Yamato's serves complete lunch with no sacrificing
By: Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
I can't begin to list how many restaurants people try to cram a party of 8 plus people into for a birthday celebration. Many locally-owned restaurants, while having delicious food, tend to be on the smaller side. Let's face it: Good food is being sacrificed for available space. Again, these smaller places are some of my favorites in Gainesville, but they are not feasible options for large parties.
While it is not a cozy boutique or a posh Italian eatery, Yamato Japanese Steakhouse, off of Newberry Rd. behind McAlisters Deli, gives the complete meal experience. Not only do you get dinner and a "show," but it comfortably, and purposefully, seats a large party around a large hibachi stove top. You can dine in with your significant other and a few other smaller parties, or you can nicely gather a pile of partiers — I've seen up to 12 —around the same stove-top for more unique dining.
This was the case of one of those birthday dinners, and I was greatly looking forward to the location choice. I have eaten at Yamato multiple times since arriving in Gainesville four years ago (oh, how the time flies), and I have had nothing but delicious and fulfilling experiences. It is a dimly lit restaurant, complete with up to 10 hibachi stove-tops ready for viewing pleasure, but more on that soon.
Our large party crowded around the stove top table, and of course everyone went straight to the Teppan Yaki menu, where you will find the list of items ripe for the taking, a.k.a. ready to be grilled over the hibachi stove. I always order the steak and shrimp hibachi; it's good, it's filling, and how can you say no to surf and turf for $17 complete with a salad, soup, rice, noodles, and grilled veggies? All of these sides are included with any of the protein/veggie hibachi options. Yes, all of that is included. On this recent occasion, I mixed it up from my tried and true steak and shrimp option with a tofu protein main dish for the hibachi grill. Note: I am not in any way giving up on the steak and shrimp as a favorite or saying it should not be tried, as it is delicious. But I, your resident food adventurer, have to shake the palette up a bit every now and then.
So I'll take you through the night at Yamato's. Each stove-top has a chef assigned to it for the duration of the meal, along with a server. The server takes drink and meal orders, and the hibachi grilling starts soon after. This does not mean that sushi is not be an option; whenever I have ordered sushi at Yamoto I have been thoroughly satisfied, but when in Rome.... Anyway, after orders are taken, all those who selected hibachi start with a bowl of miso soup and a small ginger salad. I have never seen a time when servers did not bring out a bowl to everyone at the same time.
Shortly after the salad and soup are brought out, the chef arrives at the stove in front of everyone with my favorite part of the meal: the shrimp sauce. I slather the sauce on at every phase of the meal, from meat to veggie. Regardless of calorie count, for that one night, it is the most amazing addition to be consumed because it makes everything taste so much better.
The chef begins preparing fried rice, which at many dinners I have been to, is the unanimous favorite and many times replaces the noodles all together for a double side of rice. The meat for each person is brought out and tenderly cooked to each person's specifications. The chef does some spatula slight-of-hand with an egg or two, and we are all served piece by piece each stage of the meal.
When the veggies arrive, prepare for the onion volcano: A stack of raw onion rings, ascending in size as it is made to look like a volcano, is lit on fire in the middle of the stack with the help of some oil, creating an overwhelming gust of "lava" that is sure to warm your cheeks. These little tricks are a great way to stall the fact that each item has to be made separately to accommodate everyone at once, but it works in everyone's favor.
Once the veggies are grilled and served, noodles are then served — along with heaps more shrimp sauce — and the plate is full, so to speak (you've probably made a dent in some part of the meal somewhere, but it is a ton of food). A $17 price tag, or $11 for my tofu hibachi meal, can seem a bit too pricey, to which I agree for just another night out to eat. However, for a nicer or an out-of-the-box occasion, it is well worth it. Not to mention that the amount of food you get, from the soup and salad to start and the rice, noodles, veggies and meat to conclude, leaves more than enough to take home as well. And it is all so good. Just don't forget the sauce.
Another thing to not forget: Make dinner reservations. I can't stress enough that a reservation is almost essential for smaller as well as larger groups. Just call ahead. Oh, and your entire party has to be at the restaurant before you can be seated, but once you are all there, I guarantee it'll be an enjoyable outing for all ages.
The Pluses and Minuses of Yamato Japanese Steakhouse
Yamato Japanese Steakhouse + indicators: Seats larger and smaller parties; varying meal experience; good food and atmosphere; great food to price value
Yamato Japanese Steakhousel - indicators: you may have to be rolled out of here.
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- Phone Number: 331-0069
- Address: 08 Northwest 69th Terr., Gainesville, FL
- Urban GLOB Location: Newberry Road
- Web Site: Yamato Steakhouse
- Latitude: 29.6620938
- Longitude: -82.4164256