When it opened in fall 2016, Yatai Ramen Izakaya seemed like a godsend. With Toyota planning a move to Plano, the region needed more casual Japanese restaurants to complement North Texas' top-flight selection of sushi. It’s hard to afford regular visits to Tei-An, Sushi Yokohama and Yutaka. Yatai, open in the heart of Plano, looks promising: It’s appealingly decorated, has an endearing playlist of kitschy J-Pop and boasts a long menu of favorites like ramen, dumplings, rice bowls, teriyaki and okonomiyaki, all at very reasonable prices.
Will Yatai help Dallas find casual, tavern-style Japanese culinary bliss? Unfortunately, a recent visit suggested the answer is no. We sampled four items; the best was the humble daikon salad ($4.80), thin ribbons of the radish dressed simply and presented beautifully. Oddly enough, the salad came with a bonus salad (the lettuce kind) on the side.
The rest of the dishes ranged from puzzling to poor. Shumai, the beloved steamed shrimp dumplings, arrived not steamed but deep-fried, with a golden brown exterior ($4.80). Surprising and unconventional, but hey, they still tasted good. (What doesn’t when you deep-fry it?)
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A bowl of spicy tonkotsu ramen ($9.50) definitely wasn’t joking around about being spicy, but it also brought a big hit of saltiness, the kind that leaves you spending the rest of the afternoon draining and refilling water bottles. Ramen is supposed to be salty, but not this much. And compared with other restaurants around town, the toppings – two slices of smoky one-note pork, half an egg, maybe four bamboo shoots and a half-cup of green onions – felt scant.
Most glaring, though, was the veggie tempura ($4.80). An easy one, we thought, guaranteed to be good. The technique behind tempura may be tricky for newbies, but it’s not so hard to master with some practice. Someone at Yatai, sadly, hasn’t been practicing. Some of our veggies (like carrot and eggplant) arrived with an unpleasant stiff-but-chewy texture, like cardboard, and one (sweet potato) had a pocket of totally uncooked flour which burst open in my mouth. Even the onion ring had no delicacy or appeal. Yikes.
Yatai has some things going for it. The atmosphere is cute, with a handful of tables surrounding a long bar and open kitchen. The salads and subtler foods are done well. There’s a lot of booze, including affordable sake and plum wine. But none of the food I’ve tried at Yatai Ramen Izakaya has me excited to go back. Despite six months of experience since opening, they’ve got plenty of work to do yet. Maybe practice will make perfect.
Yatai Ramen Izakaya, 2001 Coit Road #140, Plano. 972-212-4674, yatairamen.com