On a recent Friday a group of friends and I stopped by Yakko Japanese Restaurant, tucked away on Dana Street toward the edge of the Mountain View business and residential area. We were warmly welcomed by the wait staff and sushi chef, Leon Hong, and were left with pots of green tea and a carafe of ice water. While we could have opted for more traditional low tables in the back, we quickly learned it was an advantage to be within sight of the chef.
He began by starting us off with an amuse bouche of fresh, cold tofu with hints of sesame and onion, which was refreshing and tasty. We studied the menu and found funny names for the sushi such as Hot Night, White Night, New Girlfriend and yes, The Screaming Orgasm. Just imagine turning to the fresh-faced waitress and prefacing any of these with, "I want a ... "
I ordered a combo dinner ($16) with veggie tempura and chose California rolls as my accompaniment. They were so tasty. The miso soup was great, the salad topped with tangy dressing, and the tempura hot and crispy, with green beans, onions, broccoli, Japanese pumpkin, zucchini and potato. It was a nicely done but standard assortment. This meal also comes with ice cream at the end, which makes it a good choice for the least adventurous or youngest of your dining companions. The extensive menu features nigiri, soba, udon, hot pot, tempura and specialty rolls.
We ordered maguro ($5, tuna) sake ($5, salmon) and hamachi ($6, yellowtail). Everything was fresh and the knife work was excellent, and we appreciated the extra crunch of scallion.
Yakko features some unusual rolls to match the unusual names. The White Night ($10) includes six servings of tuna sashimi and avocado wrapped with soybean paper, which we hadn't seen anywhere else. It was very good, but could use a bit more rice.
The New Girlfriend ($15) was another roll that we thought was fairly unusual and had exquisite knife work, with beautiful scrolls of cucumber decorating the plate. Six rolls of eel and soft-shell crab (a spicy spider roll) were wrapped in cucumber.
The Screaming Orgasm ($15) was the only dish we didn't completely fall in love with. It's simply tuna with ponzu sauce and daikon, and while it was good, we weren't all convinced that the ponzu and daikon were completely complementary.
The Thanksgiving roll ($18) had lobster tail and crab mixed in a creamy salad with a hint of heat, surrounded by shrimp tempura and avocado rolls, and was a hit at our table, especially since I seldom see lobster tail at our local sushi restaurants.
Our stomachs quickly filling up, we watched the chef add sauce to something that looked like a fried haystack. He looked at us eyeing him and said, "Do you want one?" We nodded eagerly and soon after he brought one to our table.
"What is it?" we asked.
"The Temptation roll!" he answered proudly.
We laughed. It had worked on us. A mass of fried potato strings, accompanied by eel, avocado and green-onion rolls wrapped in fried potato noodles ($12), it became a fast favorite. "I've been a sushi chef for 15 years and I love it, but I also love meat and cheese and potato and I've been trying to find ways to incorporate them. One day, I will do it with the other two!" Hong said.
At lunch the following week, Yakko was packed. The staff still found a seat for me quickly while I read about the $1.99 hot-sake happy hours Monday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The lunch box special ($10.95) featured two gyoza, two California rolls, chicken teriyaki, pork katsu, shrimp tempura, rice, salad and miso. This was an incredible value. The gyoza melted in my mouth; the shrimp was juicy; the tempura carrot was thick and hot, and I could sink my teeth into it; and the potato was fried to perfection. The only part that wasn't just right was the katsu, a breaded pork cutlet that was dry. I was plied with green tea and smiles, and the salad had a light yet peppery dressing that was refreshing.
Yakko is one on the most enduring restaurants in downtown Mountain View, opened 35 years ago under previous ownership. Hong has been the chef/owner here for the past 15 years and greets patrons as they enter and leave. His infectious enthusiasm and warmth makes this feel like a neighborhood hangout you want to return to again and again.
Yakko Japanese Restaurant
975 W Dana St., Mountain View
Hours: Lunch: Weekdays 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Dinner: Mon.-Thu. and Sun., 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5:30-10 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Alcohol: beer and wine
Outdoor dining: yes
Party facilities: no
Noise level: fine
Bathroom cleanliness: fine
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