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December 20th, 2006 LIZ CRAIN | Food Reviews & Stories
 

The Sinister Side Of Yakuza

Swank Northeast sushi spot runs hot and cold.

     
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It's not surprising that Yakuza, a new Northeast Killingsworth Street sushi spot, was broken into two days after opening this fall, as the stylish house-with-glass-windows space screams money. The small restaurant's lush design includes custom-crafted reclaimed wood and an impressive gallery of sake and wine.

Among other things, the thieves made off with armloads of valuable green—hundreds of dollars' worth of whole wasabi.

Chef-owner Micah Camden, formerly of Cobras & Matadors and 750 mL, hopes for some painful poetic justice. "I'd really like it if he or she [the thief] took a big, unknowing bite out of one of those roots—fresh wasabi is really powerful stuff."

So is the menu, which is twofold at Yakuza. Camden works the front-of-the-house hot line while sushi chef Ian Skomski mans the small back-of-the-house sushi bar.

Plump starters include fried shoelace potatoes ($6) and a miso-garlic Caesar ($8) piled high with romaine spears and topped with pan-fried, thinly sliced shallots. Both dishes gather dining-room attention like a well-stacked sundae. A heaping plate of long, paper-thin, salt-dusted potato, topped with fried fresh basil and cilantro, goes well with a crisp Japanese beer—Hitachino white ale ($7) is on tap—and is ideal for honing chopstick skills.

Moving on to sushi, the chef's choice sashimi plate for two ($30) is fresh, diverse and artfully prepared, but more a plate for one unless you've had your stomach stapled. Fill up with the cucumber salad ($4)—a simple and tasty, generously portioned side with large sections of juicy Japanese ribbed cucumber in a rice-wine vinaigrette. The special rolls, unlike the sashimi in general, are worth their featherweight. The pear, avocado and yellowtail roll ($10) topped with thinly sliced (as in razor-thin) chiles is a delicious synergy of sweet, buttery and spicy.

As for cooked-foods, the beer-braised beef short ribs ($16) are rich and savory, served with creamy polenta and a dark, slightly sweet braise sauce. If you can (Yakuza's menu changes weekly), try the fried Chinese long beans ($6) smacked with traditional full flavor—diced scallions, garlic and chiles in a tasty soy-rich sauce.

Drinks are varied and include a nice array of cold sakes ranging from $5 to $9 a cup.

Valid complaints thus far: skinny sushi offerings and uncoordinated service. Some nights when food takes a long time en route to the table, there is little or no communication or apology.

Still, Yakuza is boldly cornering a 'hood niche for itself. And despite the name (Yakuza does mean a member of Japanese organized crime), this Yakuza's only weapons are those sharpened and set to use in the two small, exposed kitchens.


Yakuza, 5417 NE 30th St., 450-0893. Dinner 5-9 pm Wednesday through Sunday. $-$$ Inexpensive-Moderate.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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