Some elements of Japanese cuisine are a real oddity. Renowned for their exquisite use of ingredients and carefully crafted dishes, the Japanese are also responsible for the practice of ordering ramen from a digital screen and eating in an isolated stall. Such a paradox is found at Yayoi in Cupertino, where patrons digitally order traditional comfort food.
Scrolling through food pictures from a wall-mounted tablet hardly seems welcoming, yet there is an unforeseen advantage—guests are left alone to dine in peace, as everything can be ordered with the touch of a button.
Yayoi, once known as Yayoi-ken, served European food starting in 1886 in Japan. Now their Teishoku cuisine has spread worldwide—another location opened in Palo Alto early last year. Teishoku is a set meal aimed at providing balance and nutrition. The mainstay of Teishoku is a specially milled rice called Kinme-mai, which has the benefits of brown rice within a white rice grain. We enjoyed this rice in the two meal sets we ordered for dinner. The miso katsu teishoku ($15.50) featured a pork cutlet in miso sauce, a side of marinated cold tofu, miso soup and a slow-cooked egg. The meal is served as a set on a square plastic tray. The pork was a bit thick and dry, but the katsu breading and dark miso sauce were a good preparation for the meat. The rich and heavy sauce paired well with Kinme-mai rice, while the slow-cooked egg melted over everything to add a silky texture from the runny egg yolk.
The Hitsumbushi ($22) set came with barbecued eel over rice and a side of dashi broth, Nagoya style. The unagi, or barbecued eel, is glazed with a special sauce and cut into thin slices. After adding rice, eel pieces and green onions to the bowl, dashi broth can be poured from a spout to create a soup. The dashi broth is a bit plain, but the concept is comforting and refreshing in the same style as ochazuke, a dish served with tea as the broth. For those who don’t like soupy rice, the dashi broth can be omitted and still result in a satisfying meal.
After patrons order the food, the menu screen shows exactly where the dish is in the process (ordered, cooking and finishing). Waiters serve everything as it’s ready but otherwise leave the party alone. For anyone who complains about suffocating or inattentive service, this flight attendant style here—diners have a call button—could be the perfect option. We used this feature to get extra water, bowls and utensils. The ordering system also allows the kitchen to prepare appetizers first.
Salmon carpaccio ($9) was the first of our dishes to arrive. Slices of salmon came laid out on red onion slivers dressed with a simple citrus-shoyu dressing and microgreens garnish. The fish quality was adequate and the entire dish was a satisfying starter. Next came the asari sakamushi ($9), a bowl of steamed littleneck clams garnished with microgreens and lemon slices. The broth was only mildly sweet from the juices of the clam. Like the salmon carpaccio, the quality of the clams was average, but overall the dish did its job to whet our appetites.
For dessert, we finished with matcha anmitsu ($8), a bowl of green tea ice cream with red beans, agar jelly, fruit and a strong black sugar syrup to drizzle on top. The classic Japanese combination of green tea ice cream and red beans were a hit, made even more refreshing with agar jelly cubes and cocktail fruit. The black sugar syrup tasted almost herbal rather than sweet, providing a nice contrast to the other elements.
We settled our bill at the counter, having the last of just a few human interactions during the whole dining experience.
In a time when so many things are automated, dining at Yayoi strikes a balance between friendly staff and the advantages of computerized ordering. For diners who want privacy and comfort, this environment works well. For those who want a more personalized and attentive experience, Yayoi may feel a bit distant.
But the dining experience and expansion of a new cuisine to the Bay Area cuisine make it a worthy attraction. Reservations are highly recommended.
20682 Homestead Rd, Cupertino