Sushi That Sings

The fresh fish at Yamato tastes great--and it looks even better

Sushi is one of those foods that people either really dig, or they can't bear the thought of eating it. I fall into the first category; John falls into the second. So a visit to a Japanese restaurant that prides itself on its sushi and sashimi could've proven to be a challenge for John. Yet our dinner at Yamato Japanese Restaurant, located in a midtown strip mall, ended up being a fun and delicious experience, with each of us finding something to satisfy our taste buds.

The small dining room was brightly lit and had all the trimmings we Americans expect in an Asian dining establishment: prints of pretty maidens hanging on white, white walls; colorful paper lanterns; a screen dividing the dining room from the sushi bar; and an assortment of green plants. The brightness was a bit off-putting at first, but once the food was served, there seemed to be a good reason for it: All the better to see the beautiful food, my dear. And while the room and sushi bar are small, there were enough customers that evening to keep the sushi rolling.

After a thorough study of the menu, John ordered an egg roll ($3.25) for an appetizer and the tempura shrimp ($12.75) for his entrée. The entrée came with a tasty miso soup and a small green salad that was almost unnecessary.

I went all out and ordered a tuna roll ($4), a rainbow roll ($9), a soft-shell crab roll ($8.50), an order of nigiri salmon ($3.30) and two orders of nigiri shrimp ($3.50 each)--this with the thought of tempting John to try some. We also both ordered a small Sapporo beer ($3.25).

The food, as is traditional coming from a Japanese kitchen, was beautifully presented. The egg roll, for example, consisted of two rolls, fried to sizzling hot, served on a fan-shaped plate with plum sauce at the base. The wrapper had a perfect crispness, and the filling was savory with finely chopped veggies and tiny bits of ground meat.

John's tempura plate was beautiful! The meal was made up of five large shrimp and an assortment of vegetables placed on edge leaning against one another, almost like a tower. The veggies included zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, broccoli and cauliflower. The batter was so light you could almost see through it, but that didn't mean there was no flavor. As you bit into each piece, first there was a slight crunch, a bit of egg-y air and then the flavorful inside. With a dip of the ponzu sauce, this dish won raves from John, who is not the world's biggest fan of any kind of Asian food.

The sushi was also a work of art. The colors and shapes tempted the eye. And once I dug in, I was wowed with the freshness of each and every piece. The rainbow roll was a California roll wrapped in salmon, yellow fin, mackerel, tuna and more. This was truly like a rainbow in my mouth: sweet, briny and buttery-smooth flavors and textures blended together, giving each bite a unique zing. The soft-shell crab roll was almost too pretty to eat--tiny, crisp crab legs poked out from the colorfully wrapped roll. Once again, one bite proved to be a mouth rush. The crab was crisp and tender, and instead of a cucumber, there was a roll of leafy lettuce that added another layer of crunch without overpowering any of the other flavors. All the rest of the tidbits were tasty as well, especially the nigiri salmon. Not just pretty to look at, but also delicious and exceedingly fresh.

Our chilled beers were the perfect complement to both dinners.

I met Karyn Zoldan for dinner a week later. We sat at the sushi bar, which added to the experience. Granted, there isn't a lot of slash or flash at Yamato's sushi bar, but it is still intriguing to watch a master at work.

We ordered striped bass nigiri ($3.30), octopus nigiri ($3.75), sweet shrimp ($5.50) and a salmon skin hand roll ($5.25); as a nod to the veggie side of the menu, we ordered the shitake mushroom roll ($4.25). We also both ordered hot green tea.

The chef placed small plates in front of us with a small dish of warm edamame that we enjoyed with the tea and some pleasant conversation.

Our food was quickly presented to us. Again, the plate was almost too pretty to eat. The octopus was banded with a thin strip of nori, and the salmon skin roll had tiny, leafed sprouts peeking out of the top. The bass was very fresh and flavorful. The sweet shrimp was also tasty, although the second half--two more shell-on shrimp fried light and crispy--arrived after we had finished the rest of the plate. But the real surprise was the shitake mushroom roll. Tiny rectangles of nori were filled with warm, savory, moist 'shrooms. I think we should have ordered another half-dozen!

Again, we skipped the dessert. There was no need. We had small slices of fresh fruit--watermelon, pear and pineapple--as part of the meal.

Service both nights was attentive and friendly, from the servers to the cashier. The sushi chef also helped make the evening a treat.

Yamato serves up some pretty mean sushi, and while the place might not be as fancy as other sushi places around town, I definitely will eat there again. I bet I could even persuade John to tag along.

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