer.
<bt>Dishes are served in black, lacquered dishes and bowls with unusual spoons for the soup and other little dishes around the plate. No explanation is given for the empty dishes, but an unwritten code seems to exist about their use. The little square dishes are used for mixing the soy sauce and wasabi, which is a hot, green, Chinese mustard. This is used for dipping, as are the other sauces. The soup is in a covered bowl, and the rice is served in a separate bowl but not used for mixing with other dishes, as is common in some Chinese restaurants.
On the side of the sushi is a bit of hot ginger, which complements sushi in the same way that ketchup complements McDonalds french fries. However, the Fortune House is about as far from McDonalds as one can get.
Mr. Tong wore a rising sun bandanna as he flattened strips of raw fish behind the sushi bar, keeping an eye on the tables and sometimes barking out orders, all in Japanese. Previously, he worked at area sushi places in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, such as the New-Shiro Ya.
"Fresh fish, keep it two days. After that, it is no good. We order from a Japanese company, early in the morning we pick up," he said, holding up a platter of fish.
Clifton resident Brenden McGale came to the restaurant with his aunt from California, Tina Wan. At 15, sushi and Japanese food was not tops on the list of most of Brenden's friends.
"They eat pizza. It [Fortune House] came recommended from a friend of my mom's (who is Chinese), but she makes foods similar," he said.