Restaurant review: Pure decadence at Yume Sushi

APRIL 8, 2019 by STEFANIE GANS

In contrast to its austere heredity, maximalism rules at Arlington’s new omakase, Yume Sushi.

Local artist Nicolette Capuano designed the geisha-themed mural titled “Grit and Grace.” (Photo by Rey Lopez)

The drama is real.

A woman’s face, painted geisha-white with red lips, stares at you from the back wall. She’s as big as the wall itself, eyes seemingly tracking your moves.

Saran Kannasute told guests he asked the muralist to sketch a “dream woman.” He smiles at her, laughing with the couples sitting along the bar as they bite into the honey ginger or green tea or black sesame seed ice cream sandwiched in buns, the last course of the omakase dinner at Yume Sushi. Kannastute sips on a celebratory sake as his crew slices daikon radishes on a madoline for service tomorrow.

Earlier that night, Kannasute’s face lights up when he presents a slice of ruby tuna belly. It slides into the mouth, sumptuous, stunning. It’s served with a 52-year aged soy sauce that is thick, salty, something to sip and savor like a rye Manhattan.

Other times, Kannastue’s face takes on a blankness, a mask of concentration. He cuddles rice in his hand, shaping it as the bed for a slice of fish. He whisks quail egg to gloss a strip of uni. He sets his elbow at a 90-degree angle and whips his wrist back and forth to throw red lava sea salt from Hawaii onto the rim of a charcoal-hued ceramic plate. It’s part Salt Bae suave, part Emeril Lagasse intensity. He knows he’s being watched. It’s a show.

Kannastue fell in love with omakase with his first taste. The Japanese tasting menu—omakase is a Japanese phrase translated as “I’ll leave it up to you”—usually consists of multiple courses of seasonal, raw fish, often minimally adorned, celebrating the best, freshest catch. These meals can also venture into lavish showcases for jewels, for uni, caviar, foie gras, Japanese wagyu.

That is what moves Kannastue, when at 19 and new to this country, his mom took him to a Japanese restaurant where he first encountered eating raw fish. He grew up in a restaurant family in Bangkok, loving food and wanting to be a chef. But the spell of the omakase hit him. When he finished his meal at Kyoto Sushi in Delray Beach, Florida he said to the chef: “That is not food, that’s a dream.” Yume means dream in Japanese.

Today he still can recall that meal. “Every time I close my eyes, I can remember the taste.” His life became learning Japanese ingredients. Kannastue trained under Hiroyuki Sakai, a French-schooled star on the original Japanese version of Iron Chef. He most recently led the sushi program at The Sushi Bar in Del Ray.

He learned the basics, and how to understand and then manipulate, the texture, temperature and timing of every slice of fish and dash of vinegar.

Kannastue piles on the theatrics. A disc of monkfish pate is the base of uni (from Maine), topped with a 52-year aged soy sauce (that makes repeated appearances on the menu) adored with a whipped quail egg, a balsamic pearl topped with yuzu ice and sprinkled with black bamboo sea salt and Hawaiian lava sea salt. Almost all of the dishes are statements of extravagance: otoro, tuna belly, rich in itself, is topped with uni. In fact, the first three courses all have the rich, thick, briny lobe of—love it or hate it—sea urchin.

A shaved slice of A5 wagyu from Japan (the highest rated of the high-end meat) is first torched, and then it is layered like a ribbon on top of itself, served on foie gras with a black pepper sauce and balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, liquidy wasabi, fish eggs, chili threads, various chunky salts—and flakes of edible 24-karat gold foil.

My dining partner and I kept looking at each other as each new element was added to this gorgeously marbled strip of beef, which we so desperately wanted to taste singularly, to discover its own flavor, and watched it being adorned, piled on with more and more and more like a 3-year-old playing princess, dressing up in plastic beads and a tiara and everything imagined to enhance royalty. But a princess doesn’t have to wear fine threads and gems; a princess can also wear pajamas and still be a princess.

Wagyu is worthy without the cloak of additional extravagance.

Kannastue instructed guests to swish this pile into the salt, to add some texture, to swirl it into the sauces, to make sure each bite covered each sense of taste, the circle of sweet, sour, bitter, salty spice. “Don’t chew,” he said. “Let it melt.”

And it did. And it does. And it was lovely, delicious, splendid. Instead of the wagyu shining, it cooperated with the rest of the dish, a chorus, not a solo. Kannastue figured it out, it worked in spite of our insistence that this was disrespecting the singular worship of wagyu.

The maximalist approach wasn’t in every course, some of the raw fish, like slivers of yellowtail, saw a tangle of scallions, a sprinkle of spices and salt. Salmon, cold-smoked for 48 hours with lavender and sliced thick, ¾-inch thick, was a luscious display of minimal tempering with the goods.

That salmon is also on the a la carte menu. This menu plays it safer, though there are still items of interest. Tuna tartare in a garlic ponzu sauce is served with crispy, scene-stealing wasabi seaweed crackers. A volcano roll, less obnoxious than most of these over-the-top sushi displays, arrives in thinner pieces, more crab, less sauce. But then there’s something called The Winner, a prized dish of Kannastue’s, with foie gras, eel, tuna shaped like a rose, topped with caviar. The roe is so juicy, fruity even, it bursts like a grape. The fish is silky, the rice underneath is a tender canopy. There’s a lot going on. A lot of it works. // Yume Sushi: 2121 N. Westmoreland St., Arlington; A la carte: $4-$15, Omakase: $85
Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, Brunch on weekends

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