Upon entering Yamato Steakhouse of Japan visitors are greeted with the aroma of hibachi.
That would be the distinct smells of steak, chicken, seafood and vegetables sizzling on a giant Japanese griddle known as a hibachi grill.
It’s a delightful smell, and that is perhaps why Kevin Chen, the owner of Yamato, located the hibachi grill so near the door. Maybe some of that smell escapes out into the parking lot of the strip mall on U.S. 90 where the new restaurant is located.
Something is bringing the customers in.
I visited with my family on a recent weekday at 5:45 p.m. and was surprised to see the restaurant was nearly full. A black-clad server took my wife, our three-month-old daughter, our 3-year-old son and me to a table in the very back of the restaurant.
We sat beside another family with small kids.
I sat down at our butcher-block-style table and looked across at the dad sitting next to us. He looked tired, but I guess I could detect some happiness in him, to be sitting with his family in a relaxed but nice-feeling restaurant.
Yamato’s hum is one of the pleasantest things about eating there, along with the way they’ve divided up their dining room into many private-feeling areas. Sitting at our table I noticed the sounds of the hibachi chef clanging his spatulas on the griddle carried all the way to the back of the restaurant. And, upbeat pop music playing softly over the speakers added to the hum (“da da doo doot-n just dance…”). I felt comforted knowing the clatter of our 3-year-old stabbing his fork into a glass of ice water would not disturb many of our fellow diners.
We ordered one item off the hibachi menu, the Hibachi Dinner ($11.95) and one item off the sushi menu, the American Dream roll ($11.95).
The standard salad and miso soup of hibachi restaurants arrived before our mains. The roll arrived next, and I decided American Dream was an appropriate name for it. The roll was thick and had been cut into big, mouth-filling pieces. The mix of sauces squirted over the roll really set the Star-Spangled Banner to playing for me, though. Those sauces added a sweetness to the roll that accompanied the richness of the roll’s salmon and eel pieces. Tempura bits nestled inside with some minced tuna added a nice crunch to the affair. The whole thing was bold and indulgent.
Our Hibachi Dinner arrived soon after, two thin salmon steaks sitting on top of a bed of rice and vegetables. The salmon had been peppered, glazed and seared. The sear created a wonderful firmness — almost crunchiness — I don’t usually associate with salmon. The glaze and pepper added a nice combination of sweet and spicy. The veggies that came with the dish — broccoli and zucchini — almost stole the show from the salmon. Both the vegetables had been hibachi-ed to that wonderful firm-soft state that is hard to achieve and rare to find in restaurants (in my experience restaurant broccoli is often steamed to mushy oblivion).
I spoke with Chen briefly before leaving the restaurant, and he told me that the Bay St. Louis Yamato is only the most recent of his family’s ventures; they own seven other restaurants in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Yamato Steakhouse of Japan
What: Asian comfort food — big, bold rolls and hibachi-fried meat and veggies — in a pleasantly noisy environment.
Specials: For lunch, pick any three standard sushi rolls for $11.99
Where: 603 U.S. 90, Suite 7, Bay St. Louis
When: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.