Eating Soup With Chopsticks
A Japanese restaurant in Marina takes me back to my days in Osaka.
Thursday, November 27, 2003
I go to the Yamato restaurant in Marina, because this is where the Japanese people in town eat. That''s always a good sign.
Yamato''s interior reminds me of Japan, although there''s more space between the tables than one would find in Japan. There''s a blond-colored wood sushi bar that seats six, an imitation cherry blossom tree, rice paper on the windows, a karaoke bar, and a TV. Everything is scrupulously clean, even with a section of the wall being replaced, as happened during one recent lunchtime visit.
The first thing I sampled was wakame udon ($7.50), a soup made with a slightly sweet broth flavored with kelp, dried sardines, soy sauce, sugar, and sake. I ate the soup''s long, thick noodles with chopsticks. The al dente udon noodles would please any pasta judge. The three pink-edged fish cakes floating in the soup tasted like imitation crab, which is, after all, actually made of fish. I ate delicious soup like this every day when I was an exchange student outside Osaka.
After this I wanted to introduce some of my friends to a great, homestyle Japanese restaurant, so one weekday evening I invited fellow culinary adventurers Mary and Howard to join my 12-year-old daughter and me for dinner at Yamato.
Howard ordered the chicken teriyaki and tempura ($7.50), my daughter chose beef teriyaki ($7.50), Mary ordered tonkatsu, or fried pork cutlet ($7.50), and I ordered eel over rice ($10).
Everyone''s meal came with a bowl of miso soup except mine. However I soon had soup in front of me after my daughter saw the strips of wakame seaweed floating in her bowl.
Mary, who was born in Utah, picked out the seaweed with her chopsticks like a pro. She said she had never eaten seaweed before and she liked it. Fresh cubes of bright, white tofu floated in the soybean paste soup made with a slightly salty stock tasting of dried kelp and bonito. We all drank the soup from our bowls, like one does in Japan.
Our meals also came with a small salad, which we ate with chopsticks. The sweet dressing intrigued us. After a little research in a temple cookbook called The Legacy of the Japanese in Hawaii, I found that Amazu dressing made from rice vinegar, sugar, and a little soy sauce might have been what we ate.
A mound of lightly fried shrimp, eggplant, green beans, and turnips came with Howard''s grilled teriyaki chicken, making me think he ended up with the best value for his money. The Japanese got the idea for frying foods during the 16th century from the Portuguese, one of the first nations to have contact with Japan. The shrimp stay nice and long when you cut along their underside. Howard looked askance at the skin that was left on his grilled chicken, but Mary told him that leaving the skin on keeps the chicken juicy.
My daughter''s beef teriyaki was tender and juicy, and she loved it. I like the way Yamato serves its teriyaki sauce on the side. Teriyaki sauce made from soy sauce, syrupy rice wine, and sugar can be sticky and too sweet for some people, so it''s nice to be able to dabble. One of my friends complimented me on exposing my daughter to so many different cuisines, to which I responded, "She eats bulgogi, carne asada, and beef teriyaki. Basically, she likes ethnic beef."
Mary''s lightly breaded, fried pork cutlets were a big hit. The Japanese don''t eat a lot of pork, and when they do, tonkatsu is the dish they prepare. This is another dish that the Japanese adapted, this time from the Dutch. A spicy sauce came on the side, but Mary said the cutlets were so juicy that they didn''t need any sauce.
Steamed and chilled broccoli came with everyone''s entree except mine. A line of mayonnaise decorated the broccoli to give it some flavor.
My eel over rice arrived in an orange-lidded box with flowers on it. I had never eaten eel before, and I must report that it had fatty flesh and an earthy flavor. I really did enjoy my rice with the glazing sauce from the eel, made from soy sauce, sake, and sugar.
Ice cream came with our meals as well. I chose a Japanese green tea-flavored ice cream that even my daughter liked.
Yamato has been serving up homestyle Japanese meals for 15 years, according to owner Nancy Yamashiro. Running restaurants is a family occupation; Yamashiro''s grandmother ran the Yamato Cafe in Monterey 40 years ago. The family has obviously learned that fresh, reasonably priced food is the recipe for success, along with discreet service. The price for our meal for four, including two Kirin beers and two sodas, was $60.60.
Yamato Japanese Restaurant
3114 Del Monte Blvd., Marina 384-6665
Open Tues-Fri 11:30am-1pm; Mon-Sat 5-8pm.