Ya Gotta Love Yama

Culinary Corner

(Photos courtesy of Yama Asian Fusion)

by Charles Jenkin

Yama means ‘mountain’ in Japanese. In this case, it means a mountain of excellent Asian cuisine.

And you don’t have to climb Mount Fuji to enjoy the delicacies at Yama Asian Fusion. Located in the Shops at Morrison in SouthPark, you either have to know the place is there or maybe you drove by it while going through the shopping center. Most likely, you were given a recommendation to give them a try.

Obviously, plenty of folks are very familiar with Yama, as they are busy most lunch and dinner times; especially on the weekends, when reservations are highly recommended for tables. You may find seating at the bar, or at the sushi bar.

Yama opened in November 2007 and has enjoyed a very strong following since arriving on the south Charlotte culinary scene. A contemporary atmosphere greets you upon entering, with lovely accents of the Orient. Comfortably padded seats invite you to stay and enjoy at the sushi bar or at the tables. Rich wood tones with gold and red accent set the mood for delectable Asian fare. The main dining area is separated by an attractive, wooden lattice-type screen and polished hardwood tables add to the upscale look. The second dining room is a combination of tables and comfy booths. The tables can easily be combined to accommodate larger parties.

Of course, it’s really about the food, starting with the sushi and sashimi. When you’re a busy eatery, you have the ability to offer ultra-fresh ingredients, so important with uncooked seafood. Yama utilizes one top supplier, which affords them consistency in quality and availability of fresh fish flown in from around the world.  Yama often purchases whole fish and cuts it on site. You can even order special requests – they are happy to accommodate. The sushi, or rolls of rice and seafood, as well as the sashimi, the thin strips of raw fish draped over rice balls, have been excellent on every visit to Yama.

Deliciously perfect for sharing, be sure to sample the Yama Special Rolls… not necessarily all 30 at one sitting. The Crazy Tuna Roll contains seared tuna with avocado, topped with spicy tuna, tempura flakes, masago, scallion and crazy sauce (they won’t tell me what’s in it). The Kenton Roll includes eel and cucumber topped with seared tuna, scallion and masago with eel sauce. If your still on the fence about eating the completely uncooked, consider the Crispy Bagel Roll, with its smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, wrapped with rice and then lightly fried. Or, go for the scrumptious Spider Roll – tempura soft shell crab with avocado, cucumber & masago. And for a special treat, consider the King Crab with tempura shrimp, Alaska king crab, masago and scallion. Pour a little soy sauce, to which I like to add a slice of the pickled ginger (I know it’s for eating between bites, but I like what it adds to the soy sauce). A dab of wasabi, my favorite condiment and a quick dip in the sauce and it’s culinary bliss on the palate.

In addition to great sushi, there are more than 20 appetizers to consider. Options include fried calamari; lightly battered rings with sweet dashi and spicy aioli. How about panko-crusted fried oysters? Signature selections abound, as in the Salmon Mango Blossom – salmon mixed with mango in honey yuzu dressing on top of cucumber flowers; wow! Great to share is the tempura appetizer; ever so lightly battered and fried shrimp and vegetables arrive with sweet dashi dipping sauce. The edamame is salty good for sharing; and most scrumptious is the Shu Mai, traditional Chinese dumplings; these are steamed shrimp dumplings you may not want to share.

Are you fond of hibachi? Who isn’t? At Yama, you can enjoy the wonderful tastes of flash-cooked meats, seafood and vegetables from a hot flat grill without the show or having your clothes assume the aromas of the dinner cooked at your table – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Another aspect is the price; you’re not paying for the hibachi chef’s culinary show, which we all enjoy from time to time. Chicken, steak, shrimp, scallops and filet mignon all are available, either solo or in tandem. The dinner is complete with clear soup, a house salad, vegetables and fried rice. My guests and I found our hibachi dinners to be very good, very filling and reasonably priced.

In addition to all the sushi and hibachi, Yama also offers an excellent array of entrees. Black Cod Yama Style – pan seared Alaskan black cod served with fresh pineapple sauce or black bean sauce. Chicken Yaki Udon – stir-fry Japanese Udon noodles with chicken, shitake mushroom, asparagus, napa cabbage and scallion. Panko-Crusted Fish Filet – Katsu-style fried filet with sweet dashi dipping sauce and spicy aioli. Truly outstanding is the Teriyaki Salmon – grilled sashimi-grade Scottish salmon with homemade teriyaki sauce. Yes, you can get steak. They offer a grilled filet mignon, topped with a drizzling of ginger-soy demi-glace.

Save room to at least share a dessert. Consider the Japanese-style green tea crème brulee; or the tempura banana – lightly fried banana with a touch of chocolate and served with ice cream; yum. In fact, just the green tea or red bean ice creams are great sweet finishes.

A full wine list offers many by the glass for pairing. There’s even a half dozen or more imported beers from the Orient. Yama offers another unique opportunity. The extensive sake program allows you to choose from more than 50 selections, one of the largest to be found in the area. Regular sake tasting events take place on weeknights with six different sakes to sample, along with hors d’oeuvres. If a signature cocktail with an Oriental flare is more your style, order a Gingertini – muddled ginger with Domaine de Canton, Smirnoff Vodka, a splash of ginger ale and garnished with a pickled ginger stem. Or perhaps a Tokyo Glow – Absolut Citron, lemon juice, and mandarin liqueur served up with a sugared rim.

Yama Asian Fusion’s success is the result of passion, dedication and experience; along with a very supportive family. Birdie Yang is a native of Fujian Province, China; it’s known as the “Charleston of China” because seafood is prevalent. Birdie’s family moved to New York City in the 1980s and as a teen he worked in several restaurants. In 1999, his family opened a restaurant in Charleston, S.C., followed by a second location in 2003 in the Lake Norman area.  Both restaurants are enjoying continued success in the hands of other family members. Birdie’s wife, Janine Lu, takes care of marketing and social media for the restaurant. And Birdie’s dad, Larry Yang, is Yama’s head sushi chef; he trained in New York City as a sushi chef and worked for many years at the renowned Hatsuhana in Midtown East.

Have a question about sake? Just ask Birdie, who is a certified sake professional by the Sake Education Council (SEC). In fact, Birdie Yang has just returned from Japan where he completed and obtained the SEC’s Advanced Sake Professional certification; Official Level II – Advanced Sake Professional. Birdie is now one of only about 80 people with this designation in the world and the only one in the Carolinas. If you haven’t experienced specialty sakes, here’s a whole new world to explore; and Birdie can expertly guide you.

Yama’s extensive menu offers a tasty array of the selections you desire when you’re hankering for sushi, sashimi and culinary treats from the Orient; now add some delicious twists and you can see why reservations are necessary on the weekend nights. The servers are gracious and very knowledgeable regarding the menu. You will often see Birdie walking around the establishment, checking on tables, talking with guests and thanking you as you leave. I expect you will be thanking Birdie and his staff for an enjoyable dining experience.

Questions, comments, south Charlotte restaurant openings, closings

and food news, email -culinary@thecharlotteweekly.com.

Yama Asian Fusion

4 of  four  stars

720  Governor  Morrison  St.

Phone: 704-295-0905

Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.;
Friday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.;
Sunday, 5 to 10 p.m.

Details: Reservations accepted, large sake list

Visit: www.yamaasianfusion.com

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