JACKSONVILLE — One pleasant weekend, my husband and I were lucky enough to stumble onto the pot of gold that is Yamato Japanese Sushi and Steakhouse in Jacksonville.
On a trip north, we did a quick search for a restaurant stop for lunch. It was between Japanese or the classic hamburger, so we ended up choosing Yamato, and I must say, it was a fabulous choice.
The restaurant is situated on the corner of a small strip mall. It’s pretty unassuming from the outside, but the inside is sleek and comfortable. The menu was full of appealing options, making the act of choosing quite difficult.
However, we finally settled on the Crazy Plate for an appetizer. For a surprising $6.45, we were able to sample two helpings of four different appetizer options — gyoza, Japanese spring rolls, lobster rangoons and fried shumai.
The gyoza were so good. Yamato’s version had a darker, saltier flavor than I’m used to, and it was cooked to perfection. It carried less of the supple texture and more of a light, crunchy, sauteed feeling. This makes a great starter for any meal, although the focus on the meat leans toward hearty.
The lobster rangoon also was delicious. It had a thicker, darker breading than other versions, and there was a perfect balance between the crunch of the breading and the smoothness of the cream cheese inside. The flavor was sweet and savory, and I would recommend pairing it with a darker entree for balance.
The Japanese spring roll had a unique flavor that I believe can be attributed to the higher distribution of green vegetables and the prevalence of spices that reminded me of Indian cuisine. I was excited to find this divergence from the norm of spring rolls, especially because it still paired well with the sweet and sour sauce. This would be a perfect appetizer for a more experimental meal.
Last, but certainly not least, the fried shumai also were good. I had never tried shumai before, and I would equate it to something like a shrimp dumpling. It had superb thin and lightly crunchy breading. It was small, just wrapping around the shrimp and various veggies inside. Its light and clean flavor makes it perfect for an appetizer.
For one of our smaller entrees, we chose the yellowtail sashimi. I’m not a huge lover of raw fish, but my husband has come to love this branch of Japanese cuisine. From what we’ve sampled, it seems that the key to sashimi is its presentation. Some come served on a plain bed of rice, while others are served on more flavorful beds of vegetables like radish.
Yamato served its yellowtail sashimi on a bed of cucumber, which served as a conduit to soaking up the flavor of the fish without distracting from the fish’s flavor. The yellowtail itself is already a bold fish and does well as sashimi, accented by the salty finish.
We chose the yaki soba vegetable dish as another entree. It was absolutely incredible. I loved the flavor immensely. It was dark and lightly greasy. The veggies were cooked to perfection with a perfect amount of crisp, and the noodles carried them well. This is the first noodle based dish I have ever had that has rivaled Hunan’s lo mein.
For the two main dishes, we chose the Super Crunch Roll and the Tiger Roll. The Super Crunch Roll is made up of tempura shrimp and spicy snow crab wrapped in pink soy paper and topped with spicy mayo and eel sauce. I really enjoyed it. It had a round flavor with a spice that punches through. The composition is centered around the shrimp tempura and was accented by the lightness of the soy wrap. To add to the crunch factor, I think the roll could have benefited from a crunchy topper like crispy tempura flakes or onion strings.
The Tiger Roll was the biggest surprise in the meal. I have never had a roll like the Tiger Roll. With a combination like tuna, salmon and yellowtail amid avocado and cucumber wrapped in seaweed, I was expecting an extraordinarily fishy taste. However, it turned out to be incredibly light and delicious while still managing to be substantially filling.
From just looking at the roll, you can tell it was perfectly distributed. It comes with no sauce, which had me worrying about dryness. However, it was startlingly moist. The flavor of the fish punches through, and the cucumber and avocado tame the harsher tones and make the roll a light and lean package you can feel good about eating.
We finished the meal with a serving of mochi, a ball of sweet rice dough encapsulating ice cream. We were able to order a four-piece sampling with one of each of the flavors of mochi offered at Yamato. It was a delectable ending to a wonderful meal.
The chocolate was good but probably my least favorite flavor. The mango was light and perfectly sweet, different and much better than most mango flavors I’ve had. The green tea flavor was a delicious minty flavor that came in waves. The strawberry was the most incredible of the bunch. It had such a light and sweet flavor that sits on the roof of the back of your mouth and tongue. I was happy to take the final bite and keep that flavor with me after the meal.
Overall, Yamato Japanese Sushi and Steakhouse is a masterpiece that I wish was much closer to home, although I will definitely be making the hour-long trip to Jacksonville much more often than I used to, just to sample more of the menu. The service was fast, kind and effective without falling prey to oppressiveness. The presentation of the food was superb, and everything either exceeded or met expectations. It seems the staff at Yamato are sure of their quality, as they should be.
The restaurant is at 1800 S. Jackson St. in Jacksonville and is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.