There are plenty of people in Utah Valley who already know about Yamato Japanese Restaurant in Orem -- we witnessed a steady flow of traffic when we dined there on a recent Thursday night. For those not yet familiar with Yamato, which has been quietly satisfying local diners' craving for sushi and other Nipponese cuisine since 1997, a delightful discovery awaits.
Yamato is located on a busy and decidedly unprepossessing stretch of State Street in Orem, but step through its door and you'll hardly recall that cars are whizzing past a couple of dozen feet from where you'll be sitting. There's a welcoming ambience created by the soft lighting and wood-panel decor in the dining area, which has special booths for patrons who would rather kneel than sit.
Plan to make several visits if you have a hard time making up your mind. There are more than 30 different sushi creations on the menu, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. You can order several varieties of beef, chicken and pork, choose seafood entrees ranging from calamari rings and grilled shrimp to soft shell crab and sashimi-style tuna. There are soups, salads, vegetable and noodle entrees and even authentic Korean barbecue.
We chose the Caterpillar Roll, Shrimp Tempura Roll and the Liz Roll from the sushi menu, though we were tempted by such exotic creations as the Captain Nemo (which features spicy octopus, squid and clam), the Crunch Monster Roll (with shrimp, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber and eel sauce) and the Tiger Claw (yellow tail, tuna and salmon).
The sushi at Yamato is almost as much art as food -- the Caterpillar Roll looked like it could have blended right into a Hayao Miyazaki movie -- but there's no mistaking its true purpose once you bite into it. We had no trouble getting through all three generous rolls, even without everyone in our party claiming an equal portion.
We also tried the Tonkatsu, a breaded pork loin, and the chicken Yakiniku, thin-sliced meat and vegetables served over rice. The Tonkatsu comes with a savory sauce that brings out the flavor in the meat, and the light breading was just right. The Yakiniku, also available with beef instead of chicken, was a favorite with everyone at the table, including our 10-month-old daughter.
Yamato also has a children's menu, and its portions for young diners are as generous as its sushi rolls and entrees. The Gyoza (dumplings) plate more than satisfied our 6-year-old.
If you need to whet your appetite before deciding whether to make a visit, there's an array of photos available at the restaurant's website, www.yamatogo.com. Checking out the website reminded me of our experience with the sushi rolls. The food is great to look at, but tastes even better than it looks.