Sushi Yama made a splash when it opened in 2006, standing out from a moribund local sushi scene by offering dishes with high-quality fish, prepared with a greater degree of skill and technique than commonly found in Baton Rouge at the time.
Twelve years later, it still does sushi with a more traditional approach, using fewer ingredients with light, delicate, fresh flavors in contrast to some of the more perverse offerings that show up in some sushi houses, where you'll find too many ingredients, gloppy sauces and deep fried everything slathered in Japanese mayo. It’s enough to make a true sushi lover commit hara-kiri.
Nestled in a shopping center on Perkins Road near Essen Lane, Sushi Yama is a large space, its walls adorned only with small Japanese or fish-themed art. You can sit at one of the many tables and booths or belly up to the sushi bar where you can watch a squad of white-clad sushi chefs display their skills and handiwork up close.
A Saturday night visit found Sushi Yama full and boisterous — a fun atmosphere, but sometimes a bit too loud to carry on any intimate conversation. Upon being seated, we were greeted by a complimentary crab and cucumber salad topped with toasted sesame seeds. It was a brisk and fresh beginning to our meal, whetting our appetites for more to come.
We began with a snow crab egg roll appetizer ($4.50), two rolls which arrived cut on the bias and covered in a flaky wrapper, crispy and light. The filling was creamy and mild, but bland. Lacking the sweet and briny flavor usually associated with snow crab, it needed soy sauce or some of the duck sauce provided to ramp up the flavor. The duck sauce was tasty, sweet and tangy, bearing no resemblance to the day-glo pink version familiar to most Chinese takeout places.
Next up were a pair of sushi rolls, the George ($15) and the Rock & Roll ($15). The George roll is a medium-sized roll filled with spicy tuna, cucumber, bits of crunchy batter and cool, creamy avocado. Topped with eel sauce, finely chopped scallions and crunchy panko, it was a hit and devoured quickly.
The Rock & Roll is a classic choice because it has many of the ingredients that make sushi rolls such delectable treats. Tempura shrimp, snow crab, avocado and masago (fish roe) are wrapped snugly in soy paper and topped with eel sauce. This roll packs a spicy punch, with a crunchy texture and a sweet finish. It didn’t last much longer than the George. Rock & Rolls can be found in most sushi bars, but what sets Sushi Yama's apart is its deft touch, always light and never heavy or overdone.
Sushi Yama hangs its hat on the quality of its fish, and it shows. A sampling of nigiri yielded buttery smooth melt-in-your-mouth salmon, its richness complemented by the sweet and vinegary tang of the rice; beautifully textured dark red tuna that was bold and satisfying; and mackerel, or saba, which was smoky, oily and strong flavored, but never fishy. The saba's pungency was cut by a topping of aromatic shaved ginger, thinly sliced scallion and citrusy lemon zest. The strong taste of saba isn’t for everyone, but if you like bold flavors, it can’t be beat.
Service at Sushi Yama is polite and attentive, if a bit intrusive — not enough to feel rushed, but we had to break off conversation several times to assure our server that we hadn’t yet made up our minds. Maybe it was just the busy night, but a little more breathing room and time would have been welcome.
Complimentary sliced pineapple accompanied the check, giving a fresh, sweet finish to a delightful meal. Most good food is simple, and skillful technique allows fresh, high-quality ingredients to shine through. It’s proven to be a winning formula for Sushi Yama, which continues to hold its place among the best in Baton Rouge.
WHERE: 7731 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
INFO: (225) 767-8880 or sushiyama.co
PROS: Fresh foods, prepared with a deft touch
CONS: Slightly intrusive service; bland snow crab roll