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Yama in Soho (Houston) = terrible japanese food

After having two amazing Japanese meals while on our visit to Manhattan (Taka on Grove st and Chiyono on 328 E 6th St) based on a friend's recommendation, we had to find a place on our own for our last meal. After reading my Zagat to go reviewed places, we decided to go to Yama on Houston in Soho, and boy was that a big mistake.

Sushi pieces there although were huge in portions, but were cut in really odd shapes and presented in a very sloppy manner. We asked them specifically what fish was very fresh, and of the 3 they suggested, only the sweet shrimp was decent quality. The rest was just boring (kinda like the stuff we have at all you can eat sushi buffets that are so popular in Toronto, Canada).

Their stir fried noodles which we ordered mostly for our son was also terrible. The way they cut the veggies reminded my wife of the way chinese take out/food court places to it.

To top it off, we heard the waiters talk to the sushi chefs... in Mandarin (Chinese). Our best guess it that the owners/chefs probably aren't even Japanese at all, but are Chinese serving "Japanese" food. Thus, it would explain why the food preparation & presentation was so poorly done.

Overall, and complete dissapointment and overpriced as well. Based on the readings on Chowhound from the other Yama locations, they might be better, but defintely steer clear of the Soho location unless you want to have Chinese style Japanese food at a steep price.

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  1. Yes, Yama is not good.

    You were only steps from Ushi Wakamaru. Shame.

    1. All of the Yamas are awful. The only reason they're rated so high is because of the outrageous size of their fish slices. A real gringo deal, sort of the Olive Garden or Chili's of sushi.

      1. yeah.... yama is not worthy. neither is blue ribbon sushi. ushiwakamaru is decent and consistent.

        6 Replies
        1. re: POTsticker

          How can you trash blue ribbon? I've always had excellent sushi there. Sure it's overpriced. But the quality has always been top notch.

          1. re: Nehna

            Ushi Wakamaru being closed for lunch, we went to Blue Rippon a few Sundays ago for a sort of celebratory meal while we were in the area. The rice was horrible. It was undercooked and grainy and totally undermined the meal. We weren't particularly impressed with the fish either.

            1. re: Silverjay

              That's not good to hear. I've been for a few lunches over the past couple of years and always came away happy (if not by the bill than by the food). Maybe the blue ribbon people are starting to stretch too thin w/ all the expansion?

              1. re: Nehna

                Blue Ribbon is a very mixed bag...like 7 years ago, before i learned to speak Japanese and before i'd started spending a lot of time in Japan, i used to go there a lot (so much so that generally they still comp my party's drinks when i go there now, etc)...but i've found that a lot of the "specials" and less common fishes that they serve are pretty bad, while the maguro and hamachi and unagi and albacore are usually consistently fresh and tasty, albeit a bit overpriced...you are paying for the fun Soho location and perks like seeing RZA or the cast of SNL or other Hollywood types...but the main perks are the comfy wooden booths, soft lighting, and the fact that they are open both all afternoon and very late at night...and, their no reservation policy actually makes it a fun choice on a weekend night when you don't have reservations elsewhere, provided you're willing to make a drunken evening of it by giving them your cell number and then drinking for an hour or so at Red Bench or Milady's or some other nearby bar...but i rarely eat dinner there because there are so many far better options (e.g. Ushi Wakamaru) available...but i still find it hits the spot when you want to get a salad and little sushi at, say, 4pm, or 1 am...

            2. re: Nehna

              I'm quoting myself from the underrated restaurants thread:
              I went to Blue Ribbon Sushi once and it was enough. Fishy smell as I walked in, and pretty bad food. The fish tasted like the last time it was alive was during a different eon. I actually had to force myself to finish the sushi I got, even though I was really hungry.

              1. re: ow77

                I must say, I'm not crazy about Blue Ribbon either. I think the fish is okay fresh, just nothing great. Nice, subdued place to have lunch at though.

          2. My last experience at that place (5 years ago, or so).

            Walk in 30 min. before they close with a few friends. Instead of telling us that they are closing soon, they decide to make extra money. So they rush incredibly, stand over our heads while we are ordering, make sushi literally in 5 minutes, throw it on the table, look over our shoulder as we eat, bring the check before we are even finished. As we point out this rude behavior and tell that they should've simply turned us away, they get nasty with us. We leave them a few coins for a tip, they try to harass us to leave more, at which point I had no choice but to tell them off NYC style. It was really awful, and my friends were visiting from Paris for the first time. Needless to say, I've never went back and never would.

            1. Sorry to hear that. I was there on 7/8 also for dinner. I thought my sushi was OK but the ginger pork dish I had was so so. I got a lot of pork but the flavoring wasn't so great. My bill came to almost $40 including tip. My waitress was really nice though and the fact that she is Chinese didn't bother me so much.. haha.. maybe because I am Chinese too!

              It's interesting that the "Chinese" theme came up. While I was eating there, a Japanese woman went there with her husband and their kids and she kept complaining "Chinese" this "Chinese" that. As a Chinese person, it really made me very uncomfortable the whole time so I had to rush to eat and get out of there quickly.

              It made me very sad that people perceive things "Chinese" as offensive. A real wake-up call to myself and really makes me think why I am being treated differently by people sometimes.

              5 Replies
              1. re: bearmi

                I won't speak for the person in question, but I think the "Chinese" issue only comes up here because it's purportedly a Japanese restaurant, and particularly because it's one serving such a deeply and peculiarly Japanese cuisine as sushi - and doing it badly. Not at all a knock on Chinese people (or Chinese cuisine to be sure) per se, but a knock on Yama and perhaps an explaination for its serious inauthenticity. What's offensive is the food. A few blocks away certainly no one is complaining that Chinese people are cooking, as people come from all over the northeast, the U.S., and the world to eat Chinese food.

                1. re: Woodside Al

                  Gotta agree with Woodside Al on this "Chinese" cooking Japanese food issue. Japanese cuisine is such an intricate art form that likely requires many years of training before one can actually serve real food to customers (especially sushi chefs). I'm not saying that people of other nationalities can't "perfect" another culture's cooking techniques, but by serving the type of food that I had @ Yama in Soho is a real disgrace to the beauty of authentic Japanese food.

                  1. re: Royaljelly

                    I agree with Al and Royaljelly, I am in fact more keenly aware that it's usually better to get sushi from a Japanese-owned rather than other Asian owned restaurant, because I can actually distinguish between the Asian ethnicities as a Korean-American. I can openly say that some of the worst sushi I've ever had has been from Korean-owned places. I don't think this is a knock on my culture. I'd be similarly skeptical if non-Koreans tried to make authentic kalbi or kimchee.

                    I've had OK sushi sometimes still from non-Japanese places, but it isn't the same thing as the original deal. Places like Yama and Haru got hot in the mid-late 90s when sushi was getting more and more popular in the US and capitalized on the trend. Even I liked them back then, but realized with more time and experience (in NYC), that it wasn't the same as more traditional nigiri where the pieces are bite-sized and the rice texture matters and the freshness and cutting technique is paramount. NYC has now turned me into a sushi snob and in other cities and suburbs, I look for the real Japanese deal.

                    1. re: jeanki

                      Sounds like the bottom line is that food at Yama is not good, period, regardless of the Chinese thing. I didn't particularly enjoy their food so no wonder Yama got a bad review here. So what are the "Good" sushi places you guys go to? I should try them out to improve my knowledge and hopefully I won't run into hurtful situations again.

                  2. re: Woodside Al

                    I think the majority of neighborhood sushi places in the city are Chinese owned and run. The best sushi places I have been to seem to be Japanese owned and operated...if a Chinese or Korean place gets great fish and prepares it well I will happily go there.