After years of a Downtown Palo Alto that did not serve Japanese food other than sushi, Yayoi is a revelation. Set on the corner of University Avenue and Waverly Street, the first Yayoi location — a popular teikoku chain restaurant in Japan and Australia —in the U.S., opened on March 4. Yayoi serves authentic, quality Japanese food at very affordable prices. Yayoi serves lunch from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. then reopens for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“Teishoku” means a well-balanced meal, served on a tray with a combination of steamed rice, miso soup, a main dish of choice, vegetables and pickles. Teishoku exemplifies a popular, everyday cuisine in Japanese culture. There are fourteen types of teishoku, ranging from meals that feature karaage fried chicken to tonkatsu pork to teriyaki salmon ($14.50-19.50). The menu is diverse. My order consisted of Sukiyaki, Wafu Katsu Ju and Ohagi:
Sukiyaki – $23, (9/10). The sukiyaki includes beef sukiyaki, udon noodles, tofu and vegetables. On the side, the sukiyaki isserved with pickled vegetables, a bowl of riceand onsen tamago, a type of Japanese omelette, which is made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg. The tamago can be eaten with rice, or mixed into the sukiyaki. The sukiyaki was tasty, and stayed hot throughout the whole meal. The udon noodles had a nice bite to it, and the beef was tender. However, tamago is normally served warm, and the tamago here was a bit on the colder side. All in all,I would highly recommend the dish.
Yayoi is a family-friendly place, and on top of that, it is relatively inexpensive for high quality Japanese food.
Wafu Katsu Ju – $14.50, (10/10). Rice topped with a panko grilled pork cutlet and bonito flakes? How could you go wrong. The pork was prepared perfectly, with the meat cooked through, but still quite juicy. The pork had a crispy outer layer, and even though the meat was moist, the panko was not soaked. The short-grain rice has a great texture to it, walking the line between dry and watery. Out of all the plates I tried, this was definitely the winner.
Ohagi – $5, (7/10). If you are a fan of red bean, this is the dessert for you. Ohagi is a sticky rice ball coated in sweet red bean. Yayoi uses a short grain rice for Ohagi — this helps the rice stick together to hold it’s shape. This rice also has a sweeter taste, compared to normal jasmine long grain rice. The beans were cooked to have the perfect bite. However, this dessert is a bit too sweet. Asian red beans are naturally sweet, but it seems that for this dessert, the beans have been cooked in simple syrup (diluted, boiled raw sugar). The Ohagi was tasty and inexpensive, but I would not go out of my way to have this.
Though Yayoi is notable for its teishoku dishes, their menu offers many other meals to choose from as well. Even though Yayoi does not sell sushi, they have raw fish dishes available such as salmon carpaccio and salmon sashimi ($9).
The dessert menu features dishes with green tea and red bean — signature Japanese ingredients. Their most popular dessert is the Matcha Anmitsu, a green tea ice cream topped with red bean, agar jelly, fruit, black syrup and Matcha Warabi Mochi served with a drizzle of chocolate.
Previous restaurants at the same location, including Taxi’s Hamburgers, Abbey’s and O Sushi House, have kept the building’s design relatively the same for the past ten years. Yayoi has taken a new approach to this building, creating their restaurant from the ground up. With newly painted walls, and a wooden light up sign, Yayoi has started something new. The interior of the restaurant has a modern feel to it, with trendy wooden tables and an elegant bar.
In addition, it is the first restaurant in Palo Alto to have iPads at each individual table. The iPads are available for customers to order food digitally. It’s innovative and convenient for customers and the restaurant staff alike. Though orders are placed through the iPads, waiters are still available for tables to answer questions and to assist customers.
Yayoi is unique in the fact that they have a no-tipping policy — they state that any tips will be donated to local charities. Regardless, customer service at the establishment is great, and the staff are attentive, prompt and warm. Yayoi is a family-friendly place, and on top of that, it is relatively inexpensive for high quality Japanese food. Because this is the only location in the U.S. as of now, the waiting list for the restaurant is extensive, so make sure to plan ahead.