Frankford-on-Fishtown’s very new sushi restaurant, Izakaya by Yanaga, opens with the sushi-sashimi whisperer, Executive Chef Kevin Yanaga.
You know how you know a new restaurant is a thing? When, on opening weekend, everyone you know who eats… eats is there, dining and drinking along with you. When its bordering neighborhood habitues show up en masse and in force to its haute hot spot, filling every seat and table from noon to midnight. When people who just ate there walk out of the door in amazement, as if they were touched by an angel – you know, with good and soulful food. That was the scene at Frankford-on-Fishtown’s very new Izakaya by Yanaga on Saturday night, the debut name-above-the-title space from Kevin Yanaga, the Executive Chef and Partner of Izakaya by Yanaga, backed by the GLU Hospitality team.
“What a whirlwind it has been, “Yanaga told me about his new partnership. “I really have enjoyed my new partners at GLU Hospitality, Derek Gibbons and Tim Lu, they are like my new family and friends rolled into one. I have gotten to know them and they are part of each and every day moving forward. So I gained not just a new restaurant but also new friends in the process. I also look forward to getting to know other business owners and of course our new neighbors in Fishtown. I want us to be active in the community and it’s such an exciting neighborhood to be in.”
Yanaga is renowned as something of a sushi-sashimi whisperer from his totemic time at Morimoto, POD and Double Knot, and has been very careful and considerate in his choice of introductory spaces with his name on top. And Izakaya by Yanaga is his chill, serious casual dining space with its building’s sister space, the higher end Omakase by Yanaga 12-seat tasting room opening around Halloween.
For now, Izakaya by Yanaga is much in which to contend, with every morsel sweeter than the one before it.
Along with a gentle “Dance of the Celestial Maiden” sake to start, my dining partner and I ran through large and small dishes and hot and cold upscale bar-food-and-beyond dishes with comfort.
There was the zesty Oishi Shrimp Tacos with spicy aioli cleverly served in a light wonton shell and a surprisingly subtle pork gyoza with kimchi and red pepper mustard (the thick and meaty curried short rib bao was also a shockingly subtle taste… a must). The karaage chicken in sriracha-Buffalo sauce held a nice swift kick to the rubber parts.
There was a dense, but amazingly light and tasty Duck Onigiri with duck confit in a sort of ball configuration. Not much to look at but great to taste. A Tantan Mazeman soup-less ramen? Yup. Odd, yes, at first. Then you tuck into its hearty spicy noodles and its doubly spiced meat topping, and its soft-boiled egg swimming atop the entire width of the bowl.
The real treat for the raw fish fanatic such as myself was the sushi, sashimi and chirashi spice rice bowls to which you can add avocado – which to me is blasphemous but still fun.
The soft-shell crab special roll; and the snow crab maki rolls with tobiko mayo and avocado were fantastic, as was the heavenly light and tangy Hamachi with peach, and ponzu vinaigrette. The chirashi bowls, however, I had the salmon bowl, was out of this world and filling in and of itself. So filling, in fact, neither I nor my dining partner could fit a fried ice cream dessert. But rest assured, I’ll be back to check on Yanaga, no matter what he is doing.
Images: Eddy Marenco