Yu: Japanese Cuisine (魚．日式料理) is a tiny little place with big ambitions, not all of which quite come off, but which can be appreciated for providing a new direction in mid-priced Japanese food between the impersonal mass market sushi chains like Sushi Express (爭鮮迴轉壽司) and high-end, high-priced restaurants with their swank furnishings and personalized service.
Yu is an inconspicuous little place just off the intersection of Roosevelt Road and Heping East Road. It might easily pass for one of the many establishments offering cheap food for office workers, except that most walk-ins will not be able to get a table. This little place has generated buzz as a place that is not merely playing it by the numbers, and has tried to distinguish itself by its commitment to producing high quality and distinctive food at a reasonable price.
But as a very small business with limited resources, the quality that Yu offers has its ups and downs. On the up side, the fish is very fresh and mostly local, brought in daily from the Keelung area. It shines particularly in the more homely dishes, such as grilled Ayu (香魚), which was nicely presented and both moist and flavorsome.
My assessment of Yu was negatively affected by the rice that formed the basis of its rice bowl dishes. It was a simple thing to which not enough attention had been paid. I had ordered the sea urchin and sashimi rice bowl, which looked colorful and inviting, but the rice underneath was hard and cold. The Japanese do not share the Taiwanese aversion to cold rice, and acceptance of different textures vary from country to country (many Taiwanese find a truly authentic risotto unacceptably al dente), but try as I might, I could not find any excuse for the cold lump at the bottom of my bowl that managed to be grainy and glutinous at the same time.
Address: 10, Ln 15, Roosevelt Rd, Sec 2, Taipei City, Taiwan (台北市羅斯福路二段15巷10號)
Telephone: (02) 2392-7990
Open: 11:30am to 2pm and 5pm to 10pm
Average meal: NT$300
Details: Chinese menu, cash only
The explanation for this, given in a vaguely apologetic tone, was that the absorbency of rice harvested at different seasons and kept for different lengths of time differs, but this did not make it taste any better or make the NT$220 price tag any more acceptable. Rice bowl dishes range from an Oyakodon for NT$100 to a shrimp sashimi rice bowl for NT$350. An addition of NT$50 makes for a set that includes a Japanese-style salad and a hearty fish soup. A mixed plate of nigiri weighs in at NT$200 for six pieces, and a mixed sashmi is NT$200 for eight pieces, which is very reasonable for the quality provided. An extensive blackboard menu reflects seasonal changes and is a key part of Yu’s attraction.
At a small restaurant like Yu, working with a skeleton staff, delays in food delivery are common, and this was another blip in the restaurant’s overall performance. With its high aspirations to providing a great Japanese meal using local ingredients, the lack of awareness of how a meal should come to the table was disappointing, if not totally surprising. Having grilled food arrive a good five minutes after everything else at table has been eaten is really not the best way to enjoy a meal.
There was much to admire at Yu, but also much to complain about, though the griping was largely a mark of disappointment in a laudable endeavor, and despite its flaws, Yu remains a good place to eat high quality local fish prepared in the Japanese manner. Bookings are highly recommended.