Sushiyama, a quiet, neighborhood sushi bistro that closed at the end of 2012 on Forest Lane, has come back to life under a different name. Longtime customer Shigeikazu Tateno jumped on the lease the very next day, gave the place a new coat of paint and set about opening his own restaurant in its place. Now a little over a year old, Yama Sushi has settled in nicely once again as a neighborhood fixture. There was only one empty table available when I visited, late on a recent weeknight.
I grabbed a seat at the bar, doing my best to ignore an odor I can only describe as "urinal cake" that permeated the dining room. Customers used to complain of foul plumbing odors during the Sushiyama days, and apparently they've been masked in some way but not eliminated completely. It's not ideal, but did I mention the place was packed? I stayed to find out why.
As I sat at the bar looking at the menu boards, a young sushi chef struggled (and struggled) to skin a small piece of butterfish. It was a lot of work for two small slices of sushi, so I asked him if it was worth it, and he said he preferred amberjack. I asked him to add that to my order I'd placed a few moments before.
That's about when my salted dried mackerel arrived. My sushi arrived moments later, so I had to bounce back and forth between plates. This isn't the sort of place where you can expect the chefs and waitstaff to expertly set the pacing for your meal.
The salted mackerel isn't dried to the point of desiccation, but the salting does remove moisture, shrinking the flesh and concentrating the already fishy and oily flavors in the species is loved for. If you like tilapia, this is not your dish. An order of Spanish mackerel was dry and a little fishy, but tuna amberjack and yellow tail were fresh and neatly presented. My sweet shrimp were great, with big and meaty heads, and the rest of my meal passed muster but didn't particularly impress me as an exemplary sushi experience.
Instead, Sushi Yama seems like the kind of place you return to again and again after you've built a relationship with the chefs. As I pulled the spine out of my mackerel and dug into the second filet, a family of four walked in and grabbed that last table. One man from the group approached the bar and told the chef he wanted a meal for four, appetizers, grilled items, all the way into sushi. His table looked happy as I was leaving.
And I was mostly happy, too. My meal wasn't as good as some of the experiences I've enjoyed at Teppo or Tei Tei Robata, but the service was attentive, the crowd was interesting, and the dining room had an intimate, cozy appeal. If you're close by or otherwise curious, consider it.
Or if it's late... they're open till 2 a.m.
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