$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

An update with aquatic influence
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, April 4, 2012

From the sidewalk looking in, you wouldn't know much had changed at 1401 K St. NW between New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day, when the six-year-old Lima restaurant started calling itself Fujimar.

There's still a tent outside the entrance at night, and the enclosure is still filled with cute young things, their older admirers and a haze of cigar smoke. The ground-floor lounge doesn't appear to have been touched much by the month-long makeover, either. The club is as dim and loud as ever.

It's a different story a flight of stairs away. What was once an airy dining room in inviting shades of green has morphed into an animated underwater voyage, courtesy of a video screen that dominates an entire wall. And where offices used to be in the rear, an expanse of white leather seating and a sushi counter (think South Beach) have taken their place.

As for the menu at the remade restaurant, the selections reflect the affection the executive chef and operating partner, Raynold Mendizabal-Betancourt, says he has for Chinese food and for fishing. One of several scores is his wok-warmed sweet-and-sour shrimp, enlivened with fresh chilies, ginger and star anise. "If I could cook just seafood, I would do that," says Mendizabal-Betancourt, a native of Cuba who helmed Pesce in Dupont Circle (2001-03) prior to Lima. At Fujimar, the menu also emphasizes Asia's influence on Latin America. Hence the availability of Peruvian fried rice, or chaufa. As before, there are citrus-"cooked" ceviches, including pink-fleshed hebi (shortbill spearfish) sharpened with onion, jalapeno and cilantro and handsomely presented atop shaved ice in a wooden box.

Misses pop up. Sake-battered onion rings turn out to be greasy bracelets that bring Burger King to mind, and the silverware is so long and slender, a diner could be forgiven for thinking it came from an operating room. Culled mostly from Hawaii, the fish for the nigiri sushi is cut in uncommonly large pieces, but I can't argue with its quality or with the genuine fresh wasabi that graces each bite.

Mendizabal-Betancourt knows not to mess with success: His thin-crusted empanadas survived the change of name, and the beef-filled, raisin-sweetened pastries are as much a reason to head upstairs here as ever.