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10 San Diego Uptown News | April 29–May 12, 2011 SAKE HOUSE


DINING


BY DAVID NELSON


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Set at the far end of a small strip center fronted by a parking lot at 4th and University avenues, Sake House Yu Me Ya doesn’t exactly shout to the world, “Hey, here I am, look at me!” It’s easy to pass the unassuming Japanese eatery without noticing. But rest as- sured that this tiny new jewel is on the verge of attracting plenty of notice


from fans of well-prepared, hand- somely presented traditional Japanese fare, mostly served in tapas-like portions. Sake House Yu Me Ya opened in mid April and already has a following, although seats arranged at lacquered tables and along the three-sided bar (which is not a su-


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shi bar; all food preparation takes place in a couple of small kitchens) number only 34, diminutive even by Hillcrest standards. However, small and cozy are different sto- ries, and Yu Me Ya offers the kind of welcome–from proprietor Yuka Nakai and an amusing, engaging server who calls himself Vega–that


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makes the space intimate and loads of fun—from wooden boxes that nearly overflow with sake to delicate bites plucked with chop- sticks from pretty plates. Scripted in white on a black panel hung over the bar, three Japanese characters express the words “Yu Me Ya,” which means “House of Dreams.” Yuka Nakai’s family owns a five-year- old restaurant of the same name in Encinitas, and the new branch certainly spruces up the neigh- borhood.


My experience at Sake House


Yu Me Ya begins when Yu Me Ya pours about 40 brands of sake from an array of small and large, interestingly shaped and colorful bottles arranged on shelves behind the bar. Yuka Nakai then lugs over a sizeable bottle of stylish Kan Chiku, a subtle spirit captured in cobalt glass like a Japanese genie, and holds it over a sizeable shot glass placed in a small, square wooden box. The glass overflows and is half-submerged in clear booze before Nakai turns the bottle upright.


“The glasses must be filled to


overflowing to celebrate abun- dance in life,” she explained, add- ing that it’s necessary to lean down to lap the first sip or two. This is pretty obvious, and certainly fun, like getting to eat with your fingers as a kid while older relatives glow- er. After a couple of sips, I got to lift the glass, but since Nakai didn’t say what to do when it was empty, I questioned whether to drink the second shot directly from the box, or tilt it into the glass. Pouring it out seemed wisest.


The food is beautiful. While the cold tapa (listed in the menu as “Carpaccio (spicy tuna), avocado on wonton skin) sounds potentially inelegant, it’s a glam package of minced raw tuna and buttery, cubed avocado that rises like a bloom above fried pastry molded in the shape of a flower. Served on a tiny puddle of spicy mayo, it’s a triumph of presentation and taste. Listed as a cold tapa, the mush-


dessert . drink . dine


room salad delights by featuring the opposing temperatures of sizzling sliced mushrooms and


see Yu Me Ya, page 11


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