COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE – Bangkok suffers from no shortage of Japanese restaurants. You can find them hidden in seedy back sois and over-exposed in sprawling shopping malls. In this sea of run-of-the-mill California Rolls and conveyor belt sushi, it takes a special talent to stand apart from the crowd, a feat that one of the latest entrants to Bangkok’s sushi scene manages with aplomb.
Yellow Tail Sushi Bar (better known by its abbreviation – YTSB) opened in the Vie Hotel earlier this year to surprisingly little fanfare. The underground murmurs about this upscale space focus on the man at the front of the bamboo board, the young Tokyo-trained sushi expert, Chef Yoji Kitayama.
At YTSB, the kitchen serves as a stage for Kitayama’s talents. The chef and his team display their skills in an elegant environment, surrounded by shelved bottles of sake and traditional Japanese decor. This ornate maximalism spreads throughout the restaurant’s entire minutia.
Upon sitting down, I was offered five sets of chopsticks, each with a different design. Waiters presented me with a “welcome dish” of grilled octopus and sundry variations of garnish.
These flourishes continued with a menu presented via iPad, rather than printed-paper. This however, turned into a greater bother than it was worth. The iPad menu forbade its users from selecting items, leaving the deluge of sushi and sashimi to be navigated by memory alone.
And YTSB’s menu is indeed massive. It features everything from wagyu to free-range chicken, but finds its element in imaginative sushi creations. Take the adventurous Sparky Roll (THB680) for example, which at first glance resembles a stir-fry. Deeper inspection reveals a roll of fish, avocado and asparagus underneath a blanket of tempura chips and spicy mayo. The Crunchy Roll (THB380) operates under a similar premise, with its tempura shrimp, asparagus and sweet soy sauce hiding in a forest of crispy tempura.
YTSB offers rare sake pairings with some of its sushi and sashimi. The Salmon Lover Roll (THB480), for instance, happens to go nicely with a cocktail called the Samurai (THB260). With lime juice, sake, vodka and dashes of wasabi, the Samurai tastes somewhat like an adult-strength lemonade.
While YTSB’s modern innovations offer plenty in the way of spectacle, the restaurant also has a solid grasp on the basics of its trade. Chef Kitayama renders a Spider Roll (THB420) in his own idiom, with the traditional soft shell crab deep-fried and rolled up with sprouts, cucumber and a white miso sauce drizzle. The sauce subtly tweaks the crab’s light and tangy seasoning. As the restaurant’s name suggests, the best sashimi is the Hamachi or yellow tail (THB90). Despite being one of the menu’s cheapest items, it’s a clear highlight. I’m also a big fan of saba (THB400), a simple grilled mackerel. YTSB gives the fish added punched with a choice of salt or teriyaki seasoning. To make it easy, you can order the chef’s selection set of sashimi or sushi, both of which cost THB2,500.
For dessert, I had the daifuku mochi, a traditional, jelly-like mochi ball split in half to reveal a creamy center of strawberries and chocolate sauce. The treat boasted a splendid taste, which lost points thanks to an unpleasant, slippery texture.
The service at YTSB was some of the best I’ve experienced in Bangkok. The restaurant’s staff was capable of explaining dishes and ingredients precisely and clearing the empty plates with brisk attention. Plus, watching Chef Kityama at work adds to the pleasure of any meal. YTSB’s food was amazing, but it’s the authenticity that helps this sushi joint rise above its Bangkok brethren.
3rd Floor, VIE Hotel Bangkok, Phayathai Road
Open daily 6pm to 11pm
Photos: Barbara Woolsey