Yama: Sushi and Pacific Spices
Yama’s a saucy spot. The cozy space with a smattering of tables and small sushi bar is the kind of room that has you looking out of the corner of your eye: Did that wall just change color? What are they eating and may I order some? But as soon as the food starts arriving you’ll only have eyes for your own little center of the universe.
Chefs Chris Aycock and Ted Minami – who own the restaurant along with Charley Viola – must have battled when putting together the menu. One gets the feeling that the Japanese-born Minami is a stickler for traditional sushi, and his taste is impeccable. Aycock is more a wild child of flavors and techniques. What they’ve produced together is a selective menu that sometimes woos diners with seamless flavors, and at other times gives them a nudge, a wink and even a kick in the pants.
“Being such a small place, it can’t be just about the food,” Aycock says. “The energy has to be really good.”
No worries there. This place is seriously fun.
The menu is broken out into starters, salads, appetizers, specials, rolls, entrees and of course traditional nigiri and sashimi. The truth is, you could start anywhere on the menu and hopscotch around. Or you could simply stop in for one of Bar Manager Brian Peters’ cucumber-infused gin and unfiltered sake cocktails, complete with a cucumber “snowflake.” You could even go the Western-style app-entree-dessert route. But whatever you do, find a way to work in the Saikyo Hoisin Yellowtail, a sexy little plate that has pristine rectangles of yellowtail, smudged with miso and wrapped around a wee daikon bundle, sauced with a citrus-y yuzu dream. It’s a mystery how the flavors can be so bold, yet play well with everything else on the plate. Another winner is the yuzu-scented Pine Nut Tuna Tartar with wasabi pea crackers. Pine nuts? Really?
“The oil in the toasted pine nuts really complements the tuna,” Aycock explains. One taste and there’s no arguing with the man.
They’ve even taken the steamed mussels concept and made it their own with a red miso and caramelized shallot broth. “It’s been wonderful, watching everyone’s reactions to the food,” Viola admits.
They do have a way with sauces.
Surfers with an innate love of the sea, Aycock and Minami named many of their rolls after famous surf spots: Byron Bay, Dominical and more. Sometimes using cucumber instead of nori, there’s a vast array of choices, from traditional single-fish rolls to the more inventive ones including fire-torched tuna or coconut-fried shrimp and mango. Some of them are downright massive, others almost demure.
And there’s no shame in diving into an entree instead of sushi, such as the nori-crusted salmon. Served on steamed rice with a tousle of arugula and daikon, the sweet coconut sauce plays against the salmon’s rich flavor. Land lovers should go for the grilled Wagyu beef tenderloin, which gets down and dirty with a shitake-Cabernet sauce.
No matter how full you are, there’s always room for mochi. Made in Aiea, Oahu, the glutinous rice shell is stuffed with ice cream. Finger-friendly and served with sorbet, one-two-three bites and they’re gone. •
168 east Gore Creek Drive / 970.476.7332 / yamavail.com
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