Yu Me Ya Sake House is one of those places that you will drive by a hundred times and still not notice until you overhear someone at a dinner party raving about it. While very modest on the outside, when you walk through the beaded curtain you step into a warm, stylish Japanese oasis inhabited by supermodels and other attractive beach types. OK, maybe they weren’t supermodels but it sure seemed like an unusually attractive crowd.
Pretty people aside, this place is for serious food lovers. There are 30 selections of cold and hot Japanese tapas — all below $8.
From the cold selections we had the tuna and avocado salad with citrus soy dressing, the BBQ beef salad, Japanese wild vegetable with squid which was unbelievable.
We followed that with Carpaccio (spicy tuna), avocado, on a wonton skin. On the hot side we had what we crudely referred to as undulating octopus balls. The name on the menu is Takoyaki Takoball. Takoyaki is fried or baked octopus and a popular Japanese dumpling made of batter, diced or whole baby octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion, topped with okonomiyaki sauce, and katsuobushi which are fish shavings, in this case shaved bonita flakes. They came out hot and the fish shavings on the top were dancing around from the heat, hence the undulating reference from my trusted sidekick Chef Zonfrilli. I think the sake was kicking in a bit at this point also. We also tried the Kurobuta pork sausage with mustard and they were a nice contrast to seafood we had been indulging in to that point. Nothing on the hot tapas menu is over $6, very nice.
So this gets even better. As it turns out, udon noodles have a devoted cult following that has identified Yu Me Ya as one of the best in San Diego. I must admit, I’ve always enjoyed a good bowl of udon, but never really had a “wow” experience with them. Until now that is. First off a little bit about the family behind the food. Yuka Nakai and her father Kiyohiro run the restaurant and hail from the Kagawa region of Japan which is famous for their udon. Kiyohiro makes them from scratch daily and this care and attention is evident in every bite of these thick and tasty noodles. You can get them plain with green onion and sesame seed, kitsune style with braised fried thin sliced tofu, wakame with fresh seaweed, sansai which includes Japanese wild vegetable, or tempura. I don’t think you can miss with any of these versions and they all come in under $10. The more I think about those noodles while writing about them, the more I need to make it a point to get back there very soon.
We also tried the kakiage mixed tempura and one of the best I’ve ever had. It was a sample of onion, carrot, string beans and shrimp with a light, transparent, delicate tempura batter.
They also offer hot pots that include Sukiyaki and Shabu-Shabu is a Japanese variant of hot pot. The dish is related to sukiyaki in style, where both use thinly sliced meat and vegetables, and usually served with dipping sauces. It is considered a winter dish but is eaten year-round. Check ahead to see if these are available per their request. There is also a variety of sushi rolls including the traditional California and spicy tuna varieties. I’m sure they are delicious but with all the unique, wonderful items on the menu we did not venture into the rolls.
There is a wide variety of Japanese beers on tap along with one of the most extensive sake lists I’ve ever seen. They take their sake seriously here but are happy to guide you along should you be a novice. Dessert consists of a simple variety of vanilla, green tea, and red bean ice cream and an almond tofu with honey lemon sauce.
Be forewarned, this is a very popular place and I would highly suggest a reservation. They are located at 1246 N. Coast Highway 101 in Leucadia. Call (760) 633-4288 for reservations.
Coast News Lick the Plate columnist David Boylan is celebrating 10 years and 500 columns with the Coast News in 2019! His feature covers the ever expanding North County culinary scene that includes restaurants, culinary personalities, trends, observations, tributes and his popular takeover column where area businesses, bands or teams contribute to the column. Lick the Plate has also been a popular radio show for the past eight years in San Diego on 100.7 KFMB, and on stations in Detroit, Michigan, Windsor Ontario and Traverse City, Michigan. Besides the column and radio show, David runs Tatonka Digital & Analog, a boutique marketing agency headquartered in Oceanside, California. Reach him with show suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lick-the-plate.com