Yama Sushi rolls up creativity with a discount.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
“Pocket Monster” and “Mr. Bulgogi” are not punchlines to dirty jokes. They are two of the more than 50 artful maki creations offered at Yama Sushi. It’s that lengthy lineup and a standing 50 percent off deal on almost all of them that make Yama Sushi a raw seafood spot worth noting.
Fittingly, the first thing you see upon arriving at the restaurant is the “50 Percent Off Sushi Rolls” sign in the window, which means something like the stylish and layered Sex in the City roll – tempura shrimp and avocado topped with tuna and salmon – is just $5.75 after discount. (All prices below are before half off.)
After banging on the large Japanese drum at the restaurant’s entrance, our group is seated. It’s immediately apparent that the new operation’s service is iffy; our table (and, after some assessment, the tables surrounding us) must react with ninja speed in order to grab the attention of the waiters passing by, even after a sizeable delay.
We quench our thirst with Nigori unfiltered sake ($10.50) and Cho Chiku Bay hot sake ($9.90) while we study the thick menu. The sushi arrives on two oversized plates, vibrant bite-sized sculptures, accented with pinks, greens and reds; extra helpings of wasabi sail to our table in miniature ceramic boats.
The Kanpyo Maki ($4.99) – a cooked dry squash veggie roll – is the most simple of the rolls we order and a surprisingly tasty choice that bodes well for its over-the-top, fish-filled buddies. It’s also one of the few ways to get a guilt-free sushi fix – the Seafood Watch choices are limited, to say the least.
The B52 ($11.50) is deep-fried indulgence at its best and easily the most popular item at our table. The almost unnatural concoction of tuna, salmon, hamachi and avocado comes with eel sauce and spicy aioli dribbled over it like a 1970s-colored rainbow. This crunchy and savory innovation is a well-executed answer to the neat and dainty rolls preferred by sushi purists.
The Spicy Snow ($11.90) – a tempura shrimp roll with avocado, crabmeat and eel sauce – isn’t bad, but fairly ordinary next to Yama’s colorful carousel of options. For our last roll we choose the popular Kamikaze ($11.50). The inner working of this roll is a common pairing of spicy tuna and avocado, but the roll is topped with more spicy tuna and a helping of spicy cream sauce. The heat is mild but the monster heaping of tuna in every bite is ocean fresh – they get their fish from True World Foods, Inc. in San Francisco – and makes it worthwhile.
Yama’s marathon menu of sushi demanded at least one more visit. I take a buddy who immediately says, “Man, this is some creative sushi,” upon his initial inspection of the menu.
In order to ensure better service, we opt to sit at the sushi bar, something I’d definitely recommend if you don’t have two hours to spare for dinner.
Better yet, head chef and general manager Yama Kim – a bald sushi master who rarely says a word – moves with the elegance of a ballet dancer behind the long black granite bar.
We are taken care of by Andrew, one of Yama’s disciples – a friendly guy with large-gauged ear piercings and spiked hair. He’s been practicing the sushi arts for nearly three years and appears to move with panache modeled after Yama.
On Andrew’s recommendation we start with an outrageous appetizer that’s named appropriately: Heart Attack ($7.95). This wonderfully shocking preface to our dinner is just another chapter of Yama-style extravagance: deep-fried green jalapeños stuffed with spicy tuna and cream cheese.
For our rolls we start with Asparagus Maki ($4.99), a steamed asparagus roll. Like the Kanpyo Maki dry squash roll, it’s a simple and refreshing break from the barrage of richness.
Next we go for the south-of-the-border-inspired El Poyo Loco ($8.90). This is not a roll you should expect to neatly maneuver to your mouth using chopsticks; you’ll need to grab this sucker with your fingers. The roll busts at the seams with grilled chicken, avocado and crabmeat with eel sauce and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
We top it all off with the Big Sur ($10.50), an orgy of spicy crabmeat, avocado and deep-fried crunch. It’s a damn good roll, but I’m still not sure why it has anything to do with Big Sur.
In addition to the extraordinary amount of sushi on the menu, Yama offers more than 20 selections of nigiri sushi (fish over rice), four types of udon (Japanese-style noodle soup) and five Korean dinners, served with salad, miso soup, rice and kimchi. After learning that Yama is Korean-owned, I go back to try some of the Korean fare. I’m informed that they are currently out of my first two choices, the spicy pork ($12.95) and the short ribs for Gal-bi ($13.95), so I get the Bul-gogi ($13.95), marinated beef strips over a bed of Asian veggies.
The sauce is a bit too sweet for my taste and the kimchi leans more towards sour than spicy, but this is all a matter of personal preference. While I was not completely disappointed by Yama’s Korean cuisine, I’ll be sticking to their sushi from now on.
After all, the rolls and the discount – which management says will remain in place indefinitely – are both a welcome change for sushi lovers tired of breaking the bank for some Japanese seafood, and the reason this place has a very good chance of becoming a long-lived fish in Del Monte Center’s challenging culinary pond. No joke there either.