The competition continues to heat up in the sushi niche of the Bakersfield restaurant market, and one of the places ramping up the heat in more ways than one is downtown’s newest Japanese restaurant, Yamato Sushi & Bar.
It’s located on 19th Street, just east of Chester Avenue in what was the long-time home of Enso Japanese Bar, which moved into the old Wall Street Cafe location on L Street some time ago. Yamato is ready to go fin to fin with its competitors by offering some distinctive choices, tossing free samples to new customers to build good will and interesting presentation touches like serving rolls with a tiny electronic light on the plate to add a bit of visual pizzazz.
All that’s good, but the freshness of the fish was what impressed us on our visit, when we ordered a house salad ($4.50), shrimp and vegetable tempura ($7.95), a fried garlic albacore roll ($11.95) and a baked salmon roll ($11.95).
There were many other interesting choices that we passed on, including appetizers and rolls using salmon skin. Call me unsophisticated, but I’ve thought salmon skin, unlike say chicken skin, was something to endure or tolerate, not savor. I know I’m probably in the minority on this, as I’ve read other writers comparing its savory taste, when crisped properly, to bacon, and who doesn’t love bacon? Maybe I just haven’t found the right restaurant for it. Other tempting choices here included Philadelphia tempura roll ($9.95) with deep-fried salmon and avocado (there’s a page full of tempura rolls), a baked crawfish roll ($12.95), the crystal onion roll ($12.95) with fried onions, spicy tuna and avocado.
Besides the salmon skin, the kitchen makes frequent use of fried slices of garlic, and these are killer with sushi. The roll we tried had these brown, nutty slivers on top of tuna, green onions, with avocado and real crab. (The menu uses the word “real,” and we all know why. The difference in taste has always been too significant for me.)
This roll was amazing. We usually approach sushi at a slow pace; it just seems a fit for the fare, but that roll was gone before our personable server Maya was back to ask how everything was. The orchestration of flavors and textures was flawless.
Not that it stood out from the other food on the table. Before our food arrived, we were served a complimentary bowl of edamame (which were not too salty — a plus in my book) and a filet of grilled salmon, compliments of the house. A friend who recommended this place said the owners are prone to send over samples of whatever they think you’d like as a good-will gesture, especially if they don’t recognize you. The grilled salmon was simply prepared, thin and still in its bones and skin. A nice welcome.
No complaints about the tempura: two long shrimp and a nice mix of vegetables, including potatoes, yams and green beans. The baked salmon roll also had avocado and crab meat on the outside with baked salmon, masago eggs (which come from a type of smelt), green onions and a spicy mayo on top. Not as innovative to us as the other roll, but just as satisfying. The sauces are a more restrained presence than what some places offer, which I prefer. I want to taste the ocean, and you can here.
The menu also includes lunch and dinner entrees, appetizers, poke bowls, nine different soups and the usual suspects of the sushi world, such as Volcano roll, dragon roll and a frequent use of jalapenos, even an appetizer called heart attack that features deep-fried jalapenos stuffed with spicy tuna and cream cheese. You know I’ll be ordering that in the future, even if the health consequences are found right there in the name.
Beers on tap include Sapporo and 805, and a generous pour of the house chardonnay is only $6. No wine list, but there are 10 sakes on that list.
Yamato Sushi & Bar can be recommended for a fine dining experience.