Yammering for Vail’s Yama
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: The Vail Daily doesn’t write straight restaurant reviews, but instead we run restaurant features. We cannot guarantee you’ll have the same experience we did.
At Yama, it’s OK to have wandering eyes. In fact, it’s hard to keep your eyes on your own plate at Vail’s newest sushi shop. “Ohhh, what did they order?” you might murmur, openly staring at a dish that just landed at the table next door.
Then there are the walls, which more than stare at, you might be tempted to reach out and touch, like one diner did during dinner recently. Clear plastic resin is embedded in the cracks of a wood finish and lights set behind the wall very slowly change color: red, orange, blue, purple.
The rest of the decor is worth looking at too. With contemporary orb lights, slate blue walls and chairs, and red-orange walls and doors, it doesn’t particularly feel like Vail. The dining room is polished and cosmopolitan in a way that’s just recently becoming popular at new Vail spots, like Bol, the Four Seasons and The Sebastian.
“Some people came in who were amazed at the decor,” said Charley Viola, one of three partners in the venture. “They said ‘I’m having an out-of-Vail experience’ … We’ve created something new and fresh for Vail.”
The chic 40-seat eatery on East Gore Creek Drive opened its doors the last week of September and people have been checking out the restaurant, and buzzing about it, since.
Viola, a local real estate agent and 20-year Lodge at Vail veteran, teamed up with two chefs, Chris Aycock and Ted Minami, to open the eatery, called Yama because it means mountain in Japanese.
Minami is a classically trained sushi master who trained for 10 years in Japan and helped open Sato in Edwards. Aycock worked as a saucier for celebrity Hawaiian chef Roy Yamaguchi and most recently spent six years in Belize running his own restaurant, called the Blue Water Grill, a coconut’s throw from the Carribean’s azure waves.
“I bring a lot of varied cuisines from around the South Pacific – Thai, Vietnamese, etc.,” Aycock said. “Ted is more classic Japanese. We fused both of those together to come up with the menu.”
The combination makes for dishes that are progressive and even daring at times. The menu is rife with creative, deftly-layered sauces and ingredients you don’t often find in a sushi joint – like pine nuts, wasabi pea chips, densely marbled Wagyu beef and more.
The Queensland roll incorporates raw Wagyu beef from Greg Norman’s ranch in Queensland, Australia. The tender meat is wrapped around asparagus, sprouts and green onion and drizzled with a red wine soy reduction and crushed sesame seeds.
“That was Ted’s brainchild,” Aycock said. “We wanted to use Wagyu beef beef in a sushi roll. I’ve tried bison in the past on top of rolls, but we wanted something that has a Japanese basis – which Wagyu does, even though we get ours from Australia.”
Then there are the sushi rolls that skip the traditional nori-plus-rice-plus-fish combination altogether. Instead fine slices of cucumber hold tasty combinations together, like snow crab legs, tuna, yellowtail, salmon, black tobiko, cilantro and avocado in the “Summer in Vail” roll Aycock created.
“Everyone is a little more health conscious in the mountains and we wanted to do some rolls with cucumber and no rice, to offer people a lower carb option,” he said. “We wanted to see how it would go and it’s turned out to be a really popular item on our menu.”
While Aycock is proud of the entire menu, there’s one dish that screams – in a demure way, of course – what the two chefs are trying to say. Namely the Saikyo Hoisin Yellowtail sashimi special. Precise rectangles of yellowtail are stuffed with a combination of blond miso, hoisin and cilantro, topped with a sliver of jalapeno, and served with a citrusy yuzu sumiso sauce. It’s a single, perfect bite.
“The blond miso has a really delicate flavor,” Aycock said. “We have so many people come in again and again for that and say ‘give me a double order this time.’
“We wanted to focus on creating rolls that were innovative and different flavor profile then all the normal rolls,” he continued. “You have to have the spicy tuna, rainbow and california rolls on there, but beyond that we wanted to drive forward with something that was never done before.”
On the starter-salad-appetizer-entree menu, the tempura coconut snow crab claws are a standout dish, especially because of the tasty mango plum honey mustard emulsion sauce. And speaking of sauces, you might be tempted to eat the coconut yuzu sauce served with the nori-crusted salmon entree with a spoon. The dish comes with steamed rice, grilled asparagus and arugula daikon salad.
“We want the sauce to highlight the seafood and not take away from the delicate flavors, but add more depth to each dish,” Aycock said.
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.
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