Teriyaki is a form of cooking that involves all of the senses. Soy sauce spiked with sweetness is lacquered onto meat or seafood. The meat hits the grill, and immediately there is the unmistakable scent of a thousand backyard barbecues: char, smoke and fragrant, savory undertones.
Amid the tinkle of beer bottles and ice melting in coolers, people can hear the sizzle of dinner being cooked and automatically begin to crowd around the grill master, hoping for a handout.
It has been a long winter, and I have been dreaming of this scene for months. Fukumaru Teriyaki was an acceptable alternative. It's located on the far side of Spenard, down past Gwennie's, by Capri Pizza.
Clean, spacious and comfortable, Fukumaru strikes a nice balance between too traditional and too modern. The amicable counterman, Hyo Lee, is there almost every day, taking orders and bringing out food. I met a friend for lunch and Lee waited patiently while we waffled over the menu. Katsu ($7.99), kalbi ($9.99) and teriyaki bowls ($4.99) were top choices, but Lee pointed out the beef yaki udon ($7.99). "My favorite," he told me. "Very good."
We ordered that and the chicken teriyaki ($7.99), which comes with a choice of brown or white rice and several side options. He brought out miso soup ($1.50) as a starter, which had threads of egg running through. It was hot and good, although I didn't care for the anonymous bits of meat floating in it.
Our food came out quickly and he was correct about the udon. Thick, chewy strands of stir-fried noodles were coated in a spicy flavorful sauce, with carrots, onions and cabbage among the tender beef. The chicken teriyaki had a lustrous glaze, a good interplay of salty and sweet, and was cooked perfectly.
On my next visit, I refrained from ordering the yaki udon again and went with the spicy pork ($7.99) and gyoza ($5.99 for 7 pieces). My plate had a healthy portion of pork, rice, tempura and, inexplicably, half of a taquito and pickle slices. I didn't fare as well as I had on my previous meal. The pork had some heat, but lacked depth of flavor. It would have benefited from deeper caramelization to further season the meat.
The gyoza is not made in-house but is tasty nonetheless. Next time, I'll try one of the skewer options ($2.99-$3.99) for a street food comparison.
Fukumaru does well with its featured teriyaki and noodle dishes and offers a very reasonably priced menu, with everything (even the salmon teriyaki, $9.99) under $10. Coupled with its efficiency and friendly staff, it's a good place to stop in for lunch. Just ask Lee what to order.
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By Riza Brown
Daily News correspondent